Gemba Keiei Chapter 25: Work is a Game of Wits with Subordinates

Taiichi Ohno begins the chapter “In order to lead a large number of people in work, you have to be tough. But I think this is basically not a matter of giving orders or instructions, but a game of wits with subordinates.”

Ohno says that when you give orders or instructions to a subordinate you have to think as if you were given those orders yourself. In other words, you have to think about how you would solve the problem yourself. “If you lose the game of wits, you have to admit it.” Ohno says.

He says that most managers give orders based on what they want. The attitude of “You’re the expert, so go figure it out” is not acceptable. If you don’t match wits with your subordinates and try to solve the problem yourself, then when they come back and say “it can’t be done” you can only say “you’re the specialists, figure it out” or give up.

Taiichi Ohno is saying that even as a manger who has broader responsibilities you need to have not only the awareness of the problems but the ability to think about how to solve the problems yourself.

“If you lose the game of wits, you have to admit it or people won’t follow you as a leader.” He says this is because if you give orders and offer only complaints and not ideas or suggestions when subordinates run into challenges, they will not see you as a leader.

“You have to think about the problem together, and struggle together” to solve the problem with your subordinate, says Ohno. If you have no ideas or suggestions to give when your subordinates say “I tried it but it didn’t work” you still don’t give up but offer suggestions in this game of wits.

When finally there is some progress on solving the problem, you say “My suggestion was poor but you did good job thinking about it.” He says what is important here is to show an attitude of respect that the subordinate will understand.

“In order to be a leader you need to cultivate the mind” Taiichi Ohno says. But also, you need to change your attitude with some people. Everyone has a different personality. “You can say the same thing and some people will respond and some will not.”

Taiichi Ohno says “It’s not easy to say ‘follow me’ but when people do follow, you have a responsibility to take care of them through thick and thin.” Talking about how to lead Toyota Production System implementation on the factory, Ohno recommends saying “Get out of my sight if you can’t do what I say” but to be grateful and help these people who do follow you as much as you can. “Because it’s not all good things” Ohno says, about implementing the Toyota Production System.

This is a curious chapter. It is quite short, and written in a way that forces the reader to fill in a few blanks. But Taiichi Ohno’s tough but compassionate character comes through clearly.