From the earliest steps of my lean journey, I was told that Upper Management Support was critical to the success of lean. Any lean initiative would be doomed to fail without it. I did not question this wisdom from the "Lean Experts". Lean leadership even sounded logical. How can any effort in business work without management support and approval?
Funny thing, what I learned on my lean journey is that Lean Leadership is not required! (Also, I learned that this is not a guarantee for success either!) The reality is...Management is only interested in RESULTS and not methods. This is especially true in the upper management layers of the organizations where visits to the shop floor are infrequent and rushed.
A common mistake in the lean journey is to first contract with a high paid consultant to teach "lean" to the upper management levels. Following this enlightenment phase, management will publicly state their devotion to lean principles at the "XYZ" company from this day forward, establish strategic lean metrics for year end and tell their managers to hit the goals. After a couple of projects and some inventory cuts, upper management will think that their company is now "lean".
A better approach to Lean Leadership is the bottom up approach. Select a target area within the company, teach the lean principles at the point where the work is done, follow the improvement methodology and GET RESULTS that match with company directions. Along the way, keep management informed of your targets and progress. With success, upper management will become supportive of any method that is working even Lean. Other areas within the company will start to ask "How about us?". Success will create believers and followers. People want to be on the winning team and around success.