Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Japan

The Leadership Japan Series

Dale Carnegie Training has been effective in guiding individuals and organizations to success through enhancement of human relations skills for over 50 years in Japan and over 100 years in the United States.

We offer a number of podcasts and tools of engagement that will help align the hearts as well as the minds of employees with your organizational objectives.

Listen to our "THE Leadership Japan Series" - Dale Carnegie Training Podcasts.

A senior problem in the past meant having a “senior moment”, where you forgot something and this lapse hinted at oncoming dementia. Today in Japan it has an entirely different meaning and refers to the demographic problems Japan is facing. Japan is aging rapidly and there is a lot of discussion about the impact that will have on the welfare, health and pension systems. What is not being discussed much as yet is what to do with all of these “young” oldies?

We know leaders who are friction magnets. They upset those working with them on a regular basis. They are quick to point out their opinion and their view. Their rights are paramount and we are soon informed of them. They are highly driven, powerful, even intense individuals. They are upwardly mobile and have sharp elbows. Basically they are a pain in most countries, but they are a disaster in Japan.

Up until these last few years being capable and loyal was enough in Japan. Technology has changed the business landscape completely. Post the 1990 bubble burst, the previous many layers of management in Japanese corporations have been substantially compressed. Globalisation is forcing change within Japan and no one is immune from this trend. Team members in Japan have to deal with change and will have to face even greater changes in the future. As their boss, what are some things you can do to help them manage the transition into the new era?

Japan doesn’t have a monopoly on resisting change. Having said that, it will probably rank fairly high in terms of business environments where it is hard to introduce change. There is a very dogged, well established risk averse culture here which works against change. The Tokugawa family froze change in Japan for 400 years and this allowed them to keep control. It is hard to come up with a local opposite example where massive change was a real winner. Kaizen is more acceptable because it is small increments of change spread out over long periods of time.

When you are on the executive floor, the carpet is thick, the mood is quiet and the décor is sumptuous. It is a world removed from the scramble going on floors below. Maybe you are in your own President’s office, shielded from the fray outside the door. The further you place yourself away from the troops the harder it is to influence the mood of the team. Of course, you have direct reports overseeing the work and they too should be mood makers in their own right. There is something very powerful though when the boss is also the mood maker.

Japan is going through one round of revelations after another in different industries, where the proper compliance procedures were not followed. In some cases they have not been followed for decades. Which begs the question of who is actually in charge? The senior executives are given reports and rely on those below to feed them the correct information. To make it more interesting the company decides to reduce expenses and raise targets. This is when the creative accounting can really start to ramp up. The shareholders are happy, the Board is happy and so we continue with the winning formula. The only problem is that corners are being cut and procedures are being subverted, in order to meet the “reduce costs, increase revenue” mantra.

Recruit and retain must be the mantra for all of us in Japan. If you have been following me, you will know I have been talking about the coming demographic crunch of not enough young people to go around, for the last two years. A number of years ago we had 40% plus of the new recruits fleeing their companies, after getting trained. They were heading off to greener pastures, which they no doubt discovered were not all that green after all. The current number is in the low 30 percentile area and the bad news is it will start to rise again.

So many sad cases of people dying here in Japan from what is called karoshi and the media constantly talks about death through overwork. This is nonsense and the media are doing us all a disservice. This is fake news. The cases of physical work killing you are almost exclusively limited to situations where physical strain has induced a cardiac arrest or a cerebral incident resulting in a stroke. In Japan, that cause of death from overwork rarely happens. The vast majority of cases of karoshi death are related to suicide by the employee. This is a reaction to mental and physical exhaustion and the associated stress that piles up, until it is overwhelming. So the real source of death from karaoshi is stress, not physically working too hard. Just where is that stress coming from?

We don’t run perfect organisations stocked with perfect people, led by perfect bosses. There are always going to be failings, inadequacies, mistakes, shortcomings and downright stupidity in play. If we manage to keep all of these within the castle walls, then that is one level of complexity. It is when we share these challenges with clients that we raise the temperature quite a few notches. How do you handle cases where your people have really upset a client? The service or product was delivered, but the client’s representative is really unhappy with one of your team.

