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Source: Business-improvement.eu
Lean: Value adding organization
Learning to Lead, Leading to LearnReview Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn
Toyota Inside: lessons from leader Isao Yoshino

By Dr Jaap van Ede, editor-in-chief Business-improvement.eu, 24-09-2020
Dutch version on Procesverbeteren.nl

Technically, Lean means attuning production steps to one another, putting the customers first, and striving for perfection. A prerequisite is however, that the goals and ambitions of the people are also attuned to each other, on all levels. A third important ingredient of the Toyota Production System is monozukuri wa hitozukuri: ‘we make things through making people’. To accomplish this, everyone continuously learns and reflects.

Toyota leader Isao Yoshino explains what this means in Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, in which he reflects on his professional life. Katie Anderson, who wrote the book, assisted and coached him. When you are a Lean expert, at first glance you may not find many new aspects about Lean management in this book. However, there are many deep lessons in it. What makes this book special, is that Yoshino is so honest and human. You learn that no one is perfect, not Yoshino and not Toyota. Do you want to know what it really looks like to be a Toyota manager? And how important personal and business goals are?

I rarely see a book with so much appraisal from many well-known Lean writers, consultants and other Lean specialists on the first pages. That gave me high expectations!

Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn describes how Isao Yoshino discovers personal goals for his life. Next, we follow his career at Toyota Motor Corporation, spanning 40 years. He started as a learner, gradually became a teacher and leader, but never stopped to learn.

Even the making of this book is seen by him as a mixture of learning and teaching. Yoshino reflects on what he did, and passes the knowledge on that is uncovered during this process. The book is written by Katie Anderson, an American Lean consultant, and is based on many interviews she had with Yoshino. I will discuss the book below. To show respect to Isao Yoshino and Katie Anderson, I asked them to react on my findings. 

Learn from each mistake
If you are a Lean expert, don’t expect too many new things about Lean leadership in this book. What makes it special, is that it gives you a true insight in how Toyota operated in the second half of the last century. This was the deciding period in developing the now famous Toyota Production System. The book tells you the good and the bad.

Not only concerning the achievements of Yoshino, but also concerning the relations he had with other Toyota managers. There are many stories about failure. So, Toyota and its leaders are certainly not perfect. What is different, is their behaviour. This is best formulated by Yoshino himself: ‘The only secret to Toyota is its attitude towards learning’.   

Isao Yoshino and Katie Anderson

This is one of the most human business books I have read. You get the feeling that you really get to know Yoshino, and his struggle to practice people-centered leadership.

The book reminded me of The Birth of Lean. It also describes part of the history of Lean, be it that the focus is solely on the people-side. There is also a connection with The Toyota Way of Leadership and Managing to Learn. These books also stress the importance of mentor-mentee relations. Most people within Toyota have these roles at the same time, so they lead and learn simultaneously.

In Managing to Learn one particular mentor-mentee relation is described, for which Yoshino served as role-model for the mentor, and John Shook was the mentee.

Bonsai tree
During reading Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, in which Isao Yoshino describes how he continuously strived to become a better leader and manager, the image of a bonsai tree came to my mind. By way of continuous reflection (hansei) he kept what was good, and removed behaviour what didn’t turn out to be good. And, while he grew, he remained patient and humble. When he was not able to reach a goal one way, he tried another. Just like a tree develops new branches growing in the direction of the light, when other ones become blocked.

Yoshino’s recipe to become a (better) Lean leader is simple, and will be familiar to people who know a lot about Lean. Below I quote the way in which Katie Anderson describes this recipe in the book:

  1. Set the direction: Issue a clear challenge, goal or target for your people”
  2. Provide support: Help your people develop themselves as learners and leaders, and create systems that enable their success”
  3. Develop yourself: Constantly improve yourself as a leader and a learner”

However, regarding these three steps, the book contains many much deeper lessons. Below, I will summarize some things I found remarkable myself, regarding direction, support and self-development. This will give you an idea. However, to find lessons you can use yourself, you should definitely read the book!

Isao YoshinoLessons we can learn from Isao Yoshino

  • The importance of having an inspiring goal.
  • Bad things (bosses, assignments, mistakes etc) can be reframed to become good things.
  • Sometime a revival of Lean principles is needed.
  • ‘Respect for people’ means coaching and inspiring them, and helping them to learn, think and use their talents.
  • Visiting the gemba, the place where people do their work, is also done to develop relationships with people and show that you care about them.
  • Self-development is primarily done by self-reflection (Hansei).
  • The thinking behind a Lean tool like an A3 is more important than the tool itself. And you need to practice with it, to really understand it.

