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Leaders on Leadership: Ryan DeLaney

Ryan Delaney
Posted: March 28, 2023
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As part of a series on leadership, we asked the executives of Toyota Material Handling what advice they have for aspiring leaders in the material handling industry. This week, we feature TMH Director of Operations, Ryan DeLaney.

Advice to 25-year-old self: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Too many young people are more concerned about what other people think of them, especially in today’s day and age. If I could go back, I would just try more things and try not to overthink. I’m not saying being risky, I’m saying try it and just be more aggressive at trying things. If you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t matter what other people think.


When I was younger, I probably would have been a better leader if I realized it’s about the people side of it and not the tactical side. As a technical guy, I thought I had to be the one with all the technical answers to help people, but by helping people more, they discover more of the solutions. You don’t have to have all the answers. As a young guy, I thought that way, and now I realize I’m probably the least smart person in the room most of the time. Leadership is about bringing the people together that have the knowledge.

Ryan’s Thoughts On Leadership:

Some people ask: ‘How do you get into leadership?’ You just start. You don’t have to have a title of a leader. You can start by stepping up and getting other people’s thoughts when deciding what a group is going to do. People naturally gravitate towards the person that does that. Just be the one that starts.


You have to become secure in who you are, and in what you are. Show your true self and don’t think you have to be this or you should do that. There’s an insecurity you have to grow out of and understand you don’t have to have the answer. If they see you don’t know the answer but you’re either trying to make it up or cover up that you don’t know, it’s toxic. Just be honest. Admit you don’t know, and work with your team to figure it out.

Thoughts On Leadership:

  1. What’s important about leadership is the ability to positively impact a lot of people. I think too many leaders take that for granted. They don’t realize that when you’re taking on a leadership role, it’s serious, and you’re impacting the lives of people. You can do that positively or negatively, and it’s a serious commitment.
  2. You have to get uncomfortable to grow. If you get in your comfort zone and start getting tunnel vision, you have to force yourself to step out of it. You have to be uncomfortable, have faith, and stretch yourself – you owe it to the team. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re putting yourself before the team.
  3. Too many people think everything’s going to be perfectly laid out. I don’t think it’s ever perfectly laid out. There are going to be opportunities that come up, and you just have to balance, ‘can I make this work with my family? Will this benefit my family as well?’ Make them part of the decision. You have to try different experiences in order to grow. In your mind, a career can be like a step ladder … step one, step two. But in reality, you might end up on the second step but it’ll likely be on a different ladder. You shouldn’t look at it as a single ladder you’ll climb throughout your career.
  4. A lot of people think of leadership as the CEO of a company … can they make more money? Do they get a better parking spot? That’s the wrong attitude. If you care more about those things or think you deserve certain things, that’s not leadership. You’re in it for the wrong reasons. I look at it as, ‘Can I help people?’ I’m more concerned with what is right than being right, and I think that’s the foundation.
  5. You have to be composed as a leader. When people lose their temper, to me, is a sign of weakness. And I did it as a young man – I lost my composure once or twice, and I regret it. Even in the highest pressure situation, you can’t lose your cool. Everybody is depending on youto be stoic and provide clear direction. During my career, I’ve seen a lot of people in positions of power screaming at each other. You have to take in information, process it, and give clear direction without screaming.
  6. Leadership is about human relationships. That’s what’s so special about the Toyota culture. When people see you genuinely care for them, they care. Nobody wants to work for a leader who doesn’t care. And I do think that’s something that becomes natural. We often have conversations about whether leaders are born or if you can gain that skill. I think there are inherent characteristics about caring people that make them gravitate toward leadership roles, but you have to build it from there. Leadership is a craft. You have to develop and improve every day. But the best leaders inherently care and want to make a difference.
  7. Forget about titles. If you want to get a position for the title that comes with it, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Customers need to know they’re talking to someone who has strong influence in the company so titles are important in that case, but internally, the concept of titles really bothers me. Take the energy you use worrying about your title and make other people feel valued for their contributions. If you don’t feel valued or part of something, then you’re not engaged. If your team doesn’t feel valued for what they’re doing, then you’ve done something wrong. It could be as simple as a contractor not getting a backpack like full-time Associates do. It seems insignificant, but that sends a message that they are ‘less than’ or less part of the team. Treat everybody the same and ensure people feel valued. You don’t need a title to do these things – that’s the beautiful thing, it’s entirely up to you.
  8. Value Diversity: You have to recognize that people have different personalities and different backgrounds. That’s great because that’s what makes us great. Through leadership, you have to find what’s important to people. What’s important to Ryan might be different than what’s important to Sarah. You have to understand what’s important to them, what do they need to feel valued? Go out of your way to make them feel heard. Value diversity, but also value people as individuals and what’s important to them.

Pillars Of Ryan’s Leadership Model

  1. Foundation: What’s important? Be humble. Be concerned about what is right rather than being right. 
  2. Performance: Once you get past the foundation, you have to always strive to improve. I strive to make a difference every day. If we all did that, imagine what the results could be? There are days when I leave and I wonder, ‘Man, did I actually make a difference today? Did I move the team forward?’ Because if I didn’t, I’m letting the team down. And then consistency … whether you’re driving a forklift, designing a product, or leading the company, you have to be consistent. You can’t be the superstar for a day and then try to live on that. You have to bring it every day.
  3. Leadership: As the leader, you have to inspire people to achieve what they thought was unachievable, to take the impossible to possible, by breaking it down into chunks. ‘If I just do this part, we can do that.’ As a whole, it might be overwhelming, but the leader has to break it down to, ‘If we just do this part today, we made progress’. Then, they start to realize we can do this. And then accountability. People tend to think of that word with a negative connotation. But accountability is giving the team a vision. How do people know if they achieve something good or not? You have to provide clarity on what needs to be accomplished, and if you don’t hold people accountable to that, how do you know if they did well or not?
  4. Goal: Have a Positive Impact on People. If we, as leaders, have a positive impact on people – your team, the community, our customers, the forklift operators. I don’t think people realize how much influence is possible if we really think about the impact we can have on our neighbors, our teammates, and our people. If you just go into work every day and say, ‘I’m going to manage and people are going to do what I say’, you haven’t taken leadership seriously, in my opinion.
Quote to Note:“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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