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The most crucial aspect of any Lean process implementation is the collective adoption of a continuous improvement mindset. This is the idea that Lean is never truly ‘accomplished’ but continuously sought after over time, leading to more impressive results with each tick of the clock. However, implementing this kind of mindset can present a challenge, as humans are naturally averse to change. This means that the leaders at the top need to be adept at inspiring a lasting culture change, which requires a primary focus on the well-being and empowerment of their teams.

What is a Servant Leader?

Largely, servant leadership functions much like it sounds – in service to others. In business, it’s the phrase, “Ask not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for your company.” Servant leaders think of the community within their organizations before thinking of the organization itself, striving to find ways to give back to their employees. This kind of approach to leadership has yielded increases in employee retention, more innovative thinking, and better working relationships.

While these results are impressive, servant leadership isn’t simply a methodological framework that a leader can quickly adopt. Servant leaders have several essential skills and characteristics that enable their teams to thrive. Calling yourself a boss or manager does not mean you are a servant leader. While they may lead people, bosses or managers can’t be servant leaders if they don’t see their role as a way to help others develop more skills and abilities in service of a productive team environment. Servant leaders put the growth and well-being of their teams ahead of all else.

Servant Leadership and Lean

Servant leaders are especially sought after when it comes to Lean Leadership. Continuous improvement is a mindset that requires company leadership to see people as their most important assets. Here are a few of the most crucial elements of servant leadership:

  1. The most fundamental skill of a servant leader is their ability to listen to their teams and make changes accordingly. Empathetic listening is crucial, as it incorporates the leader’s ability to listen to both what is and is not being said and then ask supportive follow-up questions. Empathy and listening skills are essential for lean leaders, as developing lean strategies takes the buy-in and loyalty of everyone on the team.
  2. Self-awareness. Strong servant leaders are aware of the way their actions and words impact others. When a servant leader knows a change is coming, they are adept at creating a motivating and inspiring environment despite the change. In addition, self-awareness implies that one can recognize ways to improve and ways to improve the lives of those around them.
  3. When employees feel entrusted with something valuable, like helping drive toward a powerful mission, productivity often rises. Servant leaders know how to empower people to make them feel part of the bigger picture instead of a vehicle for arriving at a final destination. Inspiration includes instilling a sense of trust and autonomy in those you lead, allowing them to feel like they are an important contributing member of the team.

Lean demands continuous improvement, and for the company to improve, the people need to improve first. Servant leaders provide opportunities for their employees to grow and develop, in turn creating a loyal and productive workforce aimed at improving the current company status.