Warp threads
One aspect that I found intriguing regarding direction, is the impact a personal goal in life can have. ‘As long as you have a dream, you can find a way to make it happen’, says Yoshino.

Anderson came up with a metaphor, referring to the loom business from which Toyota originated. Warp threads in a loom are kept under tension, to facilitate interweaving of weft threads. The result is a colorful fabric. In the metaphor, warp threads provide direction, and weft threads are things that you learn and accomplish on your way towards your goal.

This picture reminded me of the Toyota Kata concept. In it, a team strives iteratively to reach a target condition, bringing them stepwise closer towards a (company) vision, be it along a route that is a priori unclear and that is full of hidden obstacles and mistakes.

Anderson positions warp threads as life goals, However, in my opinion the idea of warp and weft threads is much wider applicable. Warp threads then can be any goal you wish to strive for. Or even a goal that you, as a manager, set for your Lean team. In addition, new or additional goals may evolve on the way. I don’t think that many of us have only one True North in life, but that our goals change along the way.

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Leader and teacher
Isao Yoshino says the following about being the manager of John Shook at NUMMI, which is the successful joint venture Toyota and General Motors had in the United States. ‘My aim as a manager was to develop John by giving him a mission or target, and to support him while he figured out to achieve that target (…) I was aware that I was also developing myself as well’.

The latter sentence refers to Yoshino’s second life goal, to become a good leader and teacher. And to pass on things he discovers on the way towards his first life goal: learning from other cultures, especially the American one.

Jack of all trades
I think the most important lesson here is that people should have goals, and should be supported to achieve those goals. Besides that, Yoshino teaches us that if there seems to be no inspiring goal, you can create one yourself!

When Yoshino got a seemingly unappealing assignment as “gofer” for NUMMI in a liaison office in San Francisco, his goal became to ‘become the best Jack of all trades’ he could be.

Developing people is not telling them what to do, but give them the opportunity to achieve goals, and to utilize their talents. Not only for the company they are in, but also for themselves. Visiting the gemba, the place where people do their work, is not solely done to validate facts and to learn about processes. Equally important is that leaders develop relationships with people and show that they care about them.

Learning to Lead, Leading to LearnTitle: Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn
Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a lifetime of continuous learning

Written by Katie Anderson.
Integrand Press, July 2020, 322 pages 

+   Many leadership-related stories from an insider within Toyota

++ Many lessons about people-centered leadership

+   Useful for all leaders in all types of industries and organizations.

-    The book does not describe the current situation at Toyota, that is: in this century. It would have been very useful if some current Toyota Leaders had been given the opportunity, to react on what is said.

      > more information about (ordering) the book on kbjanderson.com/learning-to-lead/

Something extra
Yoshino stresses the impact of doing something extra. When you really care for people, there are seemingly small things you can do for them, that may have a lasting influence. The English language study group that Yoshino started for shop-floor workers is a good example.  

Another lesson is to see mistakes as learning events. Yoshino was hired by Toyota for office work, but his career started with a four-month orientation program on the shop floor. The idea behind this: new workers learn that Toyota’s mains responsibility is to make good products. Such an orientation program in Western companies seems a very good idea to me!

Yoshino makes a huge mistake at the paint shop, and was very afraid that he would be fired. However, instead his manager thanked him for making this mistake, because it is an opportunity to improve the process.

Develop yourself
Self-development is primarily done by self-reflection (Hansei). It is normal when the application of what we call Lean principles sometimes needs refreshment. Yoshino one time skipped the process of going to the gemba (visiting the work floor), because he thought there was no time left to do that. His manager/mentor blew the whistle.

In 1979 and 1980 there was a program within Toyota to revitalize the management capabilities. Isao Hoshino was one of the trainers during this so-called Kanri Noryoku (Kan-Pro) programme. In my own words, the goal of this program was to practise Hoshin Kanri. This roughly means that all managers set clear goals, aligned with the goals of the rest of the organization. After this, everyone is on the same page concerning the mission.

Not mentioned in the book, which is logical because this happened after Yoshino left Toyota, are the recall problems the car maker had in 2010. After this, Toyota management also decided that it was time to tighten the screws, and to return to what we call Lean behaviour. As a journalist specialized in process improvement, I interviewed many other ‘Lean’ companies. A lot of those told me that regularly going back to the roots of Lean is necessary. On example is Auping in the Netherlands.

