The Toyota Way: Diligently Apply to the Right Pursuits

In the month of July, I wanted to turn my attention from leadership to the subjects of lean production and six sigma. These two movements have been spearheaded by Toyota and Motorola, respectively, but they both have common roots in the pioneering work on quality control done by Deming.

This week I am looking at the book How Toyota Became #1 by David Magee. In it, he tells the story of how principles of what we now call lean production transformed Toyota into the world’s largest auto company.

In the first chapter, he gives some of the company’s early history, which I describe in the following posts.

1.  Pursue Perfection Relentlessly

The secret to Toyota’s success is not quality; that is a manifestation of a deeper principle, which is “respect for people”.   This encourages every employee to be actively engaged in pursuing the company’s goals, including quality, and is, in a memorable phrase by the author, a “self-regenerating internally combustive enterprise.”    It allows the company to go beyond the more myopic pursuits of just profit margins and market share.

Where did this principle originate?    The concern for the welfare of employees started right from the beginning with Toyota’s origins as the company Toyoda, a textile manufacturer.  When Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the eponymous company, watched his mother and other women work the looms, he wanted to make their lives easier by making their weaving jobs easier.   By observing the women and working hard at night trying to solve these problems, he developed better and continually improved machinery.

He received over 100 patents for his innovations, and his first loom patent in 1890 coincided with the date that an American engineer named Ransom Olds was building a steam-engine automobile.    Sakichi Toyoda applied the concept of steam-power to the previously hand-operated looms in 1896, and the Toyoda Looms Works became one of the most prosperous in Japan.

However innovative the steam-powered looms were in Japan, the looms in Europe and the United States were by this time considerably more advanced.    Sakichi Toyoda went to Europe and studied looms made by Platt Brothers & Co., Ltd., the leading manufacturer in the UK.    He purchased a copy of the book Self-Help by a 19th-century motivational management guru named Samuel Smiles, and he was heavily influenced by the work.    The key to Sakichi Toyoda’s success was not just his expertise at machinery and his desire to improve the capability and quality of his tools, but his ability to influence people to improve the quality of machine production at the source.

When he died in 1930, his son Kiichiro Toyoda took over the business after having learned his father’s philosophies about business that contributes to the betterment of its workers and to the society in which it operates.   In 1935, Kiichiro Toyoda established his father’s business philosophy in the following precepts.

  1. Be contributive to the development and welfare of the country by working together, regardless of position, in faithfully fulfilling your duties.
  2. Be ahead of the times through endless creativity, inquisitiveness, and pursuit of improvement.
  3. Be practical and avoid frivolity.
  4. Be kind and generous; strive to create a warm, homelike atmosphere.
  5. Be reverent, and show gratitude for things great and small in thought and deed.

2.  Conquer New Territory

Kiichiro Toyoda traveled to Detroit in the United States, and wanted to emulate Henry Ford’s efficient production process which provided affordable automobiles to Americans.    By this time, rather than Toyoda following Platt Brothers’ designs, the Platt Brothers were now purchasing patents from Toyoda Automatic Loom Works.   This gave Toyoda the equivalent of $20 million in today’s currency to develop a Japanese automobile and pursue the Toyoda family ideal of “betterment of people through creative enterprise.”   The first prototype produced in 1935, and the “AA” went into mass production in 1936.    It became Japan’s most popular car.    In 1937, the company changed its name to “Toyota” because the name sounded more appealing and the Toyota Motor Company, Ltd., was established as a Japanese corporation.

The first vehicles that came out of Toyota had numerous quality issues, but were 10% less expensive than their American counterparts.   However, it was not in the passenger vehicle market where the company found its greatest success–Toyota only produced 1,500 cars in the first seven years in the auto business–but rather in the truck business.

There was steady growth until 1945, when the commencement of World War II required the company to focus its efforts on military production, just as its American counterparts in the auto industry did.    After World War II, the United States government allowed Toyota to begin peacetime vehicle production in occupied Japan, and Toyota began selling the Model SA (trade name “Toyopet”).    The vehicle was well received by the Japanese public–they produced 100,000 vehicles that first year!    However, an economic recession that started in 1950 caused Toyota to have to lay off employees amid financial losses.   After an historic restructured labor agreement, the company realized it needed to improve its operating procedures in order to survive in the long term.

