There’s Much to Learn from the Crying Toyota CEO


Toyota was very much in the news recently and will be for some time as they continue to grapple with quality assurance issues. You might have been uncertain how to respond to the ritual bow of Mr. Akio Toyoda the president and chief executive officer when he appeared before a Congressional Committee to answer and explain the safety debacle that had descended upon the company that bears his name. Its stellar reputation was at stake and Mr. Toyoda was deeply sorrowful regarding the company’s performance affecting the safety of its customers. You might have also been very uncomfortable with the image of this executive crying before the Toyota dealers as he thanked them for standing with him and behind the brand. Think of it. The CEO of the largest automotive company was crying openly and without embarrassment. Crying from a sense of shame and having let many others down. Crying as an expression of personal responsibility for what has befallen the image and reputation of the company and everyone associated with it including his ancestry, family, workers and community where the company is headquartered. As the grandson of the founder, it is for him a huge burden.

Do you remember when Senator Edmund Muskie while campaigning to become the Republican candidate for president cried? In spite of the fact that he was defending his wife who had been attacked in the New Hampshire newspaper, The Manchester Union Leader, by its editor, he was labeled as weak and incapable of demonstrating the toughness demanded of the President of the United States.

Do you remember the ridicule heaped on Dallas Cowboy Terrell Owens when he broke down in tears as he came to the defense of quarterback Tony Romo? Then there was the incident, again with a New Hampshire connection, of Hillary Clinton in her campaign for the Democratic nomination. While explaining the personal nature of her fight for the office of president, we saw her eyes well up with tears. Many regarded this episode as a display, for probably the first time, of her vulnerability and many rejected it as drama.

But notice that Mr. Toyoda’s apology was complete. There was none of this, “if I have offended anyone.” Notice too that none of the Americans who cried did so out of shame on themselves, their family, their community, their employees or their country. Every case was treated with a certain degree of ridicule or skepticism.  Notice that of all the recent bad behavior by public figures, none of them cried out of either shame or disgrace even though in some cases that might have evoked some degree of sympathy.

It’s not about why we cry as Americans; but about open apologies with tears the Japanese display that give us insight to a cultural phenomenon that may guide us in how we regard the diversity among us as a nation. Awareness should engender respect for those who are very much the mosaic that is our country. Dealing with cultural diversity demands a certain level of competence that enables all of us to interact and engage those who are different from ourselves so that together we can live cooperatively and not exclusively competitively.

We must be on guard never to stereotype any cultural group. There are however, patterns of conduct and beliefs that are identifiable when dealing with others and an awareness of these can accomplish the accelerated integration of these groups fully into our communities. It is the quintessence of escapism that allows us to live as if we are a homogenous nation while we trumpet the reality of globalism and simultaneously behave as if we can live apart from those who make up the variegated fabric of our nation.

Be it commerce, education, healthcare or competitive sports, the evidence is huge that we had better learn to welcome and live with those whose presence is continually reshaping the profile of our nation and reinforcing one of the values that is often repeated: Out of Many One Nation. Acquiring cultural competence is not just relevant to healthcare, but is central to effectiveness in education, business, athletics and community engagement.


September 30, 2010