February 1, 2012
By Darren Dolcemascolo
The Toyota Way series of books have
provided much insight to what happens behind
the scenes at Toyota in both Japan and North
America. While there is overlap
between many of the books,
The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, by
Jeff Liker and Gary Convis, is worth reading
for any lean practitioner, particularly
those in executive leadership.
The authors lay out a useful framework
from which to understand the concepts of
leadership practiced at Toyota. While
no other organization will operate exactly
like Toyota, the book will aid in
understanding how to apply the principles of
leadership to be successful. Let's
examine some of the keys to effective
leadership as delineated by the authors.
First, the authors talk about the
uniqueness of lean: it is not a short-term
cost reduction program. It is not
something that can be "implemented" in the
sense that it has a start and end.
Because of the misconceptions about lean,
many lean efforts have failed or at least
failed to stick. The Toyota Way to
lean leadership, on the other hand, is an
ongoing development and learning process.
Next, the authors identify a multi-stage
leadership model based on their experience
(in the case of Convis) and in-depth
research (in the case of Liker). The
four stages of this model are:
1. Commit to Self-Development
and Develop Others.
3. Support Daily
4. Create Vision and Align Goals.
Each of these concepts has its own
dedicated chapter in the book that incudes
anecdotes that exemplify each stage.
For example, in the chapter on
Self-Development, Gary Convis tells the
story of his early days at NUMMI.
Unlike the typical organization that hires a
GM, Toyota did not expect Gary to move right
into his role (despite his vast experience
with GM and Ford). Instead, after
extensive training in Japan, Gary was
assigned an executive coordinator from Japan
(a sensei) to work with him and continue the
In the latter
chapters of the book, Gary Convis talks
about how the lean leadership principles he
learned at Toyota were able to help him
successfully turn around Dana Holding
Corporation, a major automotive parts
manufacturer. After filing for
bankruptcy in 2008, the company had reported
an annualized ROE (Return on Equity) of
17.6% by early 2011.
There is much to learn from Toyota when
it comes to leadership; I highly recommend
reading this book to better understand how
to successfully use these concepts.
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