In the late 1950s, Toyota tried to sell in the United States by setting up a dealership in Southern California to sell its “Toyopet Crown” flagship vehicle.    However, sales were dismal until they decided in the mid-60s to design cars specifically for the American market, like the Toyota Corona.

In the 1980s, Toyota started to build American manufacturing plants, like the one in Georgetown, Kentucky.   This would become key to the corporation’s future growth, until now when it leads operations in almost 30 countries, and sells products in more than 170 countries around the world.

3.  Commit to What Matters Most

The core founding principles of Toyota are those of a) respecting people and b) striving for continuous improvement.  The first part, that of respecting people, means that the people in the company strive to be more selfless, and this is exemplified by the first non-Japanese to lead Toyota Motor North America, Jim Press.    When he went from Ford to Toyota in the 1970s, he was impressed with the difference in corporate culture.   He felt at Ford that he was working for his immediate supervisor, but at Toyota, he felt he was working for the company’s president and chairman from day one.   He constantly seeks feedback from customers and dealers in the field, and it explicitly says on his business card, “If you or anyone you know has had trouble with a Toyota, call me.”   This willingness to listen and learn from others is combined with his penchant for discipline and self-improvement that carries over into his personal life.

4.  Be Willing to Improve

In order to be considered for employment at Toyota, you need to be able to fit into the corporate culture, which means subscribing to the belief that anything, from products to processes to people, can be improved.    It’s not how Toyota builds things, but how it approaches the process and mind-set of building things, that sets it apart from other automobile manufacturers.


5 Advantages of Joining a John Maxwell Mastermind Group

John C. Maxwell, the world-renowned expert on leadership, has written many books on the subject of leadership and communication.   I came across his works through a fellow Toastmaster, who was also interested in these two subjects.  She had joined a John Maxwell Mastermind group, enjoyed the experienced tremendously, and went on to do training to run her own Mastermind group.   Last fall I preceded to join one of her groups, which discussed the book 21 Leadership Qualities, and this spring I joined another one, this one on communication which discussed his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect.

I have spent about half a year then going the material in both these books first by reading them, and then by experiencing them in a Mastermind Group.   The purpose of today’s post is to give you 5 advantages you will have when you join a John Maxwell Mastermind Group.

Before I relate those advantages, I wanted to explain briefly what a Mastermind group is.    It is a group facilitated by the group leader which meets periodically to go through the material in one of John Maxwell’s books.    Before each week’s group discussion, the members of the group are expected to read the chapter, go through some exercises to make sure they comprehend the material, and if they are called upon to do so, to make a short summary and commentary on the chapter, giving examples from that person’s own experience which reflect the material taught in that chapter.

Then at the meeting, the leader goes through the outline of the chapter, asks a member to give their own summary and commentary, and then the discussion is opened to the group regarding any additional comments members may have about how the material is reflected in their lives.    Then there is an assignment given to put the material into practice.   This is either discussed at the next meeting or turned into the facilitator who reads the responses from the members of the group, gives commentary and sometimes reads excerpts at the following meeting.

Given this structure, here are the 5 advantages of joining a John Maxwell Mastermind group.

1.  Learning through Reflection

Normally, when you a book you go through the material once, and you may only end up retaining 10% of what you have read.    When you not only read the book, but do the exercises that help test your comprehension, you are going through the material with certain mental checkpoints in mind that help you zero in on the most important elements.   This allows you to retain more of what you read.    If you do a summary of the chapter for others, this also forces you to pick out the most important elements in order to condense them into a short, 5-minute presentation for the group.  This also reinforces the material.

2.  Living earning through Application

If you are asked to comment on a chapter, besides summarizing the material, you are asked to comment on any situations you have encountered, either recently or in the past, which illustrate the material involved.   By relating it to your own life, you are starting to own the material, rather than just reflect on it intellectually, because it is something which connects to your experience.

3.  Living the Material

In the last section of the chapter, John Maxwell poses some exercises for those who want to practice the material between discussion of the chapters.    This is an excellent time for you to plan out those ways in which you will, with the support of the group, go beyond your comfort zone and try to connect with people even if it is uncomfortable to you at first.    The rule is:   it gets better with practice.    Avoiding connecting with people because it is uncomfortable will never make the situation any better.

