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CEO Insider

The Value of Showing Up and Following Through

Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation

Great leaders know that the first step in building relationships and resolving conflict is sitting down to listen to the point of view of someone with whom you may not want to agree. A self-confident leader is willing to engage in those moments – showing up when you say you will and being present in the dialog. While the science of leadership is characterized by charts and numbers, the art of leadership is your character itself.   

In 2004, I was honored to work with a global executive who exemplified these core leadership traits, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chair of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). Dr. Toyoda and I met in July 2004 when I was named by President George W. Bush as the US Ambassador and Commissioner General to the 2005 Aichi World EXPO in Japan. He served as the World EXPO Chair.

Upon his passing, the New York Times noted: Mr. Toyoda took a pragmatic approach to relations between the United States and Japan — then the world’s first and second largest economies — arguing that as Japan rose, it needed to work harder to ingratiate itself with its competitors, a message that he made part of Toyota’s corporate philosophy.

At age 80, Dr. Toyoda knew the EXPO would be the most opportune moment to finalize the integration of his core values into the global Toyota global ecosystem of partnerships and relationships he had built. The EXPO programming around “Nature’s Wisdom” highlighted his commitment to economic development while preserving the natural environment.

Dr. Toyoda utilized the EXPO venue, programs, and events to reaffirm critical relationships as his generation was passing the baton to the next set of leaders while also moving TMC’s headquarters from the financial center of Tokyo back to its manufacturing and research base in Nagoya.

He was indefatigable in ensuring that the United States would be a full participant at the Aichi World EXPO. The US had withdrawn from the Hanover EXPO in 2000 after a 1998 Congressional act prohibited the use of public dollars to support US participation. Dr. Toyoda knew his personal engagement was required to secure a commitment from US government and our private sector sponsors.

In advance of the EXPO, Dr. Toyoda flew back and forth to visit with US officials and business leaders with a message that he was committed to job creation. Thanks to his diligence and shuttle diplomacy, Prime Minister Koizumi secured an agreement with President Bush during the G8 Sea Island 2004 Summit—less than eight months before the US Pavilion doors would open in Nagoya.

At the point an agreement is inked, many leaders would walk away with a sense of “mission accomplished,” However, for Dr. Toyoda, signing the bilateral agreement was only the beginning. He was personally committed to fulfilling promises made and continued to make himself personally available whenever needed.

Throughout the EXPO, Dr. Toyoda operated with a sense of duty, generosity, and humility.  This included not only showing up for dignitary visits, but standing with undivided attention when a famous astronaut exceeded his speaking time limits not just once but twice. The rest of us were wavering, but Dr. Toyoda remained ramrod straight. Or when he quietly bypassed the paparazzi for a “secret meeting” organized at the US Pavilion with Toyota’s direct competitor, General Motors. General Motors CEO arrived with a large entourage. Dr. Toyoda walked in alone.

The US team worked closely with the Japanese government, TMC, auto suppliers, the US Foreign and Commercial Service, Fortune 500 partners and 19 state delegations to ensure deals were closed and signed at the event—travel and tourism, manufacturing agreements, academic research, and supply chain contracts.  As a result, thousands of American jobs were created.

At our closing event, Dr. Toyoda stated, “This EXPO could not have been a success without US participation.”  And we would not have exceeded expectations without his personal commitment and unrelenting dedication to results.

Rest in Peace Dr. Toyoda. We remain committed to protecting the legacy and special bilateral US-Japan relationship you helped create.

Written by Lisa Gable.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insider - The Value of Showing Up and Following Through
Lisa Gable
Lisa Gable serves on the External Advisory Board (EAB) for CEOWORLD magazine. She is a CEO, former US Ambassador, UN Delegate, and a best-selling author of "Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South" (IdeaPress Publishing, October 5, 2021), which has been featured on Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Lisa is a renowned global expert in turning around failing organizations and inventing innovative business strategies. She has a track record of over three decades in successfully reviving businesses, teams, non-profit organizations, political campaigns, and government ventures, and resolving complex problems. Through her extensive experience, Lisa has discovered that the most effective method of getting back on track is through the application of process engineering principles, which entails a thorough reassessment of all organizational procedures and practices while maintaining respectful and empathetic relationships and fostering strong partnerships.

You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.