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Art of Lean on Situational Leadership, Part 4: Supportive Style, from Basketball to Toyota

by Art Smalley
February 5, 2021

Art of Lean on Situational Leadership, Part 4: Supportive Style, from Basketball to Toyota

by Art Smalley
February 5, 2021 | Comments (0)

Art Smalley brings in more examples and ideas for situational leadership in the fourth video of a five-part series.

Find the transcript for part four below.


Hi everyone. This is Art Smalley, President of Art of Lean, Incorporated. Today, on behalf of the Lean Enterprise Institute, I have another video for you on the topic of situational leadership.

In previous videos, we did the intro and we talked about matching the S1-D1 cases and the D2-S2 cases for what they call directing and coaching style. This time, we're going to cross over what they call the supportive style, which is an S3 and D3 mix of combinations. This turns the table a little bit, and I also think it captures how we coach at Toyota and in life in certain ways. So, let's dive into that one today.

Reluctant Yet Prepared

The D3 case, when you diagnose the situation in respect to the learner, is often jokingly called the reluctant contributor. Here we have a teenager, not wanting to clean up their bedroom. They have the skills, but something on the wheel or motivation is lagging. Many times, we're all like that in life, at work in life. I'm just not there today for some reason, or this particular specific task might not excite me. D3 is characterized by that. You've demonstrated previous capabilities. You're generally skillful and adept in the majority of cases, if not all, and you productively contribute, but something else is holding you back in this case. You’re not fully committed. You're reluctant, frustrated, missing some confidence, bored, not interested for some reason, right? There's no one answer here that fits all cases, it depends. Anybody whose raised children or has employees or coached in sports, you know, honestly knows it could be external things as well.

In this S3 case, the situation changes significantly because we've crossed out of the development side of the equation, dominantly into the supportive side, by definition in the S3-D3 cases. For the D3 case, the person has the skill, right? They might be missing something here, something there, but overwhelmingly they have the skill and have demonstrated that in the past. So you have to ratchet things up on the supportive side. They want you specifically, in terms of supportive side, again, back to empathy and understanding. Why are they hesitant or uncertain? You know, what's the concern, what's, what's the challenge, why are they not inspired? You know, how do they look at it versus you or the team or other people affected? Look at the case, how do you motivate them to go forward?

Goals, rewards, incentives, things like that. How can you help them in many cases? And it's very difficult, as S3 leadership in this D3 quadrant of reluctant learners are often among the most distant because you can't just see immediately what the problem is. It's invisible, it's hidden. You've got to tease it out, somehow. Directive leadership still comes into play; you're not off the hook. A lot of people mistakenly believe, “Oh, I'm just a facilitator.” I'll ask the right questions and be supportive. That will aid people. But in this case, it still won't because there is something they could ...as S3 leadership in this D3 quadrant of reluctant learners are often among the most distant...be struggling with. They're not like, “You still have to supply what I call targeted directive leadership.” They know the eight steps, but something very tiny or smaller, an alternate way of doing it might be better if you work on it together with them. So, we ask targeted questions, not general broad open-ended questions, which frankly is likely to even hurt their morale and motivation more in a lot of cases. But you asked the right specific and targeted detailed questions about the situation.

Having Talent is just the Beginning

Let's do a couple of analogies here. I'm going to just use some sports ones. There’s one here that is dating myself a little bit. Mia Hamm, almost 20 years ago, she was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and she was called the reluctant superstar. And technically that's not a reluctant contributor. She was a superstar termed reluctant, but it was a term applied to her throughout her career. When she was 14, she was the youngest female, I believe, on a national team. She's the youngest, regardless of male or female, ever put on the national team. She was, at times, probably reluctant because of that but grew into a role quite nicely.

Frankly, my daughters fall into this category as well. I can really relate to it. They're basketball players with very good skill levels for their level. They've been dribbling the ball for years, playing in teams, going to academies, skills clinics, and I go to the park with them and we work on a variety of things. But despite being the number one or two skilled players on their team, they're often quite reluctant. One is reluctant to dribble. One is reluctant to shoot for some reason, but skill wise, they're at the top of their team. You have to treat this case different, psychologically and emotionally, and you have to work with them through that supportive side to get them comfortable and to want to do things. With one of the coaches, we decided that after the game was already decided we would have my daughter spend more time bringing the ball up and being the point guard. Getting ready for the next level, facing pressure but dribbling in the game when the game wasn't on the line.

Another one of my daughters, the best shooter on our previous team, but probably fourth or fifth on shots attempted, the coach would call plays for her from the sideline. He would say, “Okay, we're going to run this play,” which was code to get it to my daughter, and it works! She won the last game of the season scoring six points in the last minute-and-a-half on set plays. They called for her to pull one out, gave her confidence, gave everybody a good feeling. You know, they won the game and hopefully you build skill and will incrementally do so many times throughout your life. It's not a one and done thing. I had that as well at Toyota.

Leaving the Comfort Zone

I got an assignment once at a casting plant. My background was in machining and assembly. A friend was injured in a car accident. I had a visa, I could go to America instantly and I had to do this pinch-hit assignment for a six-or-eight-week period, but I was nervous because I didn't know casting nearly well enough. I thought it was out of my comfort zone, so to speak, but I had to fill in for the team and I did. Look, it was when a facility was being built from the ground up. It's a beautiful facility today, but 20 years ago, I was there when it was nothing and we were installing the first machines and it was a hectic startup. I had to learn a lot of things on the job and guess what? Installing casting machines wasn't that different from installing machine tool-machines and the problems and processes were very similar at the high level. Not at the detail level, but again at the high level. But I had experts around me, again, people I could call, ask and help, and we did experience a problem.

So, in that case it was a combination of skill and will, the emotional support and confidence and motivation to do it.There was somebody there who could support me and help me whether it was just emotional support or technical support as needed. In problem solving, a great example of that occurred when I was there. we were having a high defect rate right after start-up, I was in charge of helping solve that problem, and I was on the phone with an expert in Japan thinking through it. We were in the root cause, debating this or that. What would cause this trap gas phenomenon to occur intermittently, but not every time? We talk it through and deduced it and realized that it would be in the drive train, a damaged tooth on a gear, which is what were I kind of was expecting. I didn't have the confidence to propose that and say, “Now I have to take the machine down for four hours to look at this.” But the talk through with the expert on the phone gave me the confidence to do that and lo and behold, we found the root cause by doing that and we fixed it over the weekend. So, in that case it was a combination of skill and will, the emotional support and confidence and motivation to do it. But also a little bit of technical insight. The expert provided didn't ask me, “Art, what do you think the problem is?” or “Art, what's the root cause?” I would have been absolutely irritated and frustrated if the person would have done that, I would have been even more reluctant contributor. I needed help on the fifth “why?” of the root cause. And that's what we debated and discussed. Good coaches know when to do that.


That, in a nutshell, is a high-level look at the D3-S3 case. This is a complicated one for me, it's often invisible. It's more about the skill and will and you have to be able to coach on both accordingly. You start with the supportive side, the empathy, the confidence, the relationship, the motivational things to help them. But at the same time, you find the little targeted details that will help them on specific steps, goals, roadblocks, resources, and things like that to help them get to the next level and get out of that reluctant contributor stage and into the performance level you both want.

So, I hope that helps. In the next video, we'll go on to the favorite for everybody, the ideal situation, which we’d love to have the D4-S4 category of delegating. In the meantime, stay safe, have a great day and see you in the next video.


Keywords:  coaching,  leadership,  learning,  strategy,  Toyota
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