4.  Positive Reinforcement

Let’s say that, after once week, you have tried to apply the material.   You will either succeed, try and fail, or fail to try.   If you succeed, you should get positive reinforcement from the group.   If you try and fail, you should get positive reinforcement from the group as well, and suggestions for trying again so that you succeed the next time.   And if you fail to try, admit it, and ask the group for help.   They will offer positive suggestions that will help you.   Just remember, the group won’t give up on you.   They will not let you fail unless you decide to fail yourself.   If you love and respect yourself enough as a human being, you will not give up on yourself either.   Especially when the rest of the group is your cheer-leading squad!   What do they get out of it?   Well, you do the same for them!

5.   Networking

Finally, by entering a group with like-minded people, you are entering a field of energy in which your mind and indeed your whole consciousness is focused like a laser on the particular topic of communication or leadership around which the group is based.    You will gain insights from others in different jobs or different walks of life than you are, but the fact that you all have in common the pursuit of excellence is something that will spill over into your regular, everyday life outside of the Mastermind Group.

Since I have started the group one half-year ago, I have been approached with the following opportunities:

–Chief Project Manager for the largest educational event of the year for the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute

–One of the Directors of the Board of that same chapter of the Project Management Institute

–Board member of my church

–President of my home club in Toastmasters, and Area Governor as well

I have only been a member of that chapter, that church, and that Toastmasters club for one year.    I am convinced that these leadership opportunities came to me because I showed through my gradual mastery of the material in the two Mastermind Groups to those in positions of authority in those institutions that I was ready for those opportunities.

Now, I hope to continue to join Mastermind groups in the area to make sure that I succeed at those opportunities I have been given!

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Credibility Connects

In the tenth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell gives his fifth set of practices for connecting, namely, how to gain credibility as a leader by living what you communicate.   In the past few posts,  I discussed the opening to the chapter, in which the first step in connecting with others is the ability to connect with yourself.   This can be done through self-assessment to uncover your flaws or weaknesses, and dealing with weaknesses or flaws you may uncover in this process.    The last post covered the various additional ways in which you can improve your credibility, such as

–leading the way you live

–telling the truth about your own weaknesses

–being vulnerable to criticism (= being willing to learn)

–follow the Golden Rule

–deliver results

This is the final section of the chapter, and it sums up the entire fifth set of practices discussed in the chapter with the simple phrase:   credibility connects.

1.   Your Team = Your Extended Family

John Maxwell says that in your personal life, you should aim to have those who are closest to you–your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends–not only love you, but respect you.   This is presumably because they trust you, and have confidence with you.    In the United States, the “work ethic” is to separate one’s family life and one’s professional life and allow each to flourish in their own sphere.    However, John Maxwell advocates bringing this same “family ethic” into your professional sphere of life.   In other words, treat your colleagues, whether it is at your place of worship, at your workplace, in your professional associations, or in your volunteer organizations, as members of your extended family.    Aim to have them trust you and have confidence in you as if you were a member of their own family.

2.  Connecting Comes in Drops, in Waves, and in an Entire Ocean

You can connect with people on a one-time basis, like greeting strangers, being kind to people who are in service positions, or giving a talk to an audience.    This connecting is like drops of water that come off the waves from the ocean.    However, in order to connect with people on a long-term basis, your connections must come relentlessly with the steady beat of the waves as they come in from the ocean.   A single drop may refresh someone’s face, but a wave can move, and has the power to transport and to transform those who are caught in its power.

And you will find that the success that is generated by your connecting with others takes on a life of its own, and starts to effect others, like the ocean that generate new waves as the approach the shore.

One of the closing lines of the movie Cloud Atlas has a character who is a financial backer of the slave trade berate his son-in-law who decides, after his life is saved by a freed black slave, to quit the slave trade business and move East to join the abolitionists.    The father-in-law chides him by saying, “Your life amounts to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean.”    As he leaves with his wife, the son-in-law responds, “Yet what is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

Use John Maxwell’s techniques to connect like a series of drops, then gain credibility and become a wave … you will soon find that the power of the ocean is behind you, whether you term that force “God” or “nature”.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Uncovering Your Own Weaknesses

In the tenth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell gives his fifth set of practices for connecting, namely, how to gain credibility as a leader by living what you communicate.   In yesterday’s post, I discussed the opening to the chapter, in which the first step in connecting with others is the ability to connect with yourself.