We often hear about the need for bosses to do more to engage with their teams. The boss looks at their schedule and then just checks out of that idea right then and there because it seems impossible. The employees for their part, want to get more praise and recognition from the boss, to feel valuable and valued. Bosses are often Drive type personalities who are extremely outcome and task orientated. People are there to produce, to get the numbers, to complete projects and to do it with a minimum of boss maintenance needed to be invested.

The supervisor has super vision. The leader knows more. The captain makes the calls. The best and the brightest know best. The cream rises to the top. We accept that there will be leaders either our “superiors” or “the first among equals”. We put leaders up on a pedestal, we expect more from them than we expect from ourselves. We judge them, appraise them, measure them, discuss them.

We are often good talkers, but poor listeners. We have many things we want to say, share, expound and elaborate on. For this we need someone to be talking it all in. We like it when people do that for us. It soothes our ego, heightens our sense of self-worth and importance. We are sometimes not so generous ourselves though when listening to others. Here are six nightmare listeners you might run into. By the way, do any of these stereotypes sound a bit too familiar to you?

If you reading this title and thinking this has nothing to do with my leadership, you might want to think again. We hear this comment a lot from the participants on our training. They complain that the boss doesn’t talk to them enough because they are too busy, don’t have much interest in their ideas or do not seek their suggestions. In this modern life, none of these issues from staff should be surprising. There have been two major tectonic plate shifts in organisations over the last twenty years. One has been the compression of many organisational layers into a few. The other has been the democratization of information access. Bosses have been struggling to keep up.

Do leaders have to be perfect? It sounds ridiculous to expect that, because none of us are perfect. However, leaders often act like they are perfect. They assume the mantle of position power and shoot out orders and commands to those below them in the hierarchy. They derive the direction forward, make the tough calls and determine how things are to be done. There are always a number of alternative ways of doing things, but the leader says, “my way is correct, so get behind it”. Leaders start small with this idea and over the course of their career they keep adding more and more certainty to what they say is important, correct, valuable and needed to produce the best return on investment.

In most Western countries we are raised from an early age to become self-sufficient and independent. When we are young, we enjoy a lot of self-belief and drive hard along the road of individualism. School and university, for the most part, are individual, competitive environments with very little academic teamwork involved. This is changing slowly in some Universities as the importance of teamwork has been re-discovered. However, for the most part, it is still a zero sum game, of someone is the top scholar and some are in the upper echelons of marks received and others are not. This extends into the world of work where the bell curve is used to decide who are the star players, who are in the middle and who at the bottom are going to be fired.

Change is hard to create anywhere in the world. Getting things to change in Japan also has its own set of challenges. The typical expat leader, sent to Japan, notices some things that need changing. Usually the Japan part of the organisation is not really part of the organisation. It is sitting off to the side, like a distant moon orbiting the HQ back home.

Teams are composed of people. That requires many skills but two in particular from leaders: communication and people skills. Ironically, leaders are often deficient in one or both. One type of personality who gets to become the leader are the hard driving, take no prisoners, climb over the rival’s bodies to grasp the brass ring crowd. Other types are the functional stars; category experts; long serving staff members; older “grey hairs” or the last man standing. Usually communication skills and people skills were not prominent in their rise to this position of trust.

When do we create teams? Usually we inherit teams from other people, stocked with their selections and built around their preferences and prejudices, not ours. Sometimes we might get to start something new and we get to choose who joins. Does that mean that “team building” only applies when we start a new team? If that were the case, then most of us would never experience building a team in our careers. This idea is too narrow. In reality, we are building our teams every day, regardless of whether we suddenly became their leader or whether we brought them in or we started from scratch.

Teams are fluid. People move or leave and new people join. Targets go up every year. The compliance and regulatory requirements become more stringent, the market pivots and bites you, currency fluctuations take you from hero to zero in short order. Head office is always annoying. There are so many aspects of business which line up against having a strong sense of team. We can’t be complacent if we have built a strong team and we have to get to work, if we are in the process of team building.

As the leader we have to work on the presumption that people know what they are doing. It is impossible to micro manage every single person, every moment of the day. By the way, who would want to do that anyway? The issues arise when things deviate from the track we think they are on or expect that they are on. We find that a process has been finessed, but we don’t like the change. We find that some elements have been dropped completely, but we only find this out by accident or substantially after the fact. We are not happy in either case.

