Fail to honor people
They fail to honor you;
but of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”
On 2/5/2010, Akio Toyoda, CEO and grandson of Toyota’s founder, broke his almost total silence in response to the safety crisis that confronted his company. In Japan, an apology is considered an art form. Although he apologized before and after the press conference, his apology was widely criticized by the press.
For example, Mr. Toyoda began and ended the press conference with a bow, but it was not the customary Japanese-style deep long bow of contrition.( Toyota Apologizes for Massive Recall) Mr. Toyoda bungled his apology in the same way that his company has bungled quality control. Furthermore, upon being asked a couple of questions, Mr. Toyoda appeared to be in denial that his company had any safety problems, as shown in the following clip:
How did Mr. Toyoda’s assertion that “Believe me, Toyota car is safety…” relate to the fears of Toyota’s customers who were being subjected to harrowing news stories of Toyota vehicles accelerating out of control?
In the above video clip—as well as in his tangled apology—Mr. Toyoda failed to honor the company’s millions of stakeholders: dealers, employees, suppliers, and customers.
How to Lead Toyota Out of Crisis
There are literally hundreds of definitions of leadership. In the context of Toyota’s problems, I suggest that Mr. Toyoda heed the words of Warren Bennis. In the book Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus interview 90 leaders in their day, from Neil Armstrong to Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds.
Leadership is a complex issue as there are many aspects to it. In this post, I will discuss only a couple of behaviors that the CEO of an organization must demonstrate. Here is one thing. Bennis indicated that the job of the leader is to instill vision, meaning and trust in his followers. The leader has to be a good listener, showing sensitivity to the needs of the organizations’ many constituencies. For example, former US President Clinton famously stated “I feel your pain” when looking at an unemployed man in a town hall debate forum. This empathetic phrase was a crucial moment in his campaign for the Presidency of the U.S. Mr. Toyoda must empathize with his customers, employees, dealerships and suppliers much in the same way that candidate Clinton empathized with the electorate during the 1992 campaign. By listening to the “voice of his customers,” Mr. Toyoda will probably be able to regain their trust.
Furthermore, what Mr. Toyoda must provide is a vision of how Toyota’s will look, five years in the future, its future state. Inventing images, metaphors and models, Mr. Toyoda must depict a company that stands for quality. This vision is necessary to possibly regain the support of Toyota’s employees, dealers, suppliers and customers. The methods and strategies required to achieve this vision must also be laid out in the months to come.
This will be the first of several posts about leadership at Toyota. Although leadership at the top is crucial, there are three other issues that top management must address to restore Toyota to its former glory. For details, read the post: Troubles in Toyota City