The Leadership Moment in Japan


I try not to let a day pass without reflecting about the people in Japan and yet it is often the case that other topics capture my attention.  Today I feel grateful for Tetsuo Yamaori’s article that I read with my morning coffee.  He writes about the feeling of serenity among the Japanese and considers it a source of hope as the citizens reconstruct their country.  I marvel at the public spirit.

That got me thinking about leaders of organizations in Japan, in particular, those not directly involved in the humanitarian response or the work to contain the crippled nuclear reactor of Fukushima.  Gretchen Schmelzer’s blog shared tips for leaders everywhere during time of crises.  One of the tips is to use structure to keep regular routines.

We know the reality in Japan is a shared sense of loss and suffering. I hope people in Japan find comfort from the stability of regular routines.

We also know a recession gripped Japan for more than a decade.  In March, The Economist praised the “indomitable spirit” of the Japanese people.  They went a bit further to assert the road to recovery will be “breathtakingly hard” because the political and social systems show few signs of adapting to creeping and obvious drivers for change.

The leadership moment for Japan is to create opportunities for people to come together and re-imagine their future together.

This isn’t just an opportunity for Japanese leaders. Today, leaders everywhere need to step up the kind of conversations we are having about our organizations, and our world. We need to go one step further when we build new routines for a new world.  We need to pause and listen.  We need to prioritize our time to understand the diversity and enormity of the visions held by people in our organizations for the future.  We need to avoid the temptation to tell people life will return back to normal—what’s normal these days?  Instead, we need to ask questions, engage groups in conversations at a time, so often too rare these days in any country, when reflection and deep contemplation is possible to create a new cultural reality.

What happens if we don’t? If the leaders in Japan don’t stop, inquire and listen, they miss an opportunity to co-create something new, something bigger.  If the rest of us don’t stop, listen and inquire, we all risk that the people in our organizations may continue practices that stifle creativity and innovation.  We know the research supports the importance of engaging others to create a hopeful outlook during times of change. This is a moment for business leaders everywhere to be curious about how the Generations X, Y, and Millennia envision the opportunities for the future. The future is in their hands.

Leaders unleash talent and enthusiasm when people are given the tools, trust, and time to reinvent their jobs and communities.  Given the situation Japan faces today, a leader at any level, and in any country, would do well  to generate the possibilities created by helping people connect to hope as they design and build their dreams together.

What are the opportunities emerging for leaders in Japan?  I believe the leadership moment is to create a stronger foundation for the country’s prosperity.  What is the opportunity for us all? What do you think?

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6 Responses to The Leadership Moment in Japan

  1. Chris Allen Thomas says:

    I am glad that you found the article by Tetsuo Yamaori inspiring. I found it to be so, as well. This is a very nice perspective piece. Thank you for putting it out.

  2. Kristin says:

    Chris – Tetsuo Yamaori’s point of view about how the DNA of Japanese culture includes the acceptance of impermanence is intriguing. Thank you for sharing your reaction.


  3. Deborah McKay says:

    Kristin: The language spoken throughout your blog speaks to the commitment and passion that you have about your work. I had to force myself to stop and to take the time to read your blog because of the many other distractions that all of us are faced with.; I am glad I did. I was inspired by your challenge to all leaders to “stop, listen and inquire”. I was touched by the description of the spirit of the Japanese people and how serenity is a source of hope for them during these difficult times. May we all be so fortunate to look at life through this lens.

  4. Dirk Stoess says:

    I love your idea of “stop, listen and inquire”. From my point of view this is a powerful way to have a look on these things which really matter. Unfortunately we (including me) too often don´t see the fact, that the investment of time doing this pays back multiple times.
    A lot of people (including me again) like tools which help them to this “job” better in the future. Do you know a simple one apart from “living slower and so on..” ?


  5. Erik G. Mølbach says:

    Thank you for a measured, insightful piece on Japan and leadership.
    I miss our talks, and look forward to inquiring and listening with you when we next ride the bikes.
    We need to look at the tragedy and responses in Japan as parts of us here, not somewhere far away. It really is up close and personal, and we need to learn from the ways Asian people tend to contemplate and weigh options, so unlike the Western way of reactionism and short-term thinking.


    • Kristin says:

      Erik – I agree, the opportunity is to ask ourselves what we are avoiding now that could be much worse later if left unaddressed. Thanks for your comment. I miss our talks too and am glad to “hear” your voice via the web. – KvD

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