In this chapter, I outline the various ways that John Maxwell suggests for doing this.

In the previous post, I talked about how John Maxwell says connecting with yourself is the first step you need to gain credibility before connecting with others.    You can do this through self-assessment (for which I suggested the journal method taught by Shawn Achor at his TED talk) and self-talk to help you maintain a realistic but positive outlook on life.

This next section deals with what to do when you uncover weaknesses or flaws during that self-assessment.

2.  Right Your Wrongs

If you do make decisions that don’t turn out the way they were intended to, let your team know that you made a mistake.   They will respect you for it.

If your decisions accidentally hurt people, you need to tell them that you are sorry.   Then you need to make amends.  You cannot change decisions you have already made, but you can change decisions that will effect others from here on out.

3.  Be Accountable

When you make a commitment, you create hope.    When you keep a commitment, you create trust.

Allow others to ask questions, to challenge you, so that any weaknesses can be uncovered more quickly.   That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

The next post deals with leading the way you life.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Connect with Yourself First

In the tenth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell gives his fifth set of practices for connecting, namely, how to gain credibility as a leader by living what you communicate.   In yesterday’s post, I discussed the opening to the chapter, in which the first step in connecting with others is the ability to connect with yourself.

In this chapter, I outline the various ways that John Maxwell suggests for doing this.

1.   Connect With Yourself

To connect with yourself, you have to know yourself, both your strengths and weaknesses, in an objective a manner as possible.   This can come from taking self-assessment tests available on line, but a lot of material can be uncovered simply by reflecting, and writing in a journal.    I use a journal for three reasons:   as a gratitude journal, as a planning journal, and as a journal of reflection.    The gratitude comes from the formula discussed by Shawn Achor, who gives a talk at TED The Happy Secret To Better Work.

In this talk, he shows how writing

  • three things you are grateful for
  • one positive experience you have had in the past 24 hours
  • one random act of kindness you have done for someone in one of your networks, or better yet, a stranger

can focus your mind on the positive and keep it from focusing on the negative.    It’s not that negative events won’t happen to you, it’s just that you won’t dwell on them and you won’t give them the power to derail you from your ultimate goals.

I also use my journal as a planning journal, where I write my long-term plan, yearly plan, monthly plan, weekly plan, and daily plan.    This is important to my personal life as well as my professional life as a project manager.

Then the third thing I use my journal for is for reflection on the meaning and import of the events that have happened to me, either during the day or during the night in the form of dreams.    Keeping a journal for this purpose opens a line of communication that allows you to be in touch with your inner thoughts, and feelings, and yet to be able to distance yourself enough from them to be able to write about them.

In the next post, I talk about the next elements of connecting with yourself, namely, how to right your wrongs, and to be accountable to yourself for goals you set and for values you want to uphold.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Living what you Communicate

In this final week covering the book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, I covered John Maxwell’s final chapter, which expresses the fifth set of practices regarding the ability to connect, namely, connecting over the long term which requires that you “live what you communicate.”

If you are trying to influence a person, group, or an entire audience, you can connect with them on a one-time basis using the techniques and principles outlined in the rest of the book.   But if you have a long-term relationship with a group as their leader, for example, as a project manager, you need to develop a reservoir of trust.   How do you develop this?    By establishing credibility.

John Maxwell states that in the first six months of a relationship, communication overrides credibility, but after six months–credibility overrides communication.    Credibility is a currency which you need to always renew so that you are solvent; if your actions deplete it to the point that you are bankrupt, your team members will start to disconnect from you.

In order to gain credibility and trust with others, you have to first develop credibility and trust with yourself.   In the next post, I will discuss the various ways that John Maxwell suggests on how you can learn to connect with your yourself, so that you gain credibility in your eyes and so that you can trust yourself and your judgment.    If you can’t trust yourself, you can’t ask others to!

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: The Inspiration Equation (3)

In this ninth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fourth set of principles for connecting, namely, that connectors inspire people.

