Why do Leaders Struggle?


In a follow up to another short post, “Bad Employees or Bad Leader?

I'll pose this question, which should be answered in a “5 Whys” format (or as many whys as you can get through): Why do many leaders struggle with managing in a lean environment?

I try to remind myself of this, that “respect for people” should extend to managers and leaders. We should assume they want to do the right thing and that they have good intentions.

Example “5 Why” in the first comment. Please add your own.

Here is the wikipedia link mentioned in the comment about “Managers vs. Leaders.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Why does a leader struggle?

    Because they don’t know what’s expected of them. Why?

    Because they haven’t received enough education about lean. Why?

    Because upper management doesn’t understand the amount of training required for supervisors and lean to succeed. Why?

    That’s about where I get tapped out or we get to things that are close to unsolvable.

    There are multiple “why” paths to go down from the initial why. Give it a try.

  2. The original question is “Why do many leaders struggle with managing in a lean environment?” I think the real struggle is getting to a lean environment, once there the Leaders struggle less.

    Why is it a struggle for Leaders to manage their way to a lean Environment?

    Because they are not measured on the right things.

    Because management has a short term view.

    Because they are driven by short term stock reports.

    Because they are Publicly owned.

    We already know it is easier for private companies to transition to Lean.

  3. 1) Why do many leaders struggle with managing a lean environment

    A: Because they are too busy putting out fires.

    2) Why are they too busy putting out fires?

    A: Because they don’t trust their workers to fire fight

    3) Why don’t they trust their workers to fire fight?

    A: Because deep down they are not comfortable as a leader and feel good fighting fires

    4) Why are they not comfortable as a leader and feel good fighting fires?

    A: Because that is what they perceive to be their strength

    5) Why do they perceive this (fire fighting) to be their strength

    A: Because they were never taught how lead people and thus fire fighting probably is a core strength!

  4. I think Ron gets the gold star!

    I’ll take why number 5 even farther. They get promoted because they are good firefighters.

    That’s not a bad premise. If they are a successful firefighter, maybe they will be a successful leader.

  5. Good point on leader vs. manager. Most “leaders” are really managers who are just supposed to “get it” and become leaders of a profound
    transformation. Change is hard, especially for managers where both the current state and the future state are not well defined. I often thing the term “change is hard” applies more to managers than the shop floor. I have not found to many cases where, when allowed to develop a better way for themselves, shop floor folks resist change. On the other hand, try telling a seasoned firefighter…I mean manager…that they need to visit every cell every day and initial a production board? Now that’s resistance to change…

    Someone posted a good comparison on Wikipedia on the subject: Here’s the bulletized comparison, but the article is worth reading:

    * Managers administer, leaders innovate
    * Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why
    * Managers focus on systems, leaders focus on people
    * Managers do things right, leaders do the right things
    * Managers maintain, leaders develop
    * Managers rely on control, leaders inspire trust
    * Managers have a short-term perspective, leaders have a longer-term perspective
    * Managers accept the status-quo, leaders challenge the status-quo
    * Managers have an eye on the bottom line, leaders have an eye on the horizon
    * Managers imitate, leaders originate
    * Managers emulate the classic good soldier, leaders are their own person
    * Managers copy, leaders show originality

  6. Why does a leader struggle?

    Because they are not held accountable for results.

    Why are they not held accountable?

    Because the correct metrics are not reviewed.

    Why are the right metrics not reviewed?

    Because stock holders / analysts look for short term success.

    Why do stock holders / anaylsts look for short term success?

    Because that is what our business schools have taught everyone.

    Even as I right this is seems like a bit of an excuse for our leaders. I think that they are not held accountable. Almost anyone will do a good job if they know what is expected and have been given the tools to get the job done. I think leaders are lacking expectations and in some cases the right tools.


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