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25 Key Leader Behaviors that Encourage Continuous Improvement

by Mark Graban on August 19, 2013 · 8 comments

greg jacobson mark graban kainexus 300x222 25 Key Leader Behaviors that Encourage Continuous Improvement leanLast Wednesday, Dr. Greg Jacobson and I gave a webinar for Gemba Academy titled Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement.

You can view the recording via KaiNexus.com or via GembaAcademy.com.

Greg and I came up with a list of 25 leader behaviors that are important for CEOs and senior leaders, middle managers, and front-line supervisors alike. There are probably more than 25, but this was our starting point. Leave a comment if you have one to add to the list or if you have a story about one of these key behaviors.

25 Leadership Behaviors

  1. State your belief in Kaizen
  2. Explain why Kaizen is important
  3. Empower, but be a servant leader
  4. Participate in Kaizen yourself
  5. Ask for Kaizen ideas (and opportunities)
  6. Don’t require everything to be an event or a project
  7. Emphasize small ideas
  8. Ask for more than just cost savings
  9. Look at the process instead of blaming people
  10. Keep asking for Kaizen
  11. Don’t hide ideas (be transparent)
  12. Quickly respond to every idea
  13. Work to find something to implement
  14. Turn “bad ideas” into better ideas
  15. Coach, but don’t nitpick
  16. Help people see the bigger picture (don’t suboptimize)
  17. Turn complaints into ideas
  18. Help create time for people to take action
  19. Help share and spread ideas
  20. Don’t forget the “SA” in PDSA
  21. Don’t overdo the “P” in PDSA
  22. Be prepared to fail (and learn from failure)
  23. Be careful with rewards and quotas
  24. Give people recognition for ideas (effort, not just results)
  25. Compile the results and celebrate them

Our slides:


On the topics of leadership and continuous improvement, please check out more about KaiNexus and learn more about the new companion edition to my Shingo Research-Award winning book Healthcare Kaizen:

mark graban lean blog 25 Key Leader Behaviors that Encourage Continuous Improvement leanAbout LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Innovation and Improvement Services for KaiNexus.

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10 Most Read LeanBlog.org Posts in 2013 | Lean Blog
December 27, 2013 at 11:36 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Liz Guthridge
August 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Strong list!

I’d suggest tweaking #24 to “Recognize people for their efforts, ideas, participation and results” or just plain “Recognize people.”

The brain science shows that acknowledging people for any actions in the right direction help them stay focused. The acknowledgement also puts them in a quieter, more positive brain state. See “Give an ‘A’ for Effort”–which is my latest blog post.

It’s also important for leaders to role model. However, your list is already long and robust so it may not be worth adding. If the list is too long, it may be too overwhelming.


2 Mark Graban
August 20, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Liz – Yes, that’s the intent behind the list… something got lost in making the list items really brief.

A list of 25 is probably already overwhelming. We don’t expect people to remember all 25, of course… I had a good suggestion to group them up into a list of 4 or 5 categories perhaps, or max 7, that people could actually remember.

But I think the list did the job for the webinar, at least.


3 Anonymous August 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Skills vs behaviors vs principles. We need to paint a complete picture.

For example: Principle: I respect people

Behavior: I spend regular time each day (week) developing the skills and abilities of subordinates

Skill: I know how to coach for increased performance The Shingo Prize people talk about this a lot.

My angle on this is that for the typical CEO, what are the vital few skills and behaviors needed to be a successful Lean leader? As you well know, many healthcare organizations doing Lean have delegates running a Lean “program” and after a good start reach a roadblock because the CEO, although supportive, can’t give up certain things like board and community relations, corporate meetings, and the like. So for folks like this, what are the minimum behaviors and skills needed to sustain a successful Lean transformation?


4 Padmanaban August 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm

hi Mark,

Its good to see lots of “Kaizen” words. Standardization is the foundation needed for Kaizen. We need to have some points to make the list almost complete..


5 Lyndsay with Improvement Programs
August 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Turning complaints into ideas is especially powerful – it takes your team from feeling helpless to making them the leader of something they clearly care about. These behaviours are all great things to keep in mind while improving your business processes.
Lyndsay with Improvement Programs recently posted..Passing the Baton – Succession and Exit PlanningMy Profile


6 Mark Graban
August 22, 2013 at 6:20 pm

This blog post is arguably a better summary of the webinar than I did!

See link

Thanks to lean-news.com.
Mark Graban recently posted..Chart: A Few Seconds Here and There Can Really Add UpMy Profile


7 Rui Coelho September 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

A great presentation and a very full list I will use with my leadership team. One addition, and probably woven in the subtext of your presentation, “servant leadership”.


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