Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Does the TPS Concept of "Build Leaders" Mean to You?

During the early days of my "lean journey", I often heard and read that "Toyota doesn't build cars, they focus on building leaders."

OK, how many leaders does one company possibly need? If everyone is a leader, where are the followers? If everyone is a Chief, who are the Indians?

Like many of the basic concepts of TPS, this one is counter intuitive. Common sense tells us that we need to have people who need to figure out what to do and what's important, and we need everyone else to carry it out.  In the words of my hero, Taichi Ohno, "common sense is always wrong". 

As time went on, this concept of "build leaders" began to come into focus for me. Let me explain.

As we began to use A3 thinking as the primary way to make improvements, we created and entire new population of leaders. The leader of an 3-5 person A3 improvement team learns many leadership tasks in doing this process. They learn to eliminate, not live with, overburden, defects, rework, excess motion, etc. They learn how to execute the scientific method of problem solving....the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control). They learn how to not jump to solutions. They learn to take the reins of ownership of their own job. They learn to recruit the team needed to most effectively solve the problem or improve the process. They learn how to schedule & lead 15-20 minute meetings comprised of their peers and people in other departments. They learn to leverage the diversity of thinking (and resulting creativity) of their team. They learn to work toward gaining agreement of the current condition, root cause, and the target condition. They learn to assign parts of an implementation plan and hold others accountable for their part. Then, (gulp), they learn they won't die if they stand up in front of a whole bunch of people and teach them what the team learned. 

At first, A3 leaders need help in doing all this. Fast forward to about the 10th time they have lead A3, and trust me folks, you have a pretty darn good leader on your hands. If you do a few hundred A3s over the course of the year, you have invested in building dozens of leaders. This, my friends, is a good example of a true competitive advantage. 

When it comes time to recruit group leaders and team leaders, supervisors and managers, there is nothing more comforting than the ability to look at your own roster and realize there are many people who have been "learning by doing" leadership skills. Trust me, you will KNOW (no guess required) who your leaders are. No need to run an ad in the paper, hire a headhunter, risk disrupting your culture, etc. 

That is what the concept of "build leaders, not cars" means to me.

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