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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Feb 14, 2024

 There are many paths to the mountaintop in the leadership area.  Today, let’s go back to the practical realities of getting others to listen to you and, even more importantly, to follow you.  My favourite quote on leadership is from Yogi Berra, the American baseball coach rather infamous for murdering the English language. He said something profound though, when he noted: “Leading is easy.  It is getting people to follow you, which is hard”. 

If nobody likes you, what are your chances of uniting the team behind you?  Pretty dismal would be the obvious conclusion.  How many bosses are likeable, though? Often, they are demons, autocrats, channelling Genghis Khan for ideas on how to lead the team.  They enforce compliance, but don’t foster engagement. Their influence on what is possible for the team is limited in scope.

Understanding the members of the team and what each individual wants is a good place to start to reverse the lack of engagement.  When they scold staff, this creates barriers and subterranean resistance.  Handing out praise may not have been a feature of how they grew up in leadership, but in today’s modern business world, they need to learn how to do this.  Being a good listener and encouraging others to talk, rather than barking out orders all the time, is the smarter move.  Smiling, rather than maintaining a permanent frown, would be a good change to make. Communicating the value their staff brings to the organisation is a key to helping them feel what they do is important and that they are important.

Getting the team to accept your ideas can be achieved by pulling rank and threatening staff with removal.  It doesn’t get anyone particularly enthusiastic to do what the boss says though, let alone go the extra mile.  Resentment and discouragement become the order of the day.  In this permanent war for talent in Japan, the allergy to mid-career hires has evaporated and they can walk out the door to the warm embrace of your competitors.

We can show our humanity by not holding the team to a standard that we don’t apply to ourselves.  If we are wrong, we should admit it quickly and emphatically.  This says to the team, “I am not perfect and I don’t expect perfection from you either”.  We should never say, “you are wrong” when they venture forth an idea or proposal.  That kills the creativity spark right there and creates resentment. Let them do most of the talking, even if it is killing us to shut up.  This encourages staff to have ownership of the execution of our ideas.  Trying to see things for the staff member’s point of view will help them feel understood and therefore more committed to reach the team goals.

We need excellent communication skills to let the staff members feel the idea is theirs rather than ours.  We can use the Socratic Method of asking questions to lead them to self-discovery.  This is very empowering, and they will get right behind their own idea more than getting excited about executing on our direction on what needs to happen.  When they suggest things to us, we shouldn’t be dismissing their idea out of hand.  Yes, we may have more experience than them and yes, we may have tried that failed idea before.  The point is, we want them to be engaged. Taking their idea seriously is a key step to making that a reality. 

Being a leader isn’t about having the baton tucked up under our arm and issuing orders right and left.  Asking questions is a much better way to get people to follow us.  They feel included in the decision-making process.  That sense of ownership brings more energy to the completion of the tasks.  Again, our communication capability is critical to have our team happy about doing what we suggest.  We should try to avoid having to use position power to get things done.  We want volunteers rather than the “volunteered”. 

Mistakes will always happen and how we handle them makes all the difference.  I have seen a seriously senior executive explode in instant white-hot rage, up close and personal during a staff meeting.  It was horrific. No one in that room regarded him as their leader after than volcanic eruption. He should have shut up and instead reflected on all the mistakes he had made in his career. In particular, he should have recalled those he made at the same age and stage as his hapless victims assembled in that small meeting room.

If someone makes a mistake, in 99% of cases, they feel bad.  They also feel useless and lose their confidence to get back on the back of that bucking bull and keep participating in the corporate rodeo.  We have to show them they can recover from this and they can be successful here with us.  We need to encourage them to try again.  We need to restore their self-belief.  We have to look for the opportunity for them to regain their face. 

When we ask people to step outside their Comfort Zone, they will feel naked and vulnerable.  We have to look for the slightest improvement to praise and for each subsequent improvement.  We can communicate to them we see them as a winner and as a capable person. We purposely give them a fine reputation to live up to.

None of the things I have covered here are complex or difficult. It may, however, require some re-wiring of the mindset about leading others.  We often get the wrong idea and information from previous bosses and from the media.  Try these ideas and you will find success in being liked by your team, be able to have them follow you and gain their respect as the leader.