Values and behaviors of effective lean managers: Mixed-methods exploratory research

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Lean Management is a managerial approach focused on enhancing customer value through the elimination of non-value adding steps from work processes. Lean Management is also enjoying a resurgence, largely because its ‘do more with less’ philosophy is particularly well-suited for the austere conditions of a 'Great Recession' recovery. Despite this resurgence with practitioners, however, academic research of Lean Management, in particular research on the leadership of lean initiatives, remains limited. In this study, we identify a constellation of lean values and behaviors of effective lean managers, based on extant research and the views of expert practitioners, and a field study of lean managers. In the first of two empirical studies, we produce an initial list of values and behaviors, derived from both the lean and leadership literature, and from three Delphi rounds with 19 expert lean practitioners. In study 2, we corroborate and refine the list with a sample of effective lean middle managers, through 18 interviews; a survey (N = 43); and fine-grained video-analyses of their in situ behaviors during meetings with subordinates. The values identified include: honesty, candor, participation and teamwork, and continuous improvement—all indicative of self-transcendence and openness to change. Regarding behaviors, we find that the effective lean middle managers of our sample, compared to other middle managers, engage significantly more in positive relations-oriented “active listening” and “agreeing” behaviors, and significantly less in “task monitoring” and counterproductive work behaviors (such as “providing negative feedback” and “defending one's own position”). To conclude, we put forward five new propositions intended to guide future research and a more successful practice of ‘lean leadership.’
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-186
JournalEuropean management journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


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