Sometimes, returning to the roots of Lean is neccessary
Sometimes, returning to the roots of Lean is neccessary. Personally, but also as a company. The Dutch bed manufacturer Auping is a good example of this.

Business failure
The most interesting story in the book is the water ski boat business, which Isao Yoshino tried to setup in the US for Toyota. In my opinion, this failure describes exactly what goes wrong with many Lean ‘transformations’ in Western companies!

The successful NUMMI venture that Toyota started several years earlier in the US included an extensive training and coaching program to teach new American employees Lean thinking. They even could experience the Toyota Production System in a Japanese factory.

The opposite was true for the (much smaller) water ski boat start-up. Going to the gemba, to see the needs and problems of the customers, was for example hardly done. Yoshino wanted to do this, but he needed permission for every step from Japan, which slowed him down a lot. In addition, his local management was on the west-coast of the US, and the boat factory was in Florida on the east-coast.

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Investment in people
Under the assumption there is a high-end market for water ski boats powered by Lexus engines, Toyota had to deliver boats of (much) better quality then everyone else. Applying the Toyota Production System (TPS), this could have been possible.

However, only if there was enough investment in people: develop them, with patience, before building boats. That did not happen.

Isao Yoshino deserves much respect to admit what went wrong here, and what he and Toyota learnt from it. Descriptions of business failures are very rare in management literature.

Fortunately, Yoshino could pick up his ‘teaching warp thread’ later. He became first professor and later lecturer at the Nagoya Gakuin University.

Jaap van EdeLessons Yoshino and Toyota may learn from the Dutch

As a young kid, Yoshino meets an American. From that moment one, his primary goal becomes to learn from other cultures, and to live and work in the United States. What could he have learned from the Dutch?

1. Work is not that important.
The book is about Yoshino’s professional life. This might explain that his personal life is not described. That said, the book gives you the impression that everything Yoshino does, including the social networks he is in, is related to work. That might be common in Japan, and to a lesser extent also in the United States, since the expression ‘American dream’ is also work related. When Yoshino runs the water ski boat start-up of Toyota, he can’t understand why some managers don’t want to move from one side to the other in the united states, to be near the gemba. However, it might well be that these managers put their family's interests first.
In Holland, it is more common to devote about 60% of life to work, and the remaining 40% to loved ones, family, social networks and hobby’s. Still, we thrive just as good, and are at least as happy. In addition, people here often also have ‘warp threads’ that are not career related. One personal example: the most famous sporting challenge in the Netherlands is the “elfstedentocht”. This means you have to skate along 12 Frisian cities in one day, which is a distance of 200 km. An additional challenge is that you don’t know when the tour is coming, because only once in about 12 years there is enough natural ice. Besides this, the weather and ice conditions may be bad. Still, when I was only 14 years old, in the very cold winter of 1979, I developed the desire to skate the tour. I had already persuaded my father to bring me to the start. Fortunately, there was no tour that year, since you are not allowed to start when you are not at least 18 years old. Besides that, I was in no condition to complete it. However, later I was able to skate the tour three times. In my opinion, you can also learn from such an experience, which asks for planning and perseverance. Besides that, many people get good ideas when they are doing non-business-related things, like sports and singing in my case.

2. Alignment of business goals with personal goals.
Reading the book, I noticed many time a sentence like “when my next assignment came”. Sometimes this is an assignment that Yoshino doesn’t really like, although he always turns it into something good. It seems that within Toyota, people are not asked what they would like to do, nor can people actively propose career moves.
You might wonder: is asking people whether they agree to do a certain task, not also a form of going to the gemba? Hidden talents might come to light that way.

3. Delegation
One of the reasons for the water ski boat business failure is that Yoshino, as factory manager in America, can’t make quick decisions. He needs permission for everything from managers in Japan. As I remember, this managing from a distance was also one of the reasons which led to the recall crisis of Toyota in 2010. 


Katie AndersonReflection of Katie Anderson on the book review

Thank you, Dr. Jaap van Ede, for this comprehensive review of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. As an author, it is most rewarding to learn that readers have taken away the lessons,  and experience the book, as intended. This review highlights many of the qualities of the writing and the lessons from Mr. Yoshino’s stories that I wanted to convey. I asked Isao Yoshino to reflect on the review as well, and he asked me to incorporate his comments (in italics).

