"Love" or "Lean," This Quote Rings True


I saw this quote on Twitter from the pastor Rick Warren (happens to fit in the 140 characters):

“Love isn't letting people do whatever they want. That's often cowardice or apathy. Love cares enough to tell the truth.” 

I'm not equating Lean to religion here, but that same sentence would be equally true if you replaced the word “Love” with “Lean”:

“Lean isn't letting people do whatever they want. That's often cowardice or apathy. Lean cares enough to tell the truth.”

This sounds like a classic Lean leadership lesson to me. As John Shook often teaches, Lean isn't classic top-down command and control, but yet it's not a delegated hands off free-for-all either. Leaders have to care enough to hold people accountable, especially when following a standardized process impacts quality.

There's always a middle ground with standardized work, in any setting. It's not about a strict unthinking common practice… it's a middle ground between “do it this way every time and don't think” and “do it however you want.”

Look further at the Toyota principle of “respect for people.” RFP doesn't mean being soft on people. Lean leaders push and challenge people to improve their thinking and to improve. Lean leaders tell the truth and want transparency. If things are bad and customers are complaining, you have to recognize that truth. If hospitals are hurting people because standardized practices aren't being followed, a Lean leader has to be brave and make that reality apparent, bringing a team together to fix the problem instead of just looking the other way.

Having a standardized process doesn't mean you are automatically “command and control.” Some people out there think any notion of standardized process is automatically bad because you're telling people what to do. I don't think that's the case.

I've seen many leaders who are afraid to hold people accountable (because of cowardice or apathy, you could argue). This can be just as bad as being a command-and-control ogre who just barks orders at people.

There's a middle ground. Leadership is as much art as it is science. Where's that exact middle ground? That's your job to figure out. How have you found that balance? In your Lean journey, have you erred too much to one side or the other? How did you adjust over time?

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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. When a company begins the Lean journey the tendancy is to be more "command and control" because management sees the need for Lean implementation but the people may not understand it. Associates see standardized work and 5S as just another way that management is trying to control their work lives. They may have heard the horror stories of L.A.M.E. and therefore they resist the idea of Lean outright. It is critical that all associates be trained in the true meaning of the Lean principles and tools so that they can actively participate in the transformation of the company. Then, as associates are given the opportunity and responsibility of making improvements to their work, mangement can take more of a partnership approach. The people that "get it" will appreciate mangement holding others accountable in order to sustain the improvements they see with Lean. Those who resist will eventually find themselves on the outside looking in because even their fellow associates will not tolerate their negative attitudes and resulting non-constructive actions. Empowerment, responsibility, and accountability go hand-in-hand and as management and associates work together, a good middle ground can be reached and the company culture will be transformed to one of continuous improvement.

  2. Nice post and great analogy. In reflection, I offer another analogy: Finding the middle ground may be another phrase for continuous improvement.

  3. Standardization needs to always be an invitation to improve. The standard allows us (and anyone else) to see the anomalies, the problems, the surprises, and address them together.To not do that once you understand it and can see how, does indeed look like coawardice and apathy.When have I backslid in my lean journey? Too many times to enumerate in this forum, but we try to live in the improvement cycle. In personal development of a leader PDCA might be captured as "success isn't never falling down, but getting up one more time than you fall"

  4. "Command-and-control ogre"…good one…reminds me of several construction managers that I've met in my line of work. In fact, I'd say that is pretty much part of the standard job description in the construction industry. One of the big challenges of trying to develop a Lean management system in my industry is getting our managers to loosen up a little bit and stop commanding and controlling all the time, but without misinterpreting the "respect for people" principle as a laissez-faire approach.


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