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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Mar 13, 2024

It sounds very obvious, doesn’t it, to remind the team what we are trying to achieve, but are we doing it?  Yes, we had that team Town Hall a few months ago and as the leader we outlined where we need to be at the end of the financial year. After that session, we have all been head down and getting on with it. “They know right?  I told them everything they need to know, to get on with it” is what we have ringing in our internal conversation with ourselves.  Is this true, though?

Yes, we know the number we have to achieve, but what about the strategy to get there?  Is that clear enough to everyone? Do they all remember the details or have they been consumed by the minutiae of “doing” and have been neglecting the big picture of what we need to do to deliver the result?  The daily grind makes us small.  We are worn down by the doing and the bigger picture gets shoved into the background.  The leader’s job is to brush the dust off the plan and keep reminding the team what we have to do and how we are doing it.

The other issue we face is, as leaders, we are perfectly clear and we know what needs to be done, but have we properly communicated this to the team?  In Japan, we are working across two languages all the time. Even though we think we have been clear, we know that even amongst native speakers, there can be cases where we haven’t been clear enough.  Multiply that possibility when we are operating in imperfect Japanese or our team are using imperfect English and there are endless possibilities for a lack of clarity.

It happens all the time too, that what we expect to happen doesn’t happen at all or doesn’t happen when we thought it would happen.  Our staff member didn’t actually understand what they needed to do, but it is embarrassing to admit that to the boss, so they smile nicely and disappear. We find out weeks or months later that something key has been missed or done incorrectly.  Whose fault was that?  We might want to blame them, but we had better take responsibility for not checking that our understanding of what would happen next was shared by the staff member who was going to do the work.

I always keep in mind that “I don’t know” is a code phrase in Japan for “I don’t agree”.  No one in this country believes that direct confrontation with the boss is going to get you anywhere, so everyone operates at ninja levels of obfuscation.  “Why didn’t that project get done on time” is greeted with “I don’t know” and that conversation takes us precisely nowhere.

We may have explained the rationale for the thing we wanted done and to us, that made perfect sense, but to the staff member that may represent more work and they already feel overwhelmed by what they have on their plate right now.  That project gets pushed to the back of the cue.  Conveniently, their boss is super busy and distracted by numerous other projects, so there is a strong chance the boss may forget about this imposition entirely and they can keep doing what they want to do.  When we do circle back and find there are problems, we then hit this wall of denial.

We should always assume that what we said wasn’t entirely understood, in whichever language we were using.  That means we have to be well organised time wise to be able to check on progress on the way through, rather than neglecting the process and turning up at the end expecting results. 

We should also have a regular cadence for reminding everyone what we are supposed to be doing, in terms of getting results and also referring to the strategy on how we are going to make that happen.  Yes, we told them before, but let’s assume they have all been busy and have forgotten some of the finer points.  In particular, the WHY is a big factor which we need to keep reminding everyone about and not just the what and the how.

If we are well organised, we can do this and we can smooth out a lot of wrinkles.  We can make the work process much better.  This drops the stress levels and increases the joy of work for us and for everyone else.  What’s that, “no joy at work?”.  Well, if that is the case, then go back and have a look at some of the basics and make sure they are in place. If they are not, then get busy and re-introduce them.