Warp and Weft
One quote from the book that I mention often is “Learning is never perfect, and it is never complete.” I have had to accept that the book is one moment in Mr. Yoshino’s and my thinking in time. I have been reflecting on the metaphor of warp and weft a lot since the publication of the book and I agree with you that warp threads do not necessarily represent one singular life goal. I have come to see warp threads as our known purpose, the elements of life most important to us, the forces within us that drive us forward into the future despite setbacks. For Mr. Yoshino, his warp threads were clear and constant from the time of being a boy. For others, it can be the accumulation of different goals and purpose. Yet what is important is to have something solid in one’s life, something that gives the foundation, the strength, and the guidance to move forward.

Timeline of the stories
You say it is a pity that current Toyota leaders were not asked to comment. The purpose of the book was to capture Isao Yoshino’s leadership journey through his 40 years at Toyota from the late 1960s to the turn of the century, through his own experiences and reflections. Therefore, it was not appropriate to solicit other input into the book or describe experiences that were not his personal ones. Outside commentary, such as reviews as this, podcasts, and other interviews, are the venue which others can comment and provide their own perspective.

Cultural comments:
One of the lessons in the book – and which I have had to remind myself when working and living across cultures – is that there are positives and negatives of all cultures. Another is that one should not make assumptions on the motivations behind others actions without first “going to gemba” or validating our assumptions.

  1. Comment regarding work versus personal life
    You are right that typically there is a greater divide in Japan between work and home. The intention in this book was to describe Mr. Yoshino’s leadership lessons, though having the backdrop of how a personal goal shaped both his personal and professional life (his warp threads) is important to giving dimension and foundation to his weft thread stories.
    The review suggests that the reason that Mr Yoshino’s partner did not want to move to the gemba of the water ski business in Florida, might be that he put his family’s interests first. However, Mr. Yoshino told me that the situation was far more complex. He described many factors that went into the dynamics, not solely about putting family’s interests first.

  2. Comment regarding job assignments
    I will let Mr. Yoshino’s response address the comment regarding job assignments and personal goals. One must remember that his career traversed forty years between the late 1960s and early 2000s, primarily in Japan. His experience in this regard at Toyota is typical of most Japanese companies. Even much until today, though changes are happening currently.

    Mr. Yoshino replies:‘The comment that “It seems that within Toyota, people are not asked what they themselves would like to do, nor can people actively propose career moves” does not represent the situation correctly, but it is okay because it is a personal impression and not one validated by me or Toyota. Job assignment practices are very different between Japanese and foreign companies. In Japan, people are hired at the same timing (graduate from university in March, start working in April). The Human Resources Department makes all the related hiring decisions. High school and university graduates are hired in April and they receive orientation training run by the Human Resources Department (or Training Department). Then, at a certain timing (in August in my case), they are assigned to departments. The Human Resources Department receives the requests (how many new hires are needed) from each department across the company and they allocate new hires. It is the Human Resources Department, not each department, that assigns newly hires. Once an employee spends a certain period of time (i.e. four years) in one department, people can ask for a new assignment. Their boss then discusses it and sends the information to the Human Resources Department for the final decision. So, you can request an assignment to move to another department, but you are not sure that it will happen. It all depends on the needs of each department. You can, of course, try to talk to other departments to accept you, but this not so common in Japan. The advantage of the Japanese system is that you can get a variety of different experiences in several different departments, and that you can broaden your human network and knowledge. The disadvantage is that the authority of assigning you is held at the Human Resources Department or your direct boss. The system as described above is true for employees with non-engineering backgrounds, like me. Employees with engineering backgrounds will work primarily in divisions where their technical knowledge is highly needed.’

  3. Comment regarding delegation issues as a root cause of the 2010 Recall Crisis
    Again, I will let Mr. Yoshino’s response address these comments: ‘The comment that ‘managing from a distance might be one of the reasons which led to the recall crisis of Toyota in 2010’ is an impression, but I think there is a leap of logic in this comment. The Lexus car pedal issue took place in San Diego, in late August, 2009. It started with poor information from the U.S. side (Toyota Motor Sales, I believe) to Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), Japan.  TMC Japan did not take it very seriously at first, but as the fire became big, Toyota became very serious about it. But by then it was too late for Toyota to respond properly. It led to a series of Toyota-bashing in the media and the U.S. Congress in early 2020 when Akio Toyoda was called to testify to the Congress. Toyota’s slow reaction and inadequate response created a bigger issue than if the company had responded earlier.

Dr. Jaap van Ede, thank you again for your in-depth summary and your positive review and recommendation of Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn. Mr. Yoshino and I welcome commentary and questions from readers and look forward to hearing others’ reflections on the book. We hope our friends in the Netherlands and globally both enjoy and learn from the book.

Katie Anderson, September 2020 (kbjanderson.com)

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