Four Japanese Leadership Lessons from Toyota

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The Toyota production system (TPS) is recognized around the world for making Toyota an automotive manufacturing leader. I bring TPS to your attention because it is an integrated socio-technical system—that is, an organizational development approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of people and technology.kaizen japanese

My approach of Leadership Intimacy also recognizes the interconnectedness of people but goes further, insisting that no matter how many technical skills leaders develop or how much theoretical knowledge they accumulate, they will still succeed or fail based on how well they manage personal relationships.

While Toyota’s TPS directives intentionally apply to manufacturing, at least four of them, below, offer leadership lessons applicable to managing personal relationships as a leader.


Yokoten: Knowledge sharing

Toyota advises its people to share what they learn with their colleagues around the world. Roughly translated, yokoten means “across everywhere.” You won’t find many executive willing to argue against the need to spread knowledge across everywhere in their organizations. Executing enterprise-wide learning, however, is another story.

Align4Profit’s Mobilize Enterprise-wide Learning Programs make the dream sharing knowledge throughout your organization a reality.


Genchi Genbutsu: Visit the shop floor

Whether or not your business has a shop floor, your leaders could benefit by following Toyota’s example of making sure managers observe what goes on wherever it goes on. For all leaders that means understanding what goes on inside yourself and inside those around you. Leadership Intimacy demands that you know yourself and everyone you deal with—not superficially but intimately—which demands regular visits to all your “shop floors”—your own, and those of your peers, team, management, customers, and suppliers.


Dantotsu: Be the best

To reach the top, obviously, you have to know where it is. Then and only then you can determine in what direction and how far you have to go to get there. Toyota benchmarks in order to establish this perspective.

A company’s value is determined by challenge and evolution. A company that only defends whatever it has achieved will not grow bigger and stronger; it will only sink below an evolving world above.
—Masayoshi So

Align4Profit offers leaders its Leadership Attraction Profile. This dual multi-rater feedback tool includes a personality assessment. We use it to help leaders determine how they are performing as leaders compared to a normed profile of Aligned Leaders. Our Leadership Attraction Profile also reveals whether or not a leader demonstrates the courage and tenacity to challenge the status quo rather than defend the way things have always been done.


Kaizen: Continuous improvement

Translated literally as “good change” kaizan may be a familiar term to many leaders in your organization. Introduced in Japan after the Second World War, it has spread throughout the world.

For leaders, kaizen should mean continuous learning. We help leaders do this with our proprietary Leadership Learning Plans. I offer four steps for continuous learning in How to Create an Effective Leadership Learning Plan.



Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.