We are on the cusp of a change amongst youth in Japan. Those already entered into the workforce have memories of the Lehman Shock and the triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear core meltdown and the impact this had on the job market. They are looking for security of employ and family life, because of the fragility of both were exposed to them in September 2008 and again in March 2011. They saw the dire straights of those who slipped into the part-time employee hell of low wages, no prospects and everything tough, tough, tough.

All interfaces with the customer are designed by people. It can be on-line conversations with robots or in store interactions, but the driving force behind all of these activities are the people in our employ. The way people think and act is a product of the culture of the organisation. That culture is the accountability of senior management. The common success point of organisations is to have the right culture in place, that best serves the customer. The success of senior management in making all of that work is a combination of their leadership, people and communication skills.
Focus is under constant attack. The speed of business makes longer term planning a dubious endeavor. Projecting 5 years forward sounds reasonable. That is until you go back 5 years and look at all the changes that have taken place through technology, societal attitudinal changes, business realities and logistics. The leader is supposed to be defining the way forward for the team. The vision of the future is the guiding light on the hill toward which the troops are pointed. The relevancy of that vision is constantly being challenged by the market and by clients.
For decades I drove myself hard, based on a fundamental fallacy. Fear of a future of living in a cardboard box haunted me. I pushed hard so that cardboard box and I would never become well acquainted. You see homeless people in Japan and other countries living that way and it is a reality for them, that they never chose. It happened to them anyway.
Conflict is with us everywhere, everyday. That is the nature of the human condition. We have different desires and thinking. Some conflicts can be very low level and minor and we continue to cruise through the day. In other cases however, it becomes a lot more problematic.
“Remember that other people may be totally wrong, but they don’t think so”. This quote from Dale Carnegie sums up the problem. All those other people we have trouble with, had better fly straight. All they need is a better understanding of why they are wrong and we are right. By force of will, strenuous, sustained argument and politicking we will win the day. Or will we?
Japan seems to be going in opposing directions at the same time, when it comes to the supply of internationalised staff suitable for foreign companies. The statistics show a peak in 2004 of 83,000 Japanese students venturing off-shore. This dropped to a low of 57,500 in 2011 and since that point has climbed back above 60,000. Just to put that in context, Korea has over 73,00 students studying overseas but has half the population of Japan. Today, with many international companies looking to hire English speaking, internationalised Japanese staff, the supply situation is looking grim.
Business is more fast paced that ever before in human history. Technology boasting massive computing and communication power is held in our palm. It accompanies us on life’s journey, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everywhere we go. We are working in the flattest organisations ever designed, often in noisy, distracting open plan environments. We are also increasing thrust into matrix relationships with bosses, subordinates and colleagues residing in distant climes. We rarely meet them face to face, so communication becomes more strained.
The Spa magazine in Japan released the results of a survey of 1,140 male full-time employees in their 40s, about what they hated about their jobs. The top four complaints were salaries have not risen because of decades of deflation; a sense of being underappreciated and undervalued and a lost sense of purpose. Apart from not enough money, in a time of massive corporate profits, the other issues are all about leadership soft skills. Dale Carnegie Training did a global study of engagement. The results for Japan were consistent with the global trends. Japan’s scores were also consistent with every survey I have ever seen on the subject of engagement in this country. The percentages of those who are not engaged are always gob smacking.
The Spa magazine in Japan released the results of a survey of 1,140 male full-time employees in their 40s, about what they hated about their jobs. The top four complaints were salaries have not risen because of decades of deflation; a sense of being underappreciated and under evaluated and a lost sense of purpose.
The world’s third largest economy and one of the most sophisticated and advanced countries is a notorious underperformer on the international stage. I was reminded of this by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. She was a guest speaker at a foreign Chamber event drawing a capacity crowd. She is whip smart, charismatic and knows how to charm the crowd. She speaks Arabic fluently and her English is simply excellent. Yet, she chose to address the assembled Chamber members in Japanese not in English. What an opportunity missed to show Tokyo and Japan’s internationalism.
Japanese people are famous for having learnt over many centuries how to get along with others. High density living in the modern era and village communal agricultural activities in the past, have both seeded probably the best example of how to have a complex, but low friction society. Arguments, fights, road rage do occur but compared to anywhere else with such a large population pressure cooker, Japan doesn't even rate as a contender for worst practice. The concepts of tatemae or proffered reality and honne or actual reality, are a big part of creating that harmonious environment.
Sontaku is a Japanese word which means to surmise or conjecture about someone else’s feelings or desires. It is often associated with another Japanese word omotenashi or superb levels of hospitality, for which Japan is rightly famous. Sontaku means supplying an omotenashi style high level service before the customer has realised they actually need that service – anticipating the customer, based on the host’s conjecture about what they might need.
Wayne Gretzky is famous for this ice hockey quote about anticipating where and when the critical actions have to be taken, rather than just following what is already happening. This metaphor applies even more in business, because the complexities are much higher, the team is usually a lot bigger and the ramifications much larger. In reality though, we often find ourselves following, rather than leading.

