“Support of top management is not sufficient. It is not enough that top management commit themselves for life to quality and productivity. They must know what it is that they are committed to — that is, what they must do. These obligations cannot be delegated. Support is not enough: action is required.” – Edwards W. Deming

Leaders own the culture of individual teams and therefore the organization, so standardizing and improving their roles can help sustain an effective, nurturing culture. Leader Standard Work (LSW) is a method that helps stabilize and standardize your role by understanding how and when you are coaching, developing others, problem solving, and sustaining standards. This is more of a mindset than a specific tool. The mindset is building a new “muscle” that is difficult to develop and helps you with personal improvement.

Ideally, multiple levels of leaders connect their LSW, with similar activities at different frequencies. For example, a VP goes to gemba in a specific area once a month, director once a week, and a manager/lead/sup once a day or more. Teams I have worked with find their rhythm of their work and are able to communicate and connect with their 1-up and 1-down leaders or direct reports very effectively while all working towards the same goals. The leaders find clarity in what information they are learning and what to do with it – help their team, escalate issues, supporting standards, communication, and problem solving. This clarity, once found, is difficult to live without so let’s explore three key behaviors that will help start your LSW in a sustainable way.

1. Intention & Discipline

A new behavior takes intention and discipline to make it stick – repetitions, not a certain number of days or weeks. When someone tells me that they want to start 20 new behaviors that they haven’t done before, I warn them that it will be hard to make that many stick and suggest trying only a few new things at a time to start building their “LSW muscle.” Pick 3-5 things that you think are important to your role and could improve. It could be something as simple as: turning in your timecard on time, meeting with an owner on a regular basis, go to gemba once a week, or 1:1s with your team members monthly.

When choosing your 3-5 items, be sure that you can explain the importance of it to you:

  • Why am I doing an activity?
  • What frequency should I be doing it vs. now?
  • How does it help me accomplish the work for my role?

Once you get good at those 3-5 things, increase the difficulty (instead of 1x/week, up it to 3x/week) or add on more items. You might run into things that need to be added naturally or start to develop yourself by adding more. Again, do not add too much at a time!

Where tools rule, fools follow. I often have leaders stall because they want to have the perfect tool to help guide their work, and they are always looking at what others have thinking that it will work for them too. Unfortunately, each person needs to use their LSW in the way that works for them, so do not get caught up in what it looks like. Some people work better with tactile items like a whiteboard, others like spreadsheets, virtual checklists, or a personal weekly work plan. Whatever it is, use your intention and discipline to keep improving so that it is effective for you to continue to build that “LSW muscle.”

2. Self-reflection and Honesty with Yourself

Leading with Humility is a guiding principle of lean and operational excellence [1], and humility with yourself is just as important. When starting this new way of thinking, you need to be honest with yourself about how you are doing and where you can improve. Be open to feeling like you aren’t perfect and don’t know everything. When you reflect on your 3-5 activities think about:

  • Am I just checking a box or actually doing it?
  • If I did not follow through, why? What got in my way?
  • Why am I missing the same thing over and over?
  • What am I going to do better next time?

Some people like to schedule LSW in their calendar by reserving time for different activities, and it can be a good way to help reinforce the “LSW muscle”. However, your LSW should be documented separately from your calendar. Our calendars are dynamic and always changing. They tell us where we have been, not where we want to be. The documented LSW is your goal for yourself and helps you see the gap from where you think you should be spending your time vs. where you are spending your time. This comes back to how you use the intentionality of LSW and reflection.

3. Respect for Every Individual

There are multiple aspects of Respect for Every Individual [1] (usually heard as Respect for People), one being respect for humanity and how we are helping everyone use their current skills & talents and develop new ones.

I have worked with many leaders who want to try to solve their team’s problems, but that does not mean they should. They needed to create a filter to know which size problem fits their role. If someone does not have the skills to do the problem solving at their level, then that is your new role as developer and nurturer to help them learn how to problem solve and do new things. A development item on your LSW will help them be more effective and confident in their role and help give some relief to you and your capacity. Win-Win!

Another way to respect people is making sure that they know how to do their work with regards to the process. There are multiple aspects to this, but the main thing that you can do as a leader is to have time in your LSW to support the standards/guidelines/procedures:

  1. Focus on the process not the people
  2. Ensure the standards/guidelines/procedures are being used – Gemba time!
    • Coach if they are not being used
    • Help when people are struggling with them
  3. Ensure that the standards are being improved –
    • Are people speaking up when something does not work or should be improved?
    • If they have not been improved recently, why? What is slowing down the continuous improvement?

As a leader, you get results through others, and by having intention & discipline, self-reflection & honesty with yourself, and respect for every individual you can start making your team the best they can be. The 3-5 things to start building your “LSW muscle” might be just for you to start stabilizing your role initially but think about how supporting your team will also help make your life and theirs more predictable and sustainable. If you would like to continue this conversation or learn about different groups who have used this, feel free to contact me individually or leave a comment.


[1] Shingo Institute (2020) The Shingo Model™ is not just another initiative; it is a new way of thinking [Online]. Available at: https://shingo.org/shingo-model/
[2] Toyota Culture – Servant Leadership pp 315-340
[3] Beyond Heroes – Standard Work for Leaders Chapter?

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Virginia works at McGough Construction and has been implementing lean, operational excellence, and cultural change in multiple organizations since 2011, using her industrial engineering background to drive efficiencies. These activities include coaching executives and leaders to develop their skills as a coach, develop strategy deployment from the top level down, frontline improvement/engagement systems from the bottom-up, A3 thinking, gemba walks, standard work and leader standard work, kaizen, value stream mapping and analysis, and visual systems. Recently, she became a Shingo Institute alumnus.