Written by Jason Haines

“Definition of responsibility: a commitment of the head, heart, and hands to fix the problem and never again affix blame.” -John G. Miller

I have been practicing and studying Lean for quite some time and always come back to one thing, it’s importance to leadership and how it can help leaders. The leaders who are currently leading the company, as well as the future leaders, can use Lean to guide and grow themselves and others. It uses a basic structure and sticks to that basic structure to help all people of an organization. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, and I compare it to John Wooden’s teaching his players how to put their socks on properly to not get blisters on their feet. It is a basic toolset to help guide people on the fundamentals of Lean thinking, and something easy to set a standard by.

One of the key pieces of Lean is to develop future ambassadors and leaders of organizations so they can continue the future of the company. How does Lean accomplish this? Let’s approach the question in a different thought process. Lean gets its people to develop their learning through their hands, head and heart. Lean uses the three H’s to develop people throughout the organization to grow them and continue the future of the company. It teaches the people the basics so they can first use their hands to learn the job, then use their heads to improve the jobs, while all along developing their hearts to respect their people and also develop and train future ambassadors and leaders of the organization.

But how do they expect to keep that company going when they have left and are no longer in a capacity to lead the company? Have they provided that there will be a future? Lean can be that way to provide for the future, or at least help grow employees that will lead elsewhere in another capacity. How do we teach our employees to use Lean to grow their hands, heart, and heads to move our organization forward?


The first step to growing any type of change or teaching people a new job is to teach them what their hands will do to perform that job. As Lean practitioners we must be able to also be hands on with what we do, and this doesn’t mean do the job for them, but to help when there is help needed. When we are teaching and mentoring those around us, we want to show that we know exactly what is going on and how a job is performed. This knowledge comes from the times that we got our hands dirty and learned how the jobs are done. Without this understanding we cannot teach someone else how to perform a job because we do not know ourselves what needs to be done. I have been in many facilities where the frontline employees do not respect or trust their leaders because the leader usually knows nothing about the jobs and are not trying to learn the basics.

In Lean we need to learn the basics of the job and finding out the reason behind why and how things are done. When we as leaders find out why and how things are done, we can make better decisions on how to make changes in the process that will benefit and help the frontline workers. Once we start to make these changes it will give us more time as well as the people working the frontlines. Then we can start to work on the minds of the people at the frontlines to show them how to make processes better. But it all must start with the leaders making the first changes.


Once we make the novel changes, we will free up much needed time.  This eliminates barriers that are causing employees to not perform at their highest level and start teaching the frontline employees to forward think. One, we have eliminated some of the chaos, and chaos keeps people from thinking as clearly as they need to. People become more creative when chaos is reduced, and this creativity will be needed as we continue our Lean journey. Two, leaders can start teaching people what to look for when they are attacking and eliminating wastes. Leaders are teaching people to think critically and thoughtfully as they go through the process of making changes. The leaders of the company are teaching people to communicate with others and come to agreement on what needs to be done to make the jobs better. They are teaching future leaders and ambassadors of the company.

Why do we want to teach people how to think? And I am not talking about what to think, but how to think. These are two entirely different things. As leaders we are teaching the people how to think by not giving them the answers so they can learn to think critically and learn from their mistakes. If we teach people what to think they will always be coming to their leadership for the answers and never grow as a person. When we teach people what to think we expect them to do things and this is never good because expectations frustrate us and never are to what we expect. When we teach people how to think by not giving answers we come to an agreement of where we want all people to reach and understand what each person’s rule in the team is. This teaching and mentoring will help others learn how to teach others to think and grow a more stable workforce who use their heart to grow the organization.


Often current leadership has their heart (unless focused on greed) set on growing and creating a better company for the future that will provide for generations. Also, any company that is on a true Lean journey knows that you are developing respect for people, and when you get this respect for your people they will develop the heart to grow the organization in any way possible. I always try to tell people to remember Lean is about the stakeholders. These are the people that will be future ambassadors or leaders of your organization. They are the people who recommend the company or the product of the company to others. That is why you want to grow the people who are in your stead, because it will reduce your stress levels and show you trust and care for them.

When we are growing our people, we are showing that we love them and care about their future as much as our future. When people know we care about them they will be more apt to put their whole heart into the company to help it grow. The people will be more committed to the organization if we show we are committed to them. When us leaders and our team are committed to making changes happen throughout the organization, we are willing to be part of the process. Commitment takes our whole heart and as leaders we must give our heart to our people. Show them love and respect and they will do the same for you, and this is the true essence of Lean.

Love and respect is the true essence of any great leader. I always remember the story that John Wooden always references, and I am paraphrasing here, “I may not like all the things that my players do, but I will love each of them all the same.” What he meant is that he will always be there for them, teach them, mentor them, and grow them no matter the situation they are in. This doesn’t just stop with Wooden, all the great leaders love their people. Jesus loved his disciples, Lombardi his players, and Deming the people who worked for him because they wanted to grow their organization to be successful for the long term. Please remember to teach your people to use their Hands, Hands and Hearts when leading their people.

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!