The converse of this is also true, namely, that people who do not connect do not inspire, and in the worst case, they can even discourage others.

Now, this post will get into the meat of the chapter, which is what John Maxwell calls the Inspiration Equation, where he lists the elements you need to have in order to inspire your audience, namely:

  • What They Know
  • What They See
  • What They Feel

In this third segment, John Maxwell discusses the third element, “What They Feel.”

C.  What People Need To Feel

Although the first two elements listed above, namely, making sure people know what they need to know and see what they need to see, are important elements for inspiring others, John Maxwell feels that the third element, making people feel what they need to feel, is the most important element.    The following are the three ingredients for this element.

1.  People Need to Feel Your Passion for the Subject and Them

Vision is the creation in the mind’s eye of the goal, but passion is the fuel which gets you there.

Do see if you have passion for your subject and your audience, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I believe what I say?
  • Has it changed me?
  • Do I believe it will help others?
  • Have I seen it change others?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you have the passion for your subject that you can transmit to your audience.   Just remember the saying by the Roman philosopher Plutarch who once said about the education of a child that “a child’s mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”    Just go into your presentation with expectation that the audience is thinking the same thought as that of another modern philosopher, Jim Morrison of the Doors, who famously intoned, “C’mon, baby, light my fire!”

2.  People Need To Feel Your Confidence in Yourself and Them

People need to be able to say yes to the following questions with regard to your presentation, especially those where you ask the audience to take some action:

  • Was is worth it?
  • Can I do it?

One of the most confidence-inducing presidents in American history was President Franklin Roosevelt, about whom Labor Secretary Francis Perkins once said that he made her feel better after talking with her, “not because he had solved any problems, but because he had made me feel more cheerful, stronger, and more determined.”

You can gain a sense of natural confidence if you approach communication the right way.

3.  People Need to Feel Your Gratitude for Them

John Maxwell feels that gratitude is probably the most neglected and least expressed of all the virtues.   When you are grateful for something, you see it as a gift.   When you see a gift, your eyes are open, you see the object for the first time, and you take in everything, from the packaging, to the colors, shape and form of the gift itself.    But the object is also bathed in the warm emotion of gratitude not just for the object, but for the person who gave it to you.

In a similar way, you need to be grateful for audience so that you do not take them for granted, but see them as if for the first time.   In this way, you could give the same speech 100 times and yet have it be as fresh and new as the first time, because you are giving it for the first time to this audience.

Even those things that go wrong teach you valuable lessons which improve you as a speaker so you should not anticipate problems, but when they do happen, deal with, move on, and look at them in the rearview mirror with a wave, a smile, and a “thank you” for making you a better person.

Now the next post is going to be the culmination of the ninth chapter, and it is the culmination of the Inspiration Equation which answers the question “What happens when you put all three elements together?”

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: The Inspiration Equation (2)

In this ninth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fourth set of principles for connecting, namely, that connectors inspire people.

The converse of this is also true, namely, that people who do not connect do not inspire, and in the worst case, they can even discourage others.

Now, this post will get into the meat of the chapter, which is what John Maxwell calls the Inspiration Equation, where he lists the elements you need to have in order to inspire your audience, namely:

  • What They Know
  • What They See
  • What They Feel

In this second segment, John Maxwell discusses the second element, “What They See.”

B.  What People Need To See

Often people make decisions on whether they are going to pay attention to you based on what they see.   According to John Maxwell, here’s what they’re looking for:

1.  People Need to See Your Conviction

John Maxwell relates the words of Larry Phillips, who described genuine heartfelt convictions as coming across as “words of steel”, as opposed to “words of tin” which dent easily when they are hit.    You need to believe in the argument you’re advancing.

However, I would like to add that you need to believe it because it is right, rather than believing it is right because you happen to believe it.    In this way, if the belief is challenged, you can see it as a challenge to the belief and not a personal challenge.    You need to have enough emotional distance to be able to take those hits against your “words of steel” without being fazed by them.

2.  People Need to See Your Credibility

John Maxwell relates that if you are one-time speaker, people will often give you the benefit of the doubt, as long as your credentials are good.    This is why getting a good introduction from the Master of Ceremonies is important, because it sets you up as someone whom the audience can trust.   If you’re going to speak to the same group of people time after time, however, you have to work to maintain credibility.    This is the essence of the meaning of the phrase “someone who walks the walk, and doesn’t just talk the talk.”

