Be a Katalyst - Accelerating your learning to lead with intention

Be a KATAlyst: Accelerate Learning by Leading with Intention

What does it mean to be a Katalyst? And how can you accelerate the rate of learning in your organization?

In today’s post you can learn more about what “kata” means in relation to problem solving and coaching, and watch a recent webinar I led diving into these topics.

Read (and watch) on and explore how you can be an accelerator for learning in your organization by practicing the routines of scientific thinking and coaching for scientific thinking.

What is Kata?

“Kata” itself is a Japanese word meaning “form” or “routine”. It is used in martial arts and others as the standard routines and patterns of behavior that one practices.

Shorthand in lean circles for the “Toyota Kata”, “Kata” as referenced here delves into the patterns of thinking and behavior documented by Mike Rother after years of studying how Toyota’s leaders solve problems and coach their teams.

Kata, as its become to be known, is the fundamental routine of behavior and thinking behind a learning organization.

You can explore the meaning of the word and idea of Kata in this article I wrote in  2018.

Watch my keynote from KataCon8 2022 where I highlight what it means to be a Katalyst:

And read all the way to the end to see some more highlights from KataCon8 Conference March 17-28, 2022!

“Catalyst” vs “Katalyst”….a new word for our practices to accelerate learning

I was inspired to create the word “Katalyst ” when thinking about a play on words to create a mash up of “catalyst” as an accelerator in general, and the Japanese word “kata” as routines for problem solving and coaching.


I was planning the first (and so far only….due to the pandemic) “San Francisco Bay Area Kata Practitioner’s Day” back in 2019 and was talking with fellow learning coach and Kata practitioner Tilo Schwarz, who is German. We were exchanging ideas about Kata, and how leaders can be catalysts for learning – and I decided to “mash-up” the two words to create a new meaning:

KATALYST: Someone who accelerates the rate of learning as the source of organizational progress and change!


Webinar: How to Be a Katalystand Accelerate Learning by Leading with Intention

In a recent webinar I offered in February 2022 in partnership with Lean Frontiers, you’ll go deeper into how Kata underpins:

  1. A leader’s purpose
  2. A3 thinking
  3. Hoshin kanri/strategy deployment
  4. PDSA or SAPD cycles
  5. Navigating leadership continuums of asking and telling; being an expert and coach; when to challenge and when to support; and business outcomes and people development

Dive in to explore how can you become a Katalystin your organization — and read on below for more information!

Kata: The Routine of Leading to Learn

While we’re always exploring different frameworks for problem solving and coaching within lean, such as A3 and hoshin kanri, they connect back and are inextricably linked to the Leading to Learn Framework.

In fact, A3 Thinking, hoshin kanri, and other frameworks are all part of the bigger picture of being a katalystof learning and growth in your organization.

The practice of what is known as Toyota Kata is no different.

Let’s explore that a little more deeply.

A Leader’s Purpose

A leader’s purpose in Leading to Learnis to set the direction, provide support, and develop yourself. 

The Toyota Kata is grounded directly in this fundamental purpose that I call the “Leading to Learn” framework for a leader’s purpose.

the leading to learn framework

It’s about how we’re accelerating thinking in our organizations, and it all comes back to an attitude towards learning.

It’s about the practice of setting a challenge and understanding how to go about meeting that challenge, and then moving onto the next one, as we support people through the threshold of knowledge (as described by Rother in his book Toyota Kata) or, what I like to call, The Learning Zone.

“The only secret to Toyota is its attitude toward learning” – Isao Yoshino.

I’ve had the great honor in my life to have befriended Toyota leader, Isao Yoshino, as many of you know, and to have captured over 40-years of his leadership lessons in the bestselling book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning.

Mr. Yoshino worked at Toyota for over 40 years between the 1960s and early 2000s, during which he was John Shook’s manager. (Shook was the first non-Japanese employee of Toyota Motor Corporation, is the author of Managing to Learn and is the chairman of the Lean Global Network).

The very first time that I met Mr. Yoshino in July 2014, half a year before I moved to Japan, he was on stage with Shook at a conference talking about their role as manager and direct report. He made the following statement about his purpose as a manager:

“My aim was to develop John [or whomever was reporting to him] by giving him a mission or target, and supporting him while he figured out how to reach the target. And as I was developing John, I was aware that I was developing myself as well.”

KataCon Keynote- Isao Yoshino.001

Without knowing it, Mr. Yoshino was describing what we now call “Toyota Kata.”

Mr. Yoshino was a katalyst for John Shook’s learning.

As he developed John, he was developing himself as well.