During the “bubble years” of surging economic growth, Japan could not keep up with the supply of workers for the 3K jobs – kitsui, kitanai, kiken or difficult, dirty, dangerous undertakings. The 1985 Plaza Accord released a genie out of the bottle in the form of a very strong yen, which made everything, everywhere seems dirt cheap. Japanese people traveled abroad as tourists in mass numbers for the first time. They often created havoc in international destinations, because they were so gauche – a bit like we are experiencing now with mass Chinese tourism. Companies bought up foreign companies and real estate at a rapid clip. French champagne and beluga caviar was being downed at a an alarming pace. 

Business is more fast paced that ever before in human history. Technology boasting massive computing and communication power is held in our palm. It accompanies us on life’s journey, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everywhere we go. We are working in the flattest organisations ever designed, often in noisy, distracting open plan environments. We are also increasing thrust into matrix relationships with bosses, subordinates and colleagues residing in distant climes. We rarely meet them face to face, so communication becomes more strained.

200.  Fear and Loathing In Japan

The Spa magazine in Japan released the results of a survey of 1,140 male full-time employees in their 40s, about what they hated about their jobs. The top four complaints were salaries have not risen because of decades of deflation; a sense of being underappreciated and undervalued and a lost sense of purpose. The Lehman Shock in 2008 opened to door to job losses in larger companies, something which only had been possible in smaller forms in the past. The sense of lifetime employment as a given was removed and a brand new world of work emerged.

199.  Big Brother Japan Inc Style

“What anchors their behavior is the salaryman’s desire to protect himself – no one wants to put their position at risk by telling the truth”. This little gem of an insight was made by a retired nuclear engineer who worked for Toshiba. He was referring to the various scandals that had taken place there and explaining why illegal decisions made by senior management like cooking the books went unchecked internally.

198.  Bad Business Battlefield Promotions

In the military, junior officers are the equivalent of middle management in business. In times of warfare these middle managers are often wounded or killed in battle. There are no replacements from officer school, so the most capable member of the team is promoted on the battlefield, as the replacement leader. It makes no sense in business to have this as the model. Yet, this is often what happens.

197.  Positive Mind set For Leaders

How do we set up a positive mindset? More importantly how do we set it up from morning when we awake and when we start work? What are we feeding our mind? What things are occupying our thoughts? How do we control what we allow into our mind? Who has influence over our mindset? Are we in control or are we being controlled?

196.  Hey Boss, Teach Your Japanese Staff How To Relax

METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and industry), and the peak industry bodies the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and industry have launched their Premium Friday campaign, encouraging firms to allow their workers to depart early on the last Friday of each month. Approximately 70% of the Japanese economy is based on domestic consumption and the idea is to give consumers more time to consume, thus stimulating the economy. All good stuff, but there is a deeper problem for companies than more consuming.

195.  Japanese Leaders Needed Now

Rising in a company in Japan requires talent, but this is often held hostage to time. Your age, longevity and seniority in the system are factors that often trump talent.  The usual internal talent development programme is based on OJT (On The Job Training).  This is fine if your boss is a great practitioner, communicator and coach.  Not many of those floating around Japan.

194.  Leaders Who Can't Listen

Dynamic, powerful, driven, single-minded leaders get stuff done.  They are resourceful, disciplined, patient, highly demanding of themselves.  They are often poor listeners.  They are so focused on making things happen, getting decisions executed, pushing through, that conversations become monologues rather than dialogues.  They are so into their thing, that they want to talk about that and not much else.  Often they are the founder of the business or someone sent in to turn it around.