3.  People Need to See Evidence of Your Character

The ultimate test of a great teacher is someone who does not just explain, but demonstrates a message so that it is not just intellectually comprehended by the audience, but experienced by them as well.

Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mendela were able to head political movements because they inspired not just with their words, but with their actions.   If you are talking to a group about leadership, make sure that those who hear your words also see you demonstrate leadership in action.

In summary, although an audience will make an initial impression of a speaker based largely on superficial impressions, their decision to continue listening will be based on deeper perceptions related to the speaker’s credibility and their character.

In the next post, I will elaborate on the third element of the Inspiration Equation, paying attention to “What People Feel.”

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: The Inspiration Equation (1)

In this ninth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fourth set of principles for connecting, namely, that connectors inspire people.

The converse of this is also true, namely, that people who do not connect do not inspire, and in the worst case, they can even discourage others.

Now, this post will get into the meat of the chapter, which is what John Maxwell calls the Inspiration Equation, where he lists the elements you need to have in order to inspire your audience, namely:

  • What They Know
  • What They See
  • What They Feel

In this first segment, John Maxwell discusses

A.   What People Need to Know

Even Aristotle, one of the greatest Greek philosophers, recognized that in persuading an audience, the most important element was not having a set of facts or information, but rather pathos, the ability to connect with the feelings, desires, fears, and passions of their listeners.   There are two ways of letting people know that they trust you and should listen to you.

1.  People Need to Know That you Understand them and Are Focused on Them

Good speakers focus on their listener’s needs, not their own.

One of the most elegant definitions of a bore is by Ortega y Gasset:   “someone who deprives you of your solitude without providing companionship.”    In other words, it’s all about him (or her).    Connectors, on the other hand, help you to talk about yourself.

As you prepare to communicate to others, you must let them know you understand them and want to help them by asking these questions:

a.  What are they thinking?

Find out as much as you can about the people you are going to communicate with.

b.  What are they saying?

Listen not just to what people are saying, but how they are saying it, or even what they are not saying.

c.  What are they doing?

See what activities people are engaged in, and what body language they use when doing them.

2.   People Need To Know That you Have High Expectations of Them

If you believe the best in people, you will believe they can and want to change for the better.    With this belief, you can help people do amazing things.   Steve Jobs once said, “management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.

When you  encourage people one-on-one, believe the best about them.  When you write a speech or the manuscript of a boo, imagine readers embracing what you have to say and becoming better people as a result.   People respond positively to enthusiasm, not skepticism.   Believe that people are waiting for someone to challenge, motivate, and encourage them to be all they can be, and then be that someone!

The next post will cover the second element of the inspiration equation, “What People Need to See.”

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: Connectors Inspire People

In this ninth chapter of his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell discusses the fourth set of principles for connecting, namely, that connectors inspire people.

The converse of this is also true, namely, that people who do not connect do not inspire, and in the worst case, they can even discourage others.

Let me introduce this topic by relating the “Tale of Two Teachers”, two fourth-grade teachers whose ability (or lack thereof) to connect with me had a tremendous impact on my academic performance.

My fourth-grade teacher in Catholic school was a person who taught to the average student.   If you were slower than average, or faster than average, you were overlooked.    I tested at a level two grades above my current level, and so I was bored with the homework that I was given–so I didn’t do it.    My grades were obviously way out of sync with my potential, and my mother and father were concerned.   They asked the teacher to give me something more challenging, but her philosophy was “If he does all the work I give him and gets straight As, I might give him something more challenging.”   My parents instinctively understood that the teacher had the situation backwards.

The situation came to a head in the second month of class, when the teacher asked for us to do a special “show and tell” report and her instructions were to do a presentation to the class on some subject that we were interested in that might be of interest to the other children as well.    I looked at the World Book Encyclopedia, and I found an interesting place called Afghanistan, which was totally unlike Chicago where I was growing up, and therefore of interest to a curiosity-laden child like myself.    I tried to get my bed-sheet tied up around me in the form of a native costume, but tripped over it coming down the stairs and almost broke my neck on the landing.   My parents decided that as visually dramatic as it was, it was a safety hazard and I would just have to rely on my description of the country and its people to tell the other kids about it.

