We all have heard about leaders, especially in this times of great dynamic recovery in the economy, lead by the automotive companies, expanding their capacity installing assembly plants in the country. Ok, maybe the economy is not recovering the way we want, but we got to accept that automotive is very dynamic now.
Recently i found this old article from Jeffrey Liker, about the Toyota Product Development System. Which of course has two milestones, that I really love to use as an example of leadership & respect for people: The Toyota Sienna case & the Prius development history. Both great examples of what a Product development System should be. But what really caught my eye on this Harvard Business Review Article was how the figure of the chief Engineer and the way the managers role was described.
"Like Toyota’s supervisors on the factory floor, managers in product development are working engineers. Instead of merely managing the engineering process, they hone their engineering skills, stay abreast of new technology, maintain their contacts and develop new ones, and remain involved in the creative process itself."
Sometimes, as we go up in the hierarchical chain at some company, we tend to stop doing what we used to do, and take a different role: management. Which in some cases is make sure, others follow the companies guidelines, rules, make sure the job is done, teach a little bit, give feedback. And usually, tend to stop doing the kind of work we used to do: sometimes going to gemba, actually perform a project ourselves, get involved in the activities on a daily basis from the operators or engineer´s perspective. We tend to have another role. Some may argue this is necessary, as there´s more need to plan, and make strategies, and "manage" things. But if we continue analyzing what this article has to say, we may want to reconsider that last sentence.
"Functional engineers are not frustrated by the experience of working under someone less skilled than they are. In many U.S. companies, by contrast, engineers who rise through the ranks become managers who stop doing engineering work."
"Toyota’s managers seem to avoid making decisions for their subordinates. They rarely tell subordinates what to do and instead answer questions with questions. They force engineers to think about and understand the problem before pursuing an alternative, even if the managers already know the correct answer. It’s not a boss-subordinate or even a coach-athlete relationship, but a student-mentor relationship."
So, this really reminded me the T.V. Series Elementary. Where legendary Sherlock Holmes arrives NY city and mentors a M.D. who recently switched carriers, Joan Watson. In the tv series, we see how Sherlock trains, and mentors Watson. In order to develop new skills that will help through the numerous cases they will take as partners. Sometimes with ridiculous tests such as not answering the door to have Watson open it, as if she was a thief. It is exactly as Sherlock puts it in the season 3 opener.
"That the experience I had with you, the one that kept me focused and grounded, could be replicated. I´m a mentor Watson, I´m a teacher. Stroke me like a thunderbolt."
Another key element is that I think that Toyota´s description of a manager in the way that they still are really active, within the creative process itself and in the way they keep their skills at a high level, reminded me some episodes where Sherlock does strange things in orther to keep his mind focused and actively solving misteries. Some of these may include hanging upside down, to have the blood flow towards the head, to get a better focus on a problem, or hearing Death Metal because a recent study showed it may help to activate some regions on the brain and improve concentration. Why not trying to break a fancy security system? The point is that, some of us, that have achieved some degree of responsability, sometimes loose focus, and stop doing what we really are good at, or stop studying, learning and believe we know everything. An important part of being a leader is to teach others. But as important as knowledge sharing, is obtaining, retaining and improving Tte knowledge we already have. Mastering & maintaining the skills that have already been acquired. May not be easy, but if we aim to be a real Lean Leader, is a path we must follow.