The Toyota Way: The Power of Humility

This posts summarizes the third chapter of David Magee’s book How Toyota Became #1.   The purpose of these notes is to clarify the material in my own mind, and also to whet the reader’s appetite so that they go and read the book for a fuller comprehension of the material.    There are many fascinating anecdotes and statistics in the book that illustrate the material which I am omitting for brevity’s sake.

1.   Humility, not Humiliation

Although Mr. Magee does not use the word, much of the corporate culture in the United States is involved with giving perks to executives which act as a way of separating the executives both physically and mentally from the workers they are in charge of leading.     By creating a culture of inequality, it lends itself to the executive gaining an attitude of entitlement and superiority, which can be perceived by the worker as a passive form of put down or humiliation of their own status.

As opposed to the American corporate culture, the Japanese corporate culture has the principle of humility, not of humiliation.   Their corporate culture is designed not to increase the physical and mental gap between executives and workers, but to decrease it.

The Toyota Executive Vice President Gary Convis is an example of this.  He flies commercial airlines rather than a company jet, walks the manufacturing facility floor daily in order to remain accessible to team members, and drives around in a $15,000 compact.    His lifestyle is designed not to distance himself from his workers.

2.  Don’t Give Others Reason to Doubt

One of the more contentious aspects in manufacturing in the United States is the issue of executive perks such as corporate jets at a time when restructuring implies the elimination of thousands of jobs for ordinary workers.    In the Toyota company culture, this would be seen as muda or waste.    There are executive perks in Toyota, such as chauffeur-driven cars in Tokyo, or larger, private offices rather than the open, obeya-style offices where lower-level executives work at the head of a table where all of their staff are seated.    However, the Toyota culture of humility is so strong that these modest perks do not engender executive arrogance.

This culture of humility grows out of a national character which encourages modesty and mutual respect, and is nurtured by the small-town attitude that Toyota has maintained over the year given that its largest concentration of manufacturing plants is in the suburban countryside community of Toyota City outside of Nagoya.    The Toyoda family maintains a significant influence on the culture and ongoing operations of the company, in a way that is similar to the Ford family’s involvement with Ford Motor Company in the United States.

3.  Maintain Proper Perspective




One Response

  1. […] building a system that accessed it for decision making throughout the company. And that required applied humility – rather as I’m arguing cultivating and accessing critical thinking throughout an […]

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