I just finished reading the book Lincoln on Leadership. I found it to be an excellent book, highlighting the leadership lessons that made Lincoln one of the most revered and respected people in the world. I highly recommend this book.
Abraham Lincoln’s life, in my view, was a personification of the Toyota Way — his respect for people, his personal tutoring of his followers through effective use of ambiguity and the Socratic approach, and his common sense — all pleasantly reek of Toyota.
To highlight how Lincoln’s demeanor and leadership style captures some of the essence of the Toyota Way, I want to share his general approach with people and how that is really a manifestation of Toyota’s principle of Genchi Genbutsu.
Get Out of the Office
Lincoln once fired one his Generals because the General was “out of touch” with his troops. In Lincoln’s words:
He [General Freemont] is losing the confidence of men near him, whose support any man in his position must have to be successful. His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.
Lincoln on Leadership, page 14
Lincoln’s letter, an excerpt of which you find above, is instructive as it is very pointed: Lincoln is teaching while he is correcting. This is a subtle but strong hallmark of a good leader.
To illustrate the concept of Genchi Genbutsu, Taiichi Ohno does this well through a distinction he makes between Facts versus Data. In his words,
“The root cause of any problem is the key to a lasting solution,” Ohno used to say. He constantly emphasized the importance of genchi genbutsu, or ‘going to the source,’ and clarifying the problem with one’s own eyes. “‘Data’ is of course important in manufacturing,” he often remarked, “but I place greatest emphasis on ‘facts.’”
Data is a degree removed from the actual place where the phenomena is happening. In other words, there is a big — but subtle — difference between data that shows how often a machine fails versus being present at the machine and observing it failing. Genchi Genbutsu is about being there and observing the phenomena while it is happening.
Taiichi Ohno placed a greater value on being where the work is done and where value is added. Whereas data is often on a computer screen or on paper. He preferred to be at the source of the phenomena.
Management By Walking Around is not Genchi Genbutsu
Peters, a former Mckinsey-ite, once put forth the notion of Management By Walking Around (MBWA). Management by Walking Around is more about “visiting” and being seen by the people. The intention is, in my view, quite superficial.
On the other hand, Genchi Genbutsu is about knowing, experiencing, and building empathy for those who are in the Gemba. The spirit of Genchi Genbutsu is about knowing first-hand what happens in the Gemba by actually being in the Gemba and participating in the Gemba. The difference is subtle, but stark.
Tom Peters MBWA is not Genchi Genbutsu.