And this amplified a Chain of Learning through the company, through Mr. Yoshino’s actions, through Shook’s writing and teaching around the world, and through me and Mr. Yoshino to you here and in our book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.

The Fundamentals of Toyota Kata

Isao Yoshino might not know what “Toyota Kata” is, but he fundamentally practices the same routines (“katas”) in every interaction to support others to solve problems and think more deeply.

Toyota Kata practices of the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata are the patterns of scientific thinking and leader-as-coach that Rother put words to.

These patterns of thinking and practice are implicit in how people are taught to solve problems and how to act in the organization.

This was how Mr. Yoshino learned to lead, and then lead to learn: by setting direction with a challenge or target, providing support through coaching and teaching, and developing himself to become a better leader at the same time.

Creating a Chain of Learning

By being Katalysts™, we create a Chain of Learning where we each amplify our impact, and our people’s impact, and thereby our organization’s impact, by increasing the ability for people to think and solve problems.

This Chain of Learning is created though the 7 Cs of leadership. When we lead with curiosity, caring, and courage, we help create (and amplify) capability, confidence, clarity, and creativity in those around this.  And this is united by the connections between us.

As I like to say when it comes to people, 1+1= MUCH MORE THAN 2.

The sum of us working together is greater than our individual impact.

When we create a learning environment we build confidence and capability in all the people in our sphere of influence.

Additional Resources

For more ways to learn about being a Katalyst, take a look at some of these learning opportunities.

KataCon 2022

In early 2022 I attended my first in-person conference in over 2.5 years due to the pandemic. I was at the KataCon 8, held on Jekyll Island, hosted by Lean Frontiers!  I was invited to keynote and teach a workshop about how we accelerate scientific thinking and improvement in organizations.

Yet, most importantly to me, I had the chance to meet with many colleagues I’ve befriended and interacted with only remotely over the past two years.

Here are just a few highlights of the event – check out my Twitter feed for more real-time posts.


Be Part of My Chain of Learning

If you enjoyed this post and want to continue your learning journey with me, sign up for my periodic newsletter below where you’ll be the first to know about new articles on leadership, coaching, and continuous improvement, more author interviews and giveaways, and other opportunities to deepen your learning.

If you are already a subscriber, thank you!

Get The Latest Updates

Join my Chain of Learning®!

Register below for my newsletter and be the first to know about new articles, podcast episodes, and other inspiration to deepen your learning and leadership impact.

Let's grow our Chain of Learning -- together!

Related Posts



Get my free guide 3 Tips to Break The Telling Habit & learn how to ask better questions with intention.

3 Tips to Break the Telling Habit

Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment now!

Sign up today to get a free copy of the Take my FREE Change Katalyst™ self-assessment.

Get your own copy of the 4-Box Problem-Solving Tool

Sign up today to get a free copy of the 4-box problem-solving tool.

Download My Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Framework

I want the "Leading to Learn: People Centered Practices to Develop a Culture of Learning" webinar slides!

In addition to the webinar slides, you will also be signed up for Katie’s periodic newsletter, which you can opt out of at any time.

Get the Create a Life Tapestry Art Project Instructions

Enter your email to get access to the life tapestry instructions.

How to Ask Effective Questions

All newsletter subscribers get a copy of Isao Yoshino’s tips on “How to Ask Effective Questions” from our joint session on asking effective questions. Sign up here!

Download Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn Book Sample

Dive into Isao Yoshino’s Letter to the Reader and learn from his first mistake at Toyota. By sharing your information, you will also be subscribed to Katie’s periodic newsletter to be the first to know about new articles, events, and other learning experiences!

Download a PDF of the article "If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again"

Sign up below and receive a PDF of the article I wrote for Planet Lean “If You Think Lean is Inherently Japanese, Think Again”!

Get Personal Improvement A3 Coaching Tips!

Develop your coaching skills to develop others. Download the Personal Improvement A3 Coaching guide!

Start living and leading with intention today!

Do you want improve yourself as a leader, coach or learner? Getting started with an intentional practice of daily reflection can accelerate your learning. Enter your email address below to download the Daily Reflection Template.

Isao Yoshino’s Leadership Credo

Sign up here and get your copy of Isao Yoshino’s leadership credo!

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Top 10 Toyota Leadership Lessons

Receive a PDF of the first top 10 leadership lessons and insights that I learned from Mr. Isao Yoshino, a leader at Toyota for over 40 years. These lessons and more inspired us to create the bestselling book “Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn.”

Learning to Lead Leading to Learn Book

Access the Book Bonus Resources

Get the downloadable bonus material and additional resources referenced throughout the book. By sharing your information, you will receive access to all the bonus resources — as well as new resources as they become available.