How does the Lean leader separate responsibility and authority? This might seem strange because we normally think that authority and responsibility are linked together. Could this be another Lean thinking paradox?
The focus in a Lean organisation has shifted from “who has the authority” to “what is the right thing to do”. Successful leaders in maturing Lean cultures have moved from "we have all the answers" to "what do you think?” This is achieved by getting each team member to take initiative to actually solve problems that improve his or her job, by transferring individual responsibility for improvement to the lowest possible level where the work is actually done. It is also achieved by ensuring that every person’s job is aligned with providing value for the customer, so ultimately this will lead to prosperity for the company.
Our job as a Lean leader is to help our people expose problems, and then ensure they have the skills, the tools and the support to solve these problems using their understanding and knowledge of the situation. It is more a philosophy of “let’s figure this out together” and creating an environment where learning from mistakes (and successes) is an accepted part of our continuous improvement process.
To help expose problems we must spend more time in the process asking why, and then focus on giving people the responsibility and ownership for developing and implementing the solution. Lean leaders avoid relying on authority, instead leading by influence and example, as if they have no authority.