Leadership Lessons from Larry Kellner


    Corner Office – Bad News or Good, Continental's Chief Wants to Know – Question – NYTimes.com

    This interview with Larry Keller, CEO of Continental Airlines, had elements of “Like Lean” — ideas that are similar to Toyota Production System or Lean approaches. Sometimes it's just coincidence or common sense (like here) or the people involved are just downplaying Toyota connections.

    Kellner seems to have learned early on that it's important to go to the “gemba” (where the work is being done) and to listen to the people doing the work:

    When I was a kid, he was a manager in a Campbell's Soup plant and had several hundred people working for him. When I watched him at work, he never really seemed to tell people what to do. He always seemed to figure out how to get them to want to do it. He always spent a lot of time figuring out who his best people were, and he spent a lot of time figuring out what it was they wanted to do, and then it all seemed to work flawlessly. So it comes back to getting the right people, and getting them doing the right thing, and getting them the right training.

    Leaders are supposed to develop people, not have all of the answers. I applaud Kellner for sharing that philosophy.

    Kellner seems to subscribe to the famous “no problems is a problem” philosophy:

    It's a leadership structure that says, “Look, I don't care how bad the situation is — the sooner you catch it, the better.” But if you've known about it for months and have been hoping against hope that all your other contingencies would solve the problem and you've burned up all our opportunities to solve it, I'm going to be a whole lot more unhappy.

    Sounds “like Lean,” eh?

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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. Lean is just intuitive to that guy (Kellner). Boggles the mind to see what he could have done had he embraced Lean whole hog.


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