The Way of Toyota, Great Companies and Mary Zatina

Because I am married to the great governor of Michigan, I have had the chance to be a fly on the wall (generally a quiet and unobtrusive one) during meetings with executives from Toyota. These Toyota execs are like those I have gotten to know from Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” in that they get totally fired up when they start talking about the culture in their companies. The Toyota folks and the great company folks know that “culture beats strategy” every time. They have strategies to achieve results. But they know and constantly verbalize that the only way you get results is through people. For these folks it’s not just that people are the necessary means, but that people are ends in themselves. It’s not just that the employees are there for the company’s success, but at some really deep level, they believe the company is there for the employees’ success. So they pay attention to people. They have a “what” of results they’re pursuing, but they pay primary attention to the who and to the how.
These executives affirmed what a great leader named Mary Zatina has been showing me. Today, Mary, who has served as my chief of staff for four years, begins her new job as vice president at Oakwood Health Care System. At Oakwood they’ll find what I found out, what the governor’s cabinet directors all found out, and what the receptionists and maintenance people found out: Mary treats every person she meets as an end. She demonstrates active interest in who they are, not just in their roles but in their lives. Daniel Goleman uses an image for such emotional intelligence; he says it’s like a “lubricant” that helps people and organizations function smoothly. Mary acts with folks like Dorothy did with the Tin Man, always ready with a few squirts of oil for whoever needs encouragement or attention. I know my rusty joints got oiled at critical times. And my team often functioned, because of Mary, like a well-oiled machine.
Like the Toyota folks, Mary also brought the great leadership skill of looking at “the how.” Because she broke projects down in the planning process, we acted with efficiency and didn’t have to spend time fixing problems that could have been anticipated. Because she involved the people in planning who would have to execute, she uncovered pitfalls before we fell into them. Because she made us debrief – celebrating successes but noting shortcomings — we almost always did things markedly better the second time.
I remain a big believer in the “where” of vision and the “what” of strategy, but I sure want to keep learning from the Toyotas, the great companies, and the great leaders like Mary Zatina who see the value of the who and the how.
You have to see and appreciate others’ greatness if you really want to
Lead with your best self,