Toyota Leadership Lessons: Part 4 — Helping to Develop People

During my visit Nagoya in June, Isao Yoshino and I spent many hours talking about leadership and Lean/TPS in Japan. Yoshino-san is a retired 40-year Toyota executive who was one of John Shook’s first managers in Japan.

CLICK HERE to get a curated PDF of 10 Toyota leadership lessons that Mr. Yoshino has shared with me.

This post builds off my first visit to Nagoya in April and my discussions with Yoshino earlier in the day for this particular visit. You can find these posts here:

Developing others is the top priority

Now retired from Toyota, Yoshino is teaching English at a Nagoya university and he is passionate about developing young people as problem solvers.

The Toyota Automobile Museum houses an impressive selection of cars from the beginning of automotive history to current day. This is one of the very first vehicles developed in the late 1800s.
The Toyota Automobile Museum houses an impressive selection of cars from the beginning of automotive history to current day. This is one of the very first vehicles developed in the late 1800s.

Before I arrived for this visit, Yoshino asked me if I would be willing to meet with some of his students as they were interested in practicing their English as well as learning about leadership from Yoshino’s and my conversation. I have always been passionate about developing others and have made a point of mentoring and coaching students and more junior professionals throughout my career, so I of course said yes!

I had met one of the students on my first visit to Nagoya in April to meet with Yoshino. During this trip to Nagoya, I talked with both students over lunch. They were both interested in my experiences as a professional female and asked questions about interviewing for jobs and how I got to where I am in my career.

After lunch, Yoshino and I went back to his office for 45 minutes to talk, while the students practiced listening, and then we got in the car to go to the Toyota Automobile Museum.

I’ve summarized some more of the highlights of our discussion below and in one more following post (stay tuned!). I have also included some photos from our trip to the Toyota Automobile Museum, which houses an impressive display of Japanese and international cars throughout the past century.

The power of human connection

Yoshino commented to me that “the human connection and human network works”. Yoshino has found this true throughout his career and life. Connecting with people on a personal level is one of the primary reasons he enjoys teaching and coaching.

Helping

When describing coaching relationships, Yoshino has frequently used the word “helping”. He believes that each person helps the other, regardless of who the “coachee” is and who the “mentor” is. Coaching and mentoring is a two way street, as we each help each other learn and develop through the interaction.

In describing his relationship as a coach and mentor currently to his university students, he said, “you are helping me and I am helping you.”

Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner

When I first met Yoshino, in July 2014 at the Lean Coaching Summit, he talked about the concept of “helping” as a two-way street when talking about his role as manager at Toyota. Both the coach and the learner help each other to learn. I wrote about his comments about coaching in an article for Lean Post:.

“Yoshino said he had two intentional goals when coaching John [Shook] at Toyota and during the NUMMI years. His first goal was to develop John by giving him a mission or target and supporting him while John figured out how to reach the target. His second goal was to develop himself as a coach as he was coaching John. He knew John’s learning depended on the strength of his coaching.”

Yoshino also recently shared this same concept with me in an email following my June visit to Nagoya when he said that he too has learned by our conversations:

“You said that you have learned many things on Lean concept & practices from our conversations.  I want you to know that I myself have learned many things from the questions you asked.”

Coaching and mentoring is a give and take, which each person helping the other to develop in the process (intentionally or unintentionally).

Edgar Schein’s thoughts on Helping

This concept of helping each other echos what Edgar Schein writes about in his book “Helping” that both Margie Hagene and I reference when coaching or teaching others on Lean coaching and A3 problem solving thinking. Schein writes that:

“Helping is a basic relationship that moves things forward.”

“Help in the broadest sense is, in fact, one of the most important currencies that flow between members of society.”

“Successful helping depends on a degree of trust and a degree of understanding between the helper and the person being helped.”

The power of human connection and our desire to help one another is foundational to developing people.

Critical thinking is vital

Learning to think

Yoshino explained that in Japan students are not asked to think more deeply about the process of getting to an answer. What is important in the Japanese education system is to “find the answer” and it is geared towards memorization, rather than idea development In Yoshino’s opinion, the thinking aspect is missing.

A selection of Japanese cars from the 20th century.
A selection of Japanese cars from the 20th century.

In traditional Japanese culture, people often expect others to “give me the right answer”, as this is what has been engrained in them in school. However, at Toyota, leaders and staff are taught that what is more important is what brought you to this answer.

In this aspect, Toyota culture is not the same as traditional Japanese culture. Toyota’s management principles of people development as problem solvers with critical thinking skills is perhaps a countermeasure to this deeply engrained educational approach.

