Level Four Leadership in Lean

Level Four Leadership People Development


John Maxwell in “The Five Levels of Leadership” writes that with Level 4 leaders, the emphasis is on personal and corporate productivity and this ability to create a highly productive team, department, or organization shows a higher level of leadership ability than most others display. To reach the upper levels of leadership that create elite organizations, leaders must transition from producers to developers. Why? Because people are an organization’s most valuable asset.

Good leaders at Level 4 invest their time, energy, money, and thinking into growing others as leaders. How does this emphasis on people and people’s decisions translate into action? Leaders on the People Development level of leadership shift their focus from the production achieved by others to the development of their potential. They put only 20% of their focus on their productivity while putting 80% of it on developing and leading others. This can be a difficult shift for highly productive people used to getting their hands dirty, but it’s a change that can revolutionize an organization and give it a much brighter future.

Lean, the word used to describe what was originally Toyota’s management system, is about continuous improvement and respect for people. Ultimately, Lean is a leadership and management approach to developing an organization filled with problem solvers.

In a lean management system, the role of the leader is to develop other leaders by coaching them to lead improvement efforts. Coaching does not mean telling them what to do. It means agreeing on challenging targets and providing corrective feedback on good processes to understand the problem, identifying potential countermeasures, and seeing them through to implementation, and monitoring results.  It is a team effort led by a leader who is also being carefully coached.

The coaching relationship and how to develop one’s coaching skills can be honed through A3 thinking.  Katie Anderson, in a blog post titled, “Building Capability, Transforming Organizations, suggests developing a personal improvement A3 as a tool you can use to help you identify what gaps you need to close in yourself to better be able to coach and develop others.

Here are some elements to include in your Personal Improvement A3:


Why should I improve myself as a coach/leader who creates an organization filled with problem solvers? Why this? Why now?

Current condition:

What are the habits/actions I take (strengths and limitations)? What are the outcomes of these habits/actions?

Problem statement:

(one concise sentence)


What is the new desired condition? What does good look like? How much? By when?


What are the reasons for my current performance (strong habits and limiting habits)? Why is there a gap?

Proposed countermeasures:

What experiments will I try on myself to become a better coach/leader of problem solvers?


What next steps will I take and when? What is my practice plan to develop new habits and close the gap?

Follow up:

How will I know there is an improvement? How will I know if I’m off-plan?  How will I make time to practice? What is my process for ongoing reflection and PDCA? Who else will I involve?

The main challenge for leaders at this level is to put the growth of others first, above their interests. The more leaders with the right qualities, the better this will be for the organization’s ability to build a culture filled with problem solvers. The more new leaders are trained, the more this leads to productive teams.

Leadership Assessment1

Read the following ten statements and place a checkmark next to each one you agree is true for you. Answer using your first instinct. Please do not skip questions, and do not go back and change any of your responses.

Level 4

  • I schedule and follow through with training and development for all the members of my team on a regular, consistent basis.
  • When deadlines loom or work becomes urgent, we never cancel our training and development sessions.
  • I consistently take risks by giving people responsibilities and authority that will stretch them.
  • I spend a significant amount of time every month mentoring up‑and-​­coming leaders.
  • I know thoroughly the strengths and weaknesses of all the people I lead.
  • I individualize the way I train, develop, and mentor my people.
  • I spend the most strategic and significant mentoring time with the people who have the highest capacity, talent, and potential.
  • I have a history of moving people from position to position to help find their fit.
  • I am continually giving people feedback, not just during formal reviews.
  • My team or department is considered by others to be the best trained (or one of the best) in the organization.

If you marked eight or more of the above statements true for you, then you have mastered Level 4 leadership.

 Next week’s blog will discuss Level 5 Leadership: Pinnacle, people follow you for who you are and what you have done.

1 The 5 Levels of Leadership, John Maxwell

A special thanks to Cheryl Archer for developing this blog post!

As always it is an honor serving you and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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