193.  Leaders Be Persuasive

A friend of mine was lamenting that he had not taken the time to complete our High Impact Presentations Course. He had had it in the back of his mind for some time, that he really ought to work on these key skills, but had never managed to lock it down and actually do it. Now he is facing a really, really big pitch and he knows his capacity isn’t where it needs to be. He is not fully confident he can be successful. Uh oh!

192.  Accountability In Your Team

Holding our people accountable is one of the basics of being a leader. They flounder, deadlines pass unheeded, things get missed, work is not completed to a satisfactory standard.  Why is that?  People are not trying to fail in their jobs, but they do let the team down with their poor performance and lack of accountability.  What can we do about it?

191.  Boss Stimulation Needed

Our education moves through many transitions.  We do our basic academic education at school and university and then we hit the university of life.  Company education programs begin with very basic induction sessions.  We may be studying technical subjects for regulatory requirements or the firms specified areas for further study.  We might get some rudimentary soft skill education, although the majority of companies rely on OJT - On The Job training, particularly in Japan.

190.  Get Ready For Your Productivity Nosedive

Brace yourself for everything to take a big hit. Speed, attention to detail, output, results are about to fall off a cliff. No this has nothing to do with currency rates, trade regulations, tariffs, gunboat diplomacy or anything Donald Trump is about to do as President. This is here in Japan, right now and mainly relevant in the major cities. This is when JPY750billion is about to get taken out of domestic consumption, lowering the nation’s GDP by 0.6%.

189.  Hey Donald Trump, Try "Winning Friends and Influencing People" Instead

Donald Trump’s phone call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s Prime Minister was major news. The tastier parts of that conversation were leaked from the American side, but the style and language reported seems to be in keeping with Donald Trump’s style, so they are probably true. Did he have to take such an aggressive approach with Malcolm? Could he have dealt with his concerns over bringing people into the US in a different way?

188.  Buying People

When we buy a company, we are buying the people and all the “assets” - plant and equipment come with them, rather than the other way around. The due diligence gets done, the books are looked at carefully for any signs of “cooking”. Hidden debts, secret undertakings, compliance and regulatory issues are scrutinized. The people part however is given a “once over lightly” look because this is much harder to do thoroughly, than the other investigations. HR can tell us a lot about the structure of the pay arrangements, who are the high potentials, previous performance review results and the current staffing levels. Gauging staff productivity however is much more obtuse. The silly part though is that this is exactly what we are buying – staff productivity.

187.  Still Stinky Performance Assessments

Seems hardly a day goes by when yet another big player announces they are no longer using annual performance assessments. Basically, this is a combination of clever corporate PR and a recognition that their managers were not up to the job of leading their people. Performance assessments have moved from once a year to twice a year as a formal construct, to now regular discussions between leaders and the led. Has anything really changed except the patina of modernity and cutting edge investor relations department propaganda?


186 podcast    2017 - Three Day Trainwreck
185 podcast    Be The Light On The 2017 Hill
184 podcast    2017 - Good Or Bad?
183 podcast    Dangerous People
182 podcast    One Of The Biggest Leadership Challenges
181 podcast    The Boss As Super Boss
180 podcast    The Madness of Moods
179 podcast    Personal Visionary Leadership
178 podcast    Become Your Own First Responder
177 podcast    Trust
176 podcast    Running a Foreign Business In Japan
175 podcast    The Boss's Genius Idea
174 podcast    Training Women In Japan
173 podcast    Japan-Your Education Ladder Is On The Wrong Wall
172 podcast    People Are A Pain
171 podcast    Employees As Number One
170 podcast    Gaining Willing Cooperation From Others
169 podcast    Three Critical Things Entrepreneurs Need
168 podcast    Real Freedom
167 podcast    The 106 Centimeter Cold Caller
166 podcast    Keep Your Shtick To Yourself Buddy
165 podcast    Stage Fright Got You?
164 podcast    Leaders: Get Off the Chems
163 podcast    Dream It
162 podcast    We Won't Follow Bots
161 podcast    Effective Project Management Rules
160 podcast    Real Leadership
159 podcast    Running A Foreign Business In Japan
158 podcast    Good Messages Delivered Badly
157 podcast    Structured Project Planning
156 podcast    Charismatic Leadership
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83         Let's Go For the Sales Bull's Eye
66          Elites Who Can't Cut It
2 podcast    Management Smoke and Mirrors In Japan
1 podcast    Flexible Japan - Stop Dreaming



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