The Toyota Way: Manage Like You Have No Power


In the thirteenth chapter of David Magee’s book “How Toyota Became #1:   Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company,” he discussed the management style of Toyota where a leader needs to be a facilitator more than a dictator.   In a company that is run like a dictatorship, power is disconnected from execution, and this disconnect can result in a quagmire of inefficiency.   Those who need to make the decisions do not have the power to do so, and must defer to the levels of authority that do.   Those that need to take action don’t understand the consequences of those actions, and those holding the power to not understand the ramifications of their decisions.   

In 2006, Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the company founder Henry Ford, realized that his plan to institute cost cutting measures and to become a leader in environmentally friendly vehicles was falling on deaf ears in the organization.   He brought in Alan Mulally from Boeing to help him rebuild the company, and Mulally went straight to the chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho.   This is an historical irony, because it was the founder of Toyota, Kiichiro Toyoda, who got his start in the automotive industry by studying Ford and its lean production many decades earlier.   

Mulally found that at Toyota, leaders empowered team members to think and act on their own, whereas at Ford, lower-level employees were NOT expected to ask questions, but rather to just do as they were told.   The best visual metaphor for Toyota’s management style comes from Toyota executive vice president Mitsuo Kinoshita, who compared it to a stone wall that surrounds a Japanese castle, where the stones of various sizes support each other, no matter what their size.   The small stones are just as important to the structure as the large ones, and without them, the wall would fall.

1.  Distribute Authority Widely

When Gary Convis went from General Motors to NUMMI to Toyota, he maintained his old dictatorial leadership style he had inherited from GM, but when he went from managing Toyota’s Georgetown plan to overseeing all of Toyota’s manufacturing facilities in North America, Convis was told something that change his management beliefs forever.   He was told to avoid being a dictatorial boss and to manage as if he had no power.   Employees were no longer to be told what to do:  they would be coached and taught to help themselves.   Rather than having employees come to him and ask him to make the decision himself, he would ask them to come back to him not with a request but with a recommendation, with the facts to back it up.  A manager must be a coach, must be willing to learn, and to leave ego out of the equation.   A manager must maintain a “go and see” attitude where facts are determined in order to ensure that viable decisions are made.   This makes sure that facts rule over popular opinion.    In meetings, participants are expected to avoid conjecture, hearsay, and opinion and to either presents facts or go back to do more research.    

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