Home All An Interview with Toyota University’s Mike Morrison

Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, is co-author of Profit from the Positive. After a 15-year career in corporate HR, she founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio.

Margaret's solo articles are here and her articles with Senia Maymin are here.

other side of the cardI had the pleasure of hearing Mike Morrison, VP and Dean of University of Toyota, speak at last month’s Global Well-Being Forum (formerly the International Positive Psychology Summit) at Gallup’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The room was jammed packed with both business and academic people interested in Mike’s talk “Personal Leadership: A Psychological & Philosophical Inquiry”.

Although the title may sound boring to some, his talk was anything but! I began scribbling notes: “We have a crisis of meaning in organizations today…Unfortunately the dominant image of leadership is that we are better, above, and ahead of everyone else which makes us poor integrators…Ninety percent of what we do doesn’t add value.” Now that doesn’t sound very positive, I thought. But it was the way Mike spoke that captured my attention – he cared, he was hopeful, and he believed as leaders we can “create meaningful change.”

Morrison TriangleMike engaged us by telling a story – a story of how one of the best-run organizations in the world, Toyota, has integrated the science of Positive Psychology into its leadership development. Typically organizations focus their development on the knowledge and skills managers must obtain to be effective leaders.

But at Toyota the focus is on the personal leadership journey – discovering one’s strengths, values and beliefs to develop one’s authentic leadership voice.

Drawing upon his new book, The Other Side of the Card, Mike described this personal leadership journey comprised of two paths:

  • The Me Path – whereby we discover through reflection what makes us special or what differentiates ourselves from others – our purpose, what gives us meaning.
  • The We Path – whereby we discover how to integrate with others through our relationships – by choosing to serve, to care, and create meaningful change.

Morrison Me-We Grid

Morrison went on to explain that the other side of our business card is a rich metaphor for that undeveloped, untapped potential in all of us. On the front side of our card we have our name, title, company, and contact information. But what’s on the other side of our business card – the blank side?

After his lively talk, he was swarmed by members of the audience. I decided to exit the room and head to the next workshop to get a good seat, all the while wishing I had personally connected Mike. On the flight home that evening, I reviewed my notes from the various sessions I attended over the three day conference, and I kept going back to Mike’s. I was left wanting more. That’s when I decided I would order his new book, The Other Side of the Card, and contact him to see if he would be willing to be interviewed for a Positive Psychology News Daily story. What follows are the highlights from our interview:

Margaret Greenberg: Can you tell me, Mike, about some things University of Toyota is applying from the science of Positive Psychology?

Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison: When we’re talking about Positive Psychology we’re talking about well-being, so that could impact healthcare costs in the workplace – if people are experiencing less stress, are more engaged, are more productive, taking less time off, healthcare costs could go down. So, there are a lot of implications for organizations. But the ones I saw right away were around productivity and emotional intelligent issues. (For example) Gallup’s leveraging of strengths and creating strength-based environments, and Barbara Fredrickson’s work on how positive emotions broaden and build to create better decision making and better relations. Work is much more relational than it was twenty years ago. We get work done through others. Before that you could have narrow, clearly defined jobs. They don’t exist anymore. (Today) we get work done through others. Boundaries are real fuzzy. It takes better relationships, takes more emotional intelligence. We’ve lost or haven’t developed our capacity to relate to each other. Organizations are still way too siloed. Organizations have evolved to survive not flourish. At Toyota I have been actively translating the science and findings (of Positive Psychology) and applying or embedding them in our actual learning programs.

Greenberg: Many organizations look to Lean Six Sigma and other ways to streamline processes to improve productivity. I know Toyota has transformed its organization by focusing on these methods, too. What are your thoughts on focusing on leadership and engagement as a way to improve productivity?

