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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Sep 2, 2020

Kokorogamae is one of those Japanese concepts which are a bit tricky to translate.  Kokoro by itself as a word has a wide variety of meanings – mind, spirit, mentality, idea, thought, heart, feeling, sincerity, intention, will, true meaning, etc.  It is a radical in the Japanese kanji ideographic script and so appears in a large number of compound words.  Kamae comes from the verb kamaeru meaning take a posture, assume an attitude, be ready for, etc. 

In Japanese, when the two words are combined, there is a phonetic shift of the “k” in kamae to a “g” sound. I first heard these two Japanese words in my karate dojo back in 1971, but never as a compound word.  Every class we were given the command “kamae”, meaning to take our fighting stance. For anyone doing Japanese martial arts, this is a very familiar word.

The Kokorogamae concept is closely linked to Japanese ideas around perfectionism and mindset.  You cannot produce a perfect output, if your mind is not properly aligned with the action.  A great calligraphy master will establish their Kokorogame before they wield the brush, the ikebana master will do the same before they place the flowers, as will the master of tea ceremony before they begin to whisk the tea.  They perfect their mindset, to produce the perfect output.

In my first book Japan Sales Mastery, I wrote about Kokorogamae in the context of sales.  What was your true intention as a salesperson.  Was it to secure a big commission, bonus or promotion for yourself or was it to help the client to succeed in their business?  The mindset is totally different and the output can be a single sale or a lifetime partnership with the client.  If you are a salesperson, which is your intention?

Leaders also have their Kokorogame.  Hanging on many walls, protected behind glass, tastefully framed, clearly written is the Kokorogame of the organisation.  In English, we call it the Vision, Mission, Values of the firm.  Someone or a group of people, thought about where do we want to take the organisation in a perfect world, in other words what is the Vision going forward?  What we do that is the Mission?  Why we do that are the Values.  This is the Kokorogamae at the macro level.

The culture of the organisation is there to police the individual adherence to the corporate Kokorogamae.  The leader’s key role is to bring clarity to the Why of what we are all doing.  But where does that concept of the Why spring from?  Simon Sinik has more or less, become the owner of the Why since his YouTube video went viral.  The Kokorogamae concept starts up one step before what Simon is talking about.  He concentrates on concentrating on the importance of establishing the Why, but how do you determine the Why of the Why? Where does that come from?

This is where Kokorogamae is useful.  It makes us reflect on what we believe and why we believe it.  As the leader, is my true intention to build up the people in my team and help them become the absolute best that they can be?  Or, are they there to serve me, to propel my rise through the corporate ranks, with them arrayed like worker bee slaves to me, the Queen bee.  Just as in sales, these goals are not mutually exclusive. 

A famous sales trainer Zig Ziglar said, “you can have everything you want, if you just help other people get what they want”.  Your Kokorogamae can create your own success wrapped up inside the success of your client.  As a leader, you can rise through the ranks on the back of the results created by a highly engaged team, who feel you have their back and are focused on their success.

The key point is where is the focus of your thoughts about the people in the business?  How do you really see them, when we strip away all the psychobabble?  To get better clarity on that, we can use the handy Japanese concept of tatemae and honne, meaning the superficial reality and the actual reality.  Are you leading based on a tatemae version of what you are supposed to say and do or is the real you, the honne, the one your people see everyday? 

What is your true intention?  What is your Kokorogamae as a leader regarding your team members and the organisation?