These Quotes from “Toyota Culture” on Servant Leadership are Powerful


I've been making my way through the book Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way at a regrettably slow pace.

There's such good stuff in there… the chapter on “Servant Leadership” is outstanding.

Page 320 includes a few statements/quotes that were “drilled into the minds and hearts of leaders at Toyota”:

  • “The team member is the expert.”
  • “Focus on the problem, not the person.”
  • “Mistakes are okay as long as people learn from them.”
  • “Take care of the people building the cars.”
  • “You work for your team members.”

So simple, so brilliant…. so hard to adopt if you just “don't get it” or “can't get it.

Is it that difficult compared to implementing Lean methods like “kanban”? It sure seems like it… if statements like those above seem wrong or rub you the wrong way, can you be successful with Lean? A subtitle for the chapter could have been, “Get your ego out of the way”, don't you think?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Easy to do – BUT you don’t get the credit.

    Implementing something such as Kanban, 5S, SMED (just the tools) can be fully measured and you will get the credit.

    That is how management of people in organizations all too often work nowadays.

    What is your experience?



  2. This is, without question IMHO, the hard part. Or, as Michael Hammer said years ago, “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” It’s easy for a leader to say “go try it for awhile, and let me know how it works.” It’s hard to say “I plan to change the way I work with you so we can improve our organization together.” It goes against what many of us learned in business school, and it’s hard to demonstrate how to do it. And it’s hard for the leaders to let go. If we can figure out a way to make this part easier, we’re going to be able to take perfromace improvement and Lean to an unprecedented place.

  3. I think a big problem is in the way people define success here in the West which is often influenced by our individualistic nature.

    I’ve been to Japan many times as my wife is Japanese and it is true when people speak of their “group orientated” outlook.

    The book “The Art of Japanese Management” by Pascal and Atmos do a good job in illustrating the difference in management styles between the Japanese and the West and though dated now is still of value – I recommend it.

    Basically the Toyota approach to HR is not unique in Japan and many of the large organisations follow a similar route. This has come about largely because of their lifetime employment system.

    However let’s not also forget that the Japanese expect, or rather demand, their pound of flesh in return. For the Japanese salaryman the company comes first, and the company’s concerns are higher than ones own family.

    A friend I have in Japan gets really good perks and is well look after by his employer but boy what does he have to give up for that! In the West we would basically die. Its the same at the Toyota plants in Japan. They look after you but boy do you have to work for them, I talking 14 hour days here.

    We’ve got to keep things in perspective.


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