I love This American Life.
Even if you’re not a big podcast person, you need to listen to this one. I’ve been a fan for a long time. This weekend I was catching up on my podcasts, and I listened to the one from last week — Episode 403, NUMMI.
The podcast was about GM and Toyota and a plant in California where the two companies, long ago, joined forces. That experiment could have taught GM a thing or two and helped keep it alive, the podcast argues.
Before its current problems, Toyota’s leadership style was based on a collaborative approach — one that rewarded employees for innovation, one that valued employee input and even allowed workers on the line to stop the line so a problem with a car could be fixed. The result was a better car — a more reliable one. And the result of that? More market share.
By contrast, GM had a command and control leadership style. The production line was kept going at all cost so cars were produced with flaws and problems and that eroded market share. Company executives didn’t seem to notice the erosion was happening.
Remind you of another industry?
While on the surface the podcast was about dueling car companies, it had a lot to say about change-ready industries and leadership.
I don’t think newspapers are the next GM but they’re not exactly (the old) Toyota either. It was interesting to hear how the Toyota leaders gave bonuses to employees who found efficiencies. Toyota respected its employees and realized the path to a better company was in their hands.
I’m not sure how many leaders in the newspaper industry live that ideal. I was talking to Torstar Digital president Tomer Strolight recently at a leadership session and he talked a lot about the importance of employees, of thinking of their careers and of including them in the company’s important decisions. It not only makes sure the best choices are made, it tells an employee that he or she matter.
The best resource I can provide on this issue is the Learning Newsroom, a three-year project that gave executive-style training to everyone in the 10 newsrooms selected to take part. I was lucky enough to be at the Hamilton Spectator when the program was running in that newsroom.
I don’t think media leaders talk enough about leadership styles or how leadership will or won’t lead us into the future.
If you’re a newsroom leader looking for a little inspiration on the collaborative approach, listen to the podcast.