In my previous blog post, “Don’t Wait For Your Leaders,” I said that most top leaders will never “get it” when it comes to Lean management. Why is that?

implied_threatIt is because Lean management represents an implied threat to top leaders. The threat, simply put is as follows:

“You’ve been doing a bad job.”


“Everything you know and have done is wrong.”

It is a highly negative message for leaders, one that quickly provokes an emotional reaction rather than a thoughtful intellectual response. Most top leaders, with decades of experience and decades of positive feedback, cannot accept this message and will therefore resist Lean. (Thankfully, a few leaders will quickly agree that they have been doing a bad job and want to learn how to do a good job).

Lean is more advanced way to think and do things compared to conventional management that defines the current state. This is nearly impossible to comprehend by top leaders who are fully vested in the current state in knowledge, practice, and ego.

A great majority, perhaps more than 95 percent, will never “get it.” That is why it is so important that you do not wait for your leaders to “get it.”

As Sensei Nakao says:

Kaizen means taking action; go to the genba now, deal with the facts now. Always take action; that is the key. This concept needs to go to the next generation for kaizen to survive and thrive, to continuously succeed.”

It’s all up to you.

3 Responses to The Implied Threat

  1. Phil Fisher says:

    I think the more appropriate message to top leaders is that you did a fine job in the days when your company and industry were the only or at least the main game in town and batch-and-queue thinking and processing were adequate to meet the customer demand. Now in a world of global competition, if you continue with the status quo, then you will be doing a bad job and everything you know and continue to do is wrong.

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      Just for clarification, I did not mean that should be the message given to given to top leaders. Rather, it is the message that most top leaders perceive even if the explicit message is as you say or even something that is non-threatening.

  2. Phil Fisher says:

    I understand. The reason for my comment is that I find the message in your article to be sadly true but in my experience bottom up implementation of lean is very difficult in the context of top leaders who don’t “get it. ” That is why I am an advocate for pragmatic communication with them instead of merely struggling along.

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