I practiced and practiced my presentation, and I got up in the front of the other kids and … at the end, they all applauded as politeness dictated, but I could see a lot of them had open-mouthed looks of surprise and/or astonishment.    Then, the teacher promptly began to YELL at me for not obeying her instructions.    “I asked you to do a presentation on something that the OTHER children might be interested in.   They’re not interested in some place called Franistan.”    “It’s called Afghanistan,” I helpfully corrected her.   “Whatever!   I want you to come back next week and do something that the other children might enjoy.”

I was frankly too stunned to cry or get angry at the unfairness of what she said.   Well, when I got home and I was asked at dinner the usual “how did it go?” question from my parents, I told them exactly what the teacher said.   My mother was a woman who, when she was angry, didn’t raise her voice, but who instead got deathly quiet, like the eye of a hurricane just before the highest winds start to hit.    “I’m having a talk with your teacher tomorrow.”   I was just glad that I wasn’t the target of that anger my mother kept simmering just below the surface of the volcano of her frown.

When she went into the teacher, the teacher repeated her position, and so my mother went to the principal.   My mother explained that her son was obviously bored with the ordinary curriculum, and she asked if the teacher could assign him some additional materials that might engage my interest.    The principal said basically that the teacher didn’t have time, because if she made an exception for me, she would have to then start giving special materials to 30 different children, and the school didn’t have the resources for that.   Besides, the principal said, your son is being disruptive in class and that is probably why the teacher reacted that way.    My mother said he is disruptive because he is bored, not because he wants to be bad.   If you gave him something challenging, he would behave.   No, the principal insisted, he has to conform first, and then they might, just might, give me something additional to do.

My mother got up, said thank you to the principal for informing her of her views, and said, “I’m withdrawing my son from your school as of tomorrow.”    My mother then went over to the public school, and talked to the principal, who was more progressive in her educational views.   My mother described the incident, and the principal said, “well, he sounds very bright!   I think I have the right teacher for him.”   She called my new teacher, Mrs. Schmeichel, who was a relatively young teacher whose husband taught science in one of the junior high schools in the neighborhood.   When she was told of my interest in foreign countries, she was ecstatic about having me in her class because she wanted to get the other kids interested in places outside the United States, and I seemed like the ideal student to help her.    She connected with my mother and not only recognized my special talents and gifts, but made them seem like they were going to be an essential part of her teaching plan for the year.    From that first day of class, I was enthralled with my new teacher and was always doing special reports and projects that kept me busy and, more importantly for Mrs. Schmeichel, quiet.

In fact, the first time when there was a parent-teacher conference, my mother related how she asked how I was doing, because I always answered that things were “great” at school, and she concerned that I might be exaggerating how well they were going because I was afraid my mother would yank me out of another school if I admitted how things were really going.

“Well, he really is doing very well, but there is one problem I see,” Mrs. Schmeichel related to my mother.   My mother recalled thinking “oh, here it comes!”    “He’s … a little on the quiet side.”    My mother stopped and had to make sure that Mrs. Schmeichel had the correct report in her folder.   “We are … talking about Jerome, I take it?   Not some other kid?”    “Yes,” my teacher laughed.   “You see he gets so absorbed in what he’s doing that he doesn’t interact as much with the other students as I would like.   But there’s time to work on that … it’s really no big deal.”

Later on in life, I realized that my model as a teacher, trainer and educator has always been that first model of educational tolerance for someone who was “out of the mainstream”.    Mrs. Schmeichel did not try to fit me into her factory formula of dealing with an “average student.”   Not only did she recognize me as an individual, but she made me feel like I was an important part of the class.   Of course at first I gloried in the attention she gave me, but later on in the year I could see she did that with all of the students.

She was one of my first examples of an adult who connected with me, truly connected with me and all of interests and experiences, no matter how unusual they were, and inspired me to take whatever I was interested in and GO!    As a Toastmaster just leaving the position of Vice President Education, that same spirit of encouragement is something I aspire to live up to every day.

Now, the next post will get into the meat of the chapter, which is what John Maxwell calls the Inspiration Equation, where he lists the elements you need to have in order to inspire your audience.