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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Sep 9, 2020

Leadership is stressful during normal times.  Dramatically different situations being enforced to deal with Covid-19, such as working from home, just adds to the stress. The current business revenues may be under water.  You may now owe the Japanese government a sizeable chunk of cash just to keep the firm alive.  The strain may be apparent or it may be quietly building up like a cartoon pressure cooker about to explode.  Folk law says, as we get older our tempers get shorter.  So if that is true for older leaders, now exposed to more than usual stress, this might be a dangerous cocktail being shaken, rather than stirred. 

My wife assures me that as I have gotten older, my temper has quickened.  Personally, I can’t notice it, but like most things, she is probably right.  Is it because we are getting closer to falling off the perch, that we have less patience with everything, in our flickering twilight years on this planet?  I am sure there is many a psychologist thesis written on this subject, but I will rely on my wife’s anthropological insights, from her study of the aging, captive Aussie male.

With the team being at home or part of the team being at home, the simple coordination of things has become a lot more complex.  Also, learning the new tech tools to coordinate things, has added a layer of opaqueness to getting things done.  I find that I have to spend a lot more time keeping myself up to speed on what is going on and in keeping my team appraised of the latest developments. Actually, I find this quite annoying and feel like I am having to waste my valuable time.

I belong to Tokyo Rotary and the Rotary symbol is a cog wheel, with the spokes radiating out for the center to the rim.  This was a coordination tool invented by Paul Harris in Chicago 115 years ago.  In those days, each profession had a guild where only people from the same profession mingled.  Harris saw the need to have an organisation to allow people in business to mingle with others, from quite disparate industries.

With working from home now the norm, the leader tends to become the center of the wheel spokes, but there is no connecting rim anymore or a weaker rim connection is in place.  Everyone reports into the boss and the boss deals with people in a linear fashion.  The connecting rim is missing, but it is critical to keeping everyone informed of events.  Of course in this environment, things will start to drift.  Messages are not getting through.  In this new world, individuals are now free to freelance, making their own decisions and taking the organisation off course.

As the boss, none of this is telegraphed to you.  It is subterranean and just creeps up on you.  Blissful ignorance reigns until it doesn’t. You discover that what you thought was occurring, actually isn’t.  In fact, it is not even close to what it should be.  Does steam start pouring out of your ears like a Disney cartoon character?  The next phone call from the boss will be a doozy for sure, as retribution is sought and the guilty punished.  For people in my age bracket, how’s that short temper going at this point?

People not doing what they are supposed to be doing, is another ear steamer.  Your instructions were clear.  Or so you thought.  The result is not what was expected.  The individual in question now gets questioned, actually probably gets more like an interrogation.  No one emerges happier at the end of this conversation, than at the beginning.  The result is often a lot of heat generated and not much light.

Another explosive is the mistake made.  Errors are never great in business, but in this free range, work from home world, the chances of errors occurring goes up. Normal office interactions allow for a lot more communication and consultation.  In Japan, spinach has been the usual answer – horenso (ほうれん草). This is a play on words, as horenso means spinach, as well as reporting (報連相).  Each element of the compound word means reporting, contacting and seeking guidance from the boss.  Horenso can easily dry up though when operating online and people start making incorrect decisions. 

As stressful as it is for the boss, it is probably more stressful for the team.  They are stuck at home, often with small children, who haven’t quite mastered the concept of Mum or Dad are here working, rather than being available to them whenever they want.  The team don't have as much communication with their colleagues as before, so isolation can become an issue.  This is stressful.

Problems will arise.  How we respond to them is the key.  If you find your ear steam machine is at full throttle, then time to reflect.  Try using a cushion.  Some interval between when we hear some news we don’t like or discover some issue we didn't even know was an issue and our response.  It might just be to take a walk around the house or around the block, to calm down.  It might be to schedule the response for much later, rather than immediately picking up the phone and going after the guilty party.  It might be keeping calm, asking questions rather than speaking and not trying to complete the business at hand in that meeting.  Get the facts, the nitty gritty detail and then take some time to digest what you will do about it and arrange a follow up meeting for later.

We know all of this, but we forget in the heat of the moment. None of this is new, but it isn’t going away any time soon either.  We have to allow for our short tempers, explosive rage and frustration, as a fact that will be there.  Having a breaker to the short temper circuit will help everyone, especially me!  Remember, in life, everyone is carrying a heavy load, so let’s be more long term oriented, tolerant, patient and forgiving.