Ask questions to help people to think

1966 was a big year in the Japanese automotive industry. Toyota and Datsun went head-to-head to compete to win the popularity of the Japanese market. Yoshino said that this Corolla model was one of the first that he worked on.
1966 was a big year in the Japanese automotive industry. Toyota and Datsun went head-to-head to compete to win the popularity of the Japanese market. Yoshino said that this Corolla model was one of the first that he worked on.

Yoshino wants to teach young Japanese pre-professional these critical thinking skills so that they are more prepared for success in an international business environment (and in life!). He coaches his students as he would if he were coaching someone who reported to him at Toyota. He wants his students to learn critical thinking skills to solve their own problems.

To get his students to think, Yoshino spends time asking questions rather than telling them what he thinks they should do. He said that “too many coaches try to tell you what to do”. Instead, he throws an idea out as an example to spark questions. He then asks his students to think about key factors in the example and asks them what they might experiment with. He shared similar thoughts about how to develop people when I first talked with him about leadership in April.

It takes time to learn

This 1955 Fujicabin scooter car looks like it could be out of the "Jetsons" cartoon.
This 1955 Fujicabin scooter car looks like it could be out of the “Jetsons” cartoon.

Yoshino spends many hours a week coaching these students and being available for any student that would like office hours with him. He shared that coaching is a relationship that takes time to build and takes time to do.

Yoshino explained that you have to dedicate time because it can take a long time to help someone get to the “right answer”. You have to let the person you are helping to explore ideas and fail. Telling them the “answer” is shortsighted and does not develop people’s critical thinking capability. It is only by understanding what the process was to get to the wrong answer, before you might actually land on the right one.

Walking the walk

Original advertisement for the 1936 Toyoda Model AA. Note the chauffeur driving and the women in the back seat wearing a kimono.
Original advertisement for the 1936 Toyoda Model AA. Note the chauffeur driving and the women in the back seat wearing a kimono.

Yoshino’s passion for developing people is evident not only in how he talks about leadership and mentorship, but through his actions. It’s inspiring – and fun – to spend time with this Lean thinker who truly cares about supporting the thinking of those around him.

Yoshino’s outlook on coaching and leadership validate the approach that I take with my clients and coaching relationships. I look forward to spending more time with Yoshino later this year!

My next post will include Yoshino’s thoughts on the questions many of you have asked me to explore while in Japan, including Lean in office environments and hoshin (strategy) deployment, and more of his reflections about what makes a great leader.

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Katie Anderson
About Katie Anderson 106 Articles
Lean thinker and coach. Passionate about developing people. Healthcare change agent. Living in California again after 18 months in Tokyo. Writing about lean and leadership.
  • Karl M Hoover

    Katie, Thanks for your continued sharing of all the you are learning in Japan. Love the concept of rather than focusing on getting the “right answer”, instead talking through the process that brought the individual to a particular answer. Thanks, Karl

  • Charles Intrieri

    A business is people: you don’t build a business, you build people who build the business. The IT/Digital individuals forget people.That is a mistake. People are the answer: Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner

  • Thanks for the comments, Karl. I agree – it’s a good reminder as coaches to focus on the process of learning, rather than the destination, as the outcome.

  • Thanks for the comments Chuck. It’s all about building capability of people!

  • Michael Bremer

    Katie….I’m jealous! Sounds like you are having some wonderful experiences. We are in Berlin, Germany this week on vacation. On Monday I stole away from my wife Lynn to visit a German Factory to learn about what they are doing relative to lean. It was an enjoyable visit. But your point about asking question is key. It is very easy to TELL people what to do and then to move on to the next activity.

    Asking questions causes everyone to slow down, think, probe and understand more deeply. As you noted both the questioner and the questionee (assuming that’s a word). Much of our conversation focused on the subject of process stability….actually the lack of an ability to see stability. So many people were doing GREAT workarounds…it looked like the processes were working just fine.

  • Michael Bremer

    Katie….I’m jealous! Sounds like you are having some wonderful experiences. We are in Berlin, Germany this week on vacation. On Monday I stole away from my wife Lynn to visit a German Factory to learn about what they are doing relative to lean. It was an enjoyable visit. But your point about asking questions is key. It is very easy to TELL people what to do and then to move on to the next activity.

    Asking questions causes everyone to slow down, think, probe and understand more deeply. As you noted both the questioner and the questionee (assuming that’s a word). Much of our conversation focused on the subject of process stability….actually the lack of an ability to see stability. So many people were doing GREAT workarounds…it looked like the processes were working just fine.

  • Thanks for the comments Michael! Sounds like you too are having a great experience this week. I too often try to sneak a gemba visit into trips if I can. It’s harder now that I usually am traveling with my small kids!

    I find practicing my lean thinking in my home life leads to good results too. Asking questions of my kids to learn their thinking…and finding out how they are thinking about the process to get to the result. Not just the final outcome.

    Keep on sharing what you are learning too and have a great rest of your trip to Germany!

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