“He (or she) who has no problem has the biggest problem of all.”
– Taiichi Ohno

The House that Leadership Builds:

A lot of managers have a “Lean” vision for their company. Most of them fail, not because of lack of energy or talent, but because they didn’t achieve buy-in at the ground level.

Darril Wilburn was a leader in the development and implementation of key leadership programs for Toyota. Now a Managing Partner at Honsha, an internationally respected Lean Leadership consulting group. He approaches Lean, or Process Improvement, through the lens of leadership.

It’s easy to sit in a board room and develop a company vision over coffee. The mistake happens when we think that’s sufficient. It’s only the first step.

Making a vision that’s developed in the board-room relevant to the front line is a leadership challenge. Buy-in at the top is often relatively easy, but harder as you move down the levels:


Engaging individuals is not about vision boards; it’s about on-the-ground leadership. According to Wilburn, there are 3 qualities that a leader needs to embrace in order to foster worker-level buy-in.

Learn more about what it takes to be a leader of Lean: Lean Leadership


leadership principlesVisions for Process Improvement happen in a caffeine-induced board-room euphoria of what is possible. Holding onto that vision over time, so that the end goal is as clear on day 500 as day 1, takes deep courage. You can’t have a lean organization without the courage of conviction.

Disillusionment is a normal part of organizational change, but if you don’t hold the vision, stubbornly at times, when those around you start calling for the next-best-thing, your company will remain stuck in a feedback loop of failed endeavours.

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Courage is vital, but it must be tempered with humility. The smartest people in the room are usually the ones asking the best questions, because they have both the humility to accept that they don’t have all the answers and the courage to show it.

Leaders with a drive to learn make the best teachers. You’ll rarely find them squirreled away in their corner offices; they’re on the floor and in the trenches, learning from whoever they can learn from and teaching in return. Their humility, driven by their desire to understand, makes them a conduit of vision.


Big changes don’t tend to be profitable over long term. They start out strong because everyone is enthusiastic, but fizzle when, not having been integrated into daily routine, the enthusiasm supporting them fades.

Kaizen, or Continuous Improvement, is about making small changes, consistently. This gives each change time to be integrated into daily habits and, over time, leads to stable, sustainable efficiency improvement.

Without the proper balance of courage and humility, a leader cannot effectively implement Kaizen. Small changes happen at ground level. As such, all employees must feel engaged and empowered for Kaizen to work. Leadership in the trenches, with the courage of vision and the humility of listening, is the key to massive improvements developed over time.

(inspired by the teachings of Darril Wilburn)