Morrison – In organizations like ours, and my guess is just about any kind of organization, where we’re seeking operational excellence and really executing consistently well and be process focus, often the mindset becomes around managing – making process work better. But the missing ingredient is leadership – the counterbalancing effect – about making what is traditionally impersonal and actual, to making it more about what’s personal and possible. Systems break down and when they do you have to shift from (wearing the) manager hat to (the) leadership hat.

So clearly we have a dual responsibility – the ability to shift gears, to shift the mindset of getting product out the door to I’m creating meaningful change. In managing we’re executing and there is not a lot of deep problem solving going on. But when we’re leading it requires thinking skills and emotional intelligent skills because you’re now dealing with emotions and helping people get comfortable with change. I try to embed leadership discussions into everything we do so we don’t get caught in the trap of over-managing.

Greenberg: In your book The Other Side of the Card you write “Busyness has replaced purposefulness in our work lives.” Can you say more about that?

Morrison: We are all now connected to all the information we need or can have. We’ve built up bad routines and bad habits. People will interrupt their own work to see if they have a message. So everyone is connected to everything. What happens is they interact with (the information), but don’t do anything meaningful with it. We all get a million emails everyday and never get into a flow. We get caught in the busyness and get over involved in all of the information we have access to and don’t have clear routines on how we can add value.

Greenberg: The main character in your book, Seth, relays a story to a group of newly promoted managers and says “People don’t care about what you know until they know you care.” Tell me more.

Morrison: Employees are always looking up at leaders and asking, perhaps unconsciously, (questions like): Is this something bigger than her? Can I be a part of that? Will she invite me in? Or is it really about you and looking good? If you can’t show that it’s about something bigger, people don’t engage fully, it just becomes transactional. Once they see there is a plan for them a different part of them engages. They want to be more accountable because it draws them in.

Greenberg: Seth goes on to explain that “We simply cannot be happy in life unless we can find meaning in what we do.” What have you found?

Morrison: In our consumption based culture, the focus is on having. We can numb ourselves overtime as we move up the success ladder (because) that drug is pretty powerful. So we can have the new degree, have the cool friends, have the new condo, and we can go with that but after awhile it doesn’t provide the same level of satisfaction. When we look at the internal drive to achieve and mix that with what our culture values – having – we can find that we’ve had some level of success, but we haven’t found the meaning that’s attached to who we are – the more we differentiate in the ‘me’ path, the more we’ll seek out better integration in the ‘we’ path.

Greenberg: Any final advice for our readers?

Morrison: Be aware of what’s on the other side of the card – don’t lose sight of it. Live on the other side of your card.

Greenberg: So what’s on the other side of your card, Mike?

Morrison: Visionator…I create the picture of a thousand piece puzzle so people can start to put the pieces together. I love creating a compelling picture that can draw us forward.

So, what’s on the other side of your card

For more information on developing the other side of your card, visit Mike’s website.


Morrison, M. (2006). The Other Side of the Card: Where Your Authentic Leadership Story Begins. McGraw-Hill Education.

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Senia 14 November 2007 - 3:08 pm

Margaret –

What an illuminating article and interview!
* I liked the hidden “strengths, values, and beliefs” in the triangle.
* I like the WE-ME model – the best version of me and the best version of we is in there.
* I like what Morrison says about depleting energy – here is the first section of a recent HBS article on energy: Link Here and first page here. This makes a lot of sense. Morrison says, “People will interrupt their own work to see if they have a message.” I certainly do this, and it bothers me when I do.
* And the something bigger really resonated with me too.

Thanks much much much for this article. I wonder what Mike thinks about body-mind, and how to get people more physically involved in work, even when it’s a computer-like job. He seems based on other answers that he would be interested in encouraging, physical movement at work, or getting people to do more of if they want.

Thank you,

Christine Duvivier 14 November 2007 - 5:49 pm


Thank you for your thoughtful article and for drawing-out Mike’s perspective in your interview. He and Toyota are great examples for the rest of us. In particular, I appreciate that you highlighted Mike’s point about the importance of meaning in work and the fact that Mike is building Positive Psychology into his leadership development approaches.


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