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Music as a framework to better understand Lean leadership

M.L. Emiliani (School of Engineering and Technology, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut, USA)
Michael Emiliani (University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 12 July 2013




The purpose of this paper is to explain why most senior managers have great difficulty comprehending and correctly practising the Lean management system, thereby handicapping their ability to lead enterprise‐wide Lean transformations; to describe the depth and richness of relationships between the Lean management system and music; to help improve practitioners’ understanding of Lean management and how to learn it; and to help senior managers recognize the need to personally apply Lean principles and practices daily to become capable Lean leaders.


The paper uses a qualitative examination of various characteristics of the Lean management system and music, based in part on the authors’ experience implementing Lean in manufacturing and service businesses, and also in learning to play music over a nine‐year period.


The Lean management system and music share numerous similarities, including the difficulty most people encounter learning each discipline. The paper highlights the importance of daily practice by senior managers to learn and understand Lean management in order to capably lead enterprise‐wide Lean transformations, and to recognize and correct problems in Lean thinking and practice among themselves and others.

Research limitations/implications

Elucidation of the deep similarities between Lean and music does not answer the fundamental question of how to increase the number of senior managers who are interested in becoming capable Lean leaders.

Practical implications

The paper provides an answer to the question of why it is so difficult for senior managers, and others, to correctly understand and practise the Lean management system. It clarifies the deep level of personal understanding, leadership involvement, and daily routines required to have greater success with Lean management.

Social implications

Management practitioners who improve their understanding of Lean leadership will avoid common errors that undermine leadership credibility and morale among followers, and which impair the achievement of successful Lean transformations.


The paper presents a novel approach to understanding the Lean management system by using music as the framework. It shows how effective Lean leadership is more the result of daily practice than it is of the personal attributes normally associated with capable leadership. The deep similarities between Lean management and music have not been previously described in the literature.



Emiliani, M.L. and Emiliani, M. (2013), "Music as a framework to better understand Lean leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 407-426.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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