If there is one word that describes growing leaders it is KAIZEN. In this post I share the meaning of the word and describe five ways leaders put it into practice. 

KAIZEN (Ky'zen)

In the early 1990's I was introduced to Masaaki Imai, E.M. Deming, J.M. Duran and other titans of the Total Quality Management movement. Mr. Imai added a word to my vocabulary that has significantly shaped me as a leader. The word is KAIZEN. It "means ongoing improvement involving everyone -- top management, managers, and workers."[1] This simple approach to work, coupled with careful metrics, drove Japan's competitive success following World War II.

KAIZEN is not simply good business practice, it is a God-honoring practice, one that has helped me to improve as a leader.

What does God say?

"What does God say?" is a question Christian leaders must continually ask. As "people of the Book" we have a responsibility to test concepts, ideas, and practices by the Word of God. When I open the pages of Scripture, I see KAIZEN.

  • I see KAIZEN in the Cultural Mandate.No sooner had God created humankind than he admonished them to get busy creating culture. "And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"[2]Andy Crouch reminds me that we are, as people made in the image of our Creator, "creative cultivators."[3] Cultivation is continuous improvement.
  • I see KAIZEN in the admonitions of Proverbs. This portion of the Bible's wisdom literature is full of the passionate pleas of a loving father: "Hear, my son, your father's instruction . . . "Go to the ant...consider her ways and be wise". . ."Take my instruction instead of silver". . ."Blessed is the one who listens to me". . ."In all hard work there is profit." In Proverbs, Solomon and others urge us and equip us to improve.
  • I see KAIZEN in the biblical teaching of stewardship. Christians are stewards of their gifts and talents (Romans 12:3-6). The Bible says, "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy" (1 Corinthians 4:2). Improvement is a part of good stewardship. 'Nough said.
  • I see KAIZEN in the admonition to glorify God in all that we do. Paul writes, "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Romans 11:36); "Do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31); "And whatever your do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23). Giving God my best means continuously improving -- every day!

KAIZEN is biblical. It is also DOABLE. Here are a few ways you can implement this concept.

How you can implement KAIZEN today

1. Ask God for his blessing.

Frédéric Godet wrote, “Every gift of God is an invitation to claim a greater [gift]. But most men stop very quickly on this way; and thus they never reach the full blessing.” I believe God is more ready to help than we are to ask. In fact, he tells us that we don't have because we don't ask (James 4:2).When our heart's cry is his glory, he will help us improve.Where do you need to request his help today?

2. Go back to school TODAY!

You need not enroll in a class to become a learner. We go back to school every time we read a book, a blog, or a magazine article. We go back to school every time we attend a conference.We go back to school every time we invite someone to critique our work. Today is a great day to go back to school. What simple step can you take TODAY to learn more in your area of expertise?

3. Invite constructive criticism.

Most people avoid constructive criticism. They prefer to nurse their tender egos than build leadership muscle by exposing their work to critique.

Inviting constructive criticism is not hard. Identify a recent project for which you were responsible. Find a superior, a trusted colleague, or someone who was part of the process. Ask that person two simple questions: (1) Tell me what you think worked and why? (2) Give me two ways you think I could have made it better?

Don't wait for the critique to come. Go find it. The person you ask will be honored by your request and you will get better.That's KAIZEN.

4. Examine your process.

My friend, Jill, has reminded me of these words, "Your system is perfectly designed for the results you are achieving." That is so true! KAIZEN is examining our processes, identifying what is working and not working, and then determining how we can make them better. If it ain't broke DO fix it. That is the KAIZEN way. 

5. Take a field trip.

Yesterday I visited a ministry colleague. His church just moved into a brand new facility. They are enjoying great growth and lots of momentum. My visit was short, but extremely beneficial. I saw, I listened, and I learned. Field trips are KAIZEN trips. They help us get better. Where can you go for some fresh ideas?

This list is just a start. There are all kinds of ways we can put KAIZEN into practice. Continuous improvement is the mark of growing leaders. How will you improve your leadership for God today?


[1] Massaaki Imai, KAIZEN: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success (New York: Random House, 1986). Page 3. [2] Genesis 1:28 ESV [3] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008). Page 22.