Reflection on the Sensei's Legacy - Life and Lean

Earlier this month, my father passed away after a long and stoic battle with cancer. He was days away from his 80th birthday. By virtually all measures, his was a life well-lived and fruitful. Jim Hamel left many who love him.

Death prompts reflection by those who remain this side of eternity. Within that mix, the word “legacy” often comes to mind.

One Merriam-Webster definition of legacy is as follows:

something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>.

The philosopher example makes sense. My father was a bit philosophical to say the least, especially relative to his fundamental attitude toward human life and destiny. He also had a wicked wit. It seems that his philosophy informed his wit...or was it the other way around?

When we think of legacy, we think necessarily of things that endure.

My father taught me many things, including how to play baseball and hockey, how to shoot, and how to tie a neck tie. In fact, he was a professional educator. Teaching was in his blood. But, those things are not truly part of his legacy.

When I was young, I was constantly impressed by how he seemed to bump into so many of his past students. Incredulously, I would ask, “Dad, how do you know so many people?”

These former students, no matter where we were, seemed to find him and then cheerfully say hello, introduce their young children, reminisce about days gone by, and so on. My father taught high school history, French and psychology (before becoming an assistant principal), but I am quite certain that the affection and memories of these students were not constitutive of those subjects. It was something more.

Much of my father’s legacy to me includes perseverance, toughness, fidelity, sacrifice and the giving of self for family and perhaps the art of wry, smart-aleck humor. The baseball, hockey, shooting, etc. were, in many ways, the stage for imparting the important stuff.

And so it goes for lean. Yes, of course there’s got to be a lean lesson in here somewhere!

My lean teachers taught me standard work, visual controls, pull systems, and the like. These things were in the category of tools and systems. I am forever grateful that my sensei imparted their knowledge to me about these important things.

But the enduring stuff, the real lean legacy is more about mentorship, humility, respect for every individual, employee involvement and engagement, the constant seeking of perfection, creating value for the customer, etc. These principles were consistently part of the curriculum…even if the student (me) did not notice it at the time.

Yes, legacy is more about principles, defined here as follows (Modern Catholic Dictionary, 1999).

principle: that from which something proceeds or on which it depends as its origin, cause, or source of being or action.

So, while I am hopeful that my clients, colleagues and friends will find my teaching around lean tools and systems helpful, I hope that my lean legacy will transcend those mere things. If so, I will have done my father proud.

Related posts: Cutting Edge Visual (and Sensory) Control, The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader


There are 10 Comments

David Saulnier's picture

Mark I am sorry to hear about your loss. When you were describing your fathers legacy, you were also describing yourself.

markrhamel's picture

Hi David,

Thanks so much for the comment. I only hope I can be as good as he was.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Dale,

Thanks for the comment and wisdom.

My dad was sorely missed during Thanksgiving, but the family stuck together, just as he would have wanted it.

Best regards,

Dale Savage's picture


You have our sympathies with regard to the loss of your father. I am sure that you especially felt his absence this Thanksgiving holiday. Thank you for using this personal reflection to help us to also see the deeper and most important aspects of Lean and also life in general. Our character is what people - and especially our children - will be remember when it is our turn to exchange time for eternity. Thank you again.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Pat,

Thanks for the kind words. It is always a pleasure working with you.

Best regards,

Pat Kramer's picture

As a lean learner who has been blessed by having you as a mentor, I can say without a doubt that the lessons you learned from your father come through in your work every day. Thank you for living out the Hamel legacy!

markrhamel's picture

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the comment and the sentiments. It's wonderful coaching lean, but it it's better coaching our children.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the comment. Yes, my dad was a great man.

Best regards,

Tim McMahon's picture

Nice Post Mark. Sorry to hear of your loss. I think the tale you tell is important. What we leave behind for others is our character and which we have imparted to others.