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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Toyota Teaches its Leaders

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Sunday, March 11, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  What distinguishes a Lean leader from a very good traditional leader, in behaviour and results?

I think there’s little difference between a good Lean leader and a good traditional leader. Both want to transcend themselves. What we may actually be asking here is why does Toyota seem to have a disproportionate number of them?

One factor is the way Toyota leaders acquire their leadership ability. Traditionally we try to select for leadership skills — making the assumption that they are inborn — while at Toyota leadership skill and mindset are taught in daily practice. The pattern Toyota wants you to learn is embedded in several activities there, including daily problem solving, quality circles, improvement events and A3s.

At Toyota you’re selected not so much based on your skillset, but on your ability to learn and collaborate. Toyota will then teach you the skills and leadership behavior they’re looking for, which by the way explains the remarkable consistency of Toyota’s approach over the decades.

What mindset and skill do you teach a future leader? What we found being coached and taught at Toyota can be described as “iterative (think PDCA), purpose-driven behavior.” At Toyota I haven’t heard random questions like,“What have you improved since last time?” What we encountered were more deliberate questions along the lines of this pattern:

So who’s coaching your leaders and future leaders in this sort of mindset and behavior?

(Thank you to Gerd Aulinger and Art Smalley for their help with this post.)

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