Gary Convis on Lean Leadership


Role of Management in a Lean Manufacturing Environment

If you want to learn about the Toyota style of leading people, one of the best sources is Gary Convis. Here is a link to a column written directly by him.

For anyone who is struggling with a “Lean tools” implementation attempt, but sure to check this out. I always find it inspiring to read his approach or to hear him talk about it. Gary is also featured pretty prominently in the David Magee book, How Toyota Became #1: Leadership Lessons from the World's Greatest Car Company.

A highlight from the Convis piece:

“In my opinion, the key to the successful implementation of TPS at NUMMI, and TMMK, and at the other Toyota plants in North America, has been the total commitment on the part of everyone to make it work. By that I mean, all levels of the organization, from team members to the senior managers, have to be aware of the fundamentals of TPS and have to make their best efforts to practice and improve them day-by-day.”

While Lean requires employee engagement and involvement, Lean is not something that can be delegated completely. Leadership needs to understand TPS, not just front-line supervisors. As I've said before, Lean requires commitment and dedication. “Lean” does not succeed or fail. Leaders succeed or leaders fail. Sometimes we fail by giving up too quickly or by not learning more beyond an initial Lean attempt (which might have just been an attempt at a single tool, like 5S or kanban).

He continues to explain the ties between philosophy, tools, and management approaches:

“TPS is an interlocking set of three underlying elements: the philosophical underpinnings, the managerial culture and the technical tools. The philosophical underpinnings include a joint shop-floor, customer-first focus, an emphasis on people first, a commitment to continuous improvement or kaizen, and a belief that harmony with the environment is of critical importance. The managerial culture for TPS is rooted in several factors, including developing and sustaining a sense of trust, a commitment to involving those affected by first, teamwork, equal and fair treatment for all, and finally, fact-based decision making and long-term thinking.”

He also explains the wonderful phrase “to lead the organization as if I had no power.”

Great reading, the whole thing. A great “intro to Lean” if you need something to send to your senior management, maybe. The headline really could read “Role of Management in ANY Lean Environment“.

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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. Gary Convis thoughts come from a deeply embedded lean thinking (mental model) background. Leading with power is the more traditional way of organizing companies, it comes to hierarchy.

    “Leading without power” is the real power that is necessary in today changing world where nothing is fixed and the system is changing constantly. The people whom one wants to lead are empowered to take the responsiblities in their own hands (not much different as a good coach empowers his team:-)). It sometimes takes a bit longer (getting worse in the short run;-() in order to get sustainable good result (better better in the long run:-)).

    For anybody who is interested in literature on the question how to achieve that results without “power” here is a good one:

    “Getting It Done how to lead when you’re not in charge”

    by Roger Fisher & Alan Sharp, ISBN 0-88-730958-5

    Perhaps there are other good books or papers around, so let’s there these ideas:-)

    Best regards from Leipzig


  2. I believe one passage in this article speaks to the essence of effective leadership whether or not you’re talking about lean: “Management has no more critical role than motivating and engaging large numbers of people to work together toward a common goal. Defining and explaining what that goal is, sharing a path to achieving it, motivating people to take the journey with you, and assisting them by removing obstacles – these are management’s reason for being.”

    Every manager in every organization will do well to remember Convis’s words.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Mary Ann


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