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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Apr 17, 2024

There is a debate about whether Japan is any different from anywhere else when it comes to leading the team.  Intellectually, I can appreciate there are many similarities because people are people, but I always feel there are important differences.  One of the biggest differences is how people are trained to become leaders in Japan.  I should really clarify that statement and say how they are not trained to become leaders. The main methodology for creating leaders in Japan is through On The Job Training (OJT). I can see there is a crisp logic to the idea of OJT back in the day, however it is now a flawed system in the modern world of Japan.  In the West, leadership training is a given, because the value is recognised and so the investment is made to better educate the leadership cohorts through each generation.

The first problem with Japan OJT is it presumes your boss knows about leading.  There is very little formal leadership training going on in Japan.  I don’t believe it just about investing the money.  There is no great tradition here for corporate leadership training.  Before we dive into this subject, I believe we should clarify what is a leader in Japan and what is a manager and what is different. 

Japan, in my observation, is full of managers, and there are few leaders. A manager runs the machine on budget, on quality, and on time. The leader does all of that and two very important additional tasks.  The leader persuades the team that the direction they are advocating is the correct one and, secondly, they build up the capabilities of their staff through one-on-one coaching.  By the way, barking out orders like a mad pirate captain doesn’t qualify as coaching.

OJT probably made a lot of sense up until about fifty years ago, when it started to be disrupted by technology.  By the 1980s, desktop computing became common in Japan and gradually the boss lost his (and they were mainly men) typist and had to start doing his own typing on the computer.  The advent of email in the mid-1990s was the real death blow to the boss’s time management.  Now the boss had become super busy and time availability for coaching staff became much diminished.

What this means is that we have had been through multiple generations of staff mainly educated through OJT and who have been short-changed on the leadership modelling by their “manager” boss.  Each corporate generation passes on how to be a manager to the next generation and unless there is some intervention through formal leadership training, there is no real progress.

 Of course, there will always be exceptions who prove the rule and some managers who make it out of that gravitational pull of OJT and become real leaders.  This is the lightning strike theory of leadership development and isn’t a great proposition to ensure that the firm’s leadership bench is stacked with professionals.

The key plank in leadership is no longer task experience.  The old model was the boss had done all the tasks of their subordinates and knew their jobs inside out.  Today, there is much more speciality and technology is making sure it isn’t experience alone which will carry the day for the boss.  Many companies in Japan are moving away from the old model of age and stage and instead promoting people based on ability.  Just rotating through various jobs in the machine won’t be enough anymore.

Leaders have to become expert communicators and masters of environment building, such that individuals can motivate themselves.  How many leaders receive any training to assist their communication and people skills?  Very, very few and everyone else had to work it all out through trial and error. That hit and miss approach is very expensive.

The younger staff want different things to their parents and the modern boss in Japan has to adjust.  The bishibishi or super strict model of leadership is now cast out on to the rubbish tip of leadership history in Japan.  Bosses still using this model will see their younger staff departing in droves.  Already 30% are leaving after three to four years of employ and that number will only get worse as we run out of people to hire and the younger generation all become free agents.

The younger generation wants a psychologically safe environment and a lot of personal encouragement by the boss. One of the greatest elements to gaining engagement from staff is that they feel the boss cares about them.  The way they know that is through the boss’s communication skills.  If you believe that given people are getting paid, they should be engaged, then there is bound to be a lack of the needed communication of “I care about you” going on. If you don’t have well-developed communication skills, then being the boss is only going to get harder and harder. 

How much communication training do bosses get?  Very little and they certainly don’t get much value through OJT, because their own bosses were crap communicators, as were their bosses, and back we go through the generations. Japan needs to raise its white-collar worker productivity and investing in boss leadership and communication training makes a lot of sense.  OJT is a dead duck and won’t work as the vehicle to get the needed progress on the leadership front.  We need a change in thinking about leadership here in Japan to take us forward.

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About The Author

Dr. Greg Story, President Dale Carnegie Tokyo Training

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The bestselling author of “Japan Sales Mastery” (the Japanese translation is "The Eigyo" (The営業), “Japan Business Mastery” and "Japan Presentations Mastery" and his new books "How To Stop Wasting Money On Training" and the translation "Toreningu De Okane Wo Muda Ni Suru No Wa Yamemashoo" (トレーニングでお金を無駄にするのは止めま

Dr. Greg Story is an international keynote speaker, an executive coach, and a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. He leads the Dale Carnegie Franchise in Tokyo which traces its roots straight back to the very establishment of Dale Carnegie in Japan in 1963 by Mr. Frank Mochizuki.

He publishes daily blogs on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter

Has 6 weekly podcasts:

1.     Mondays -  The Leadership Japan Series,

2.    Tuesdays – The Presentations Japan Series

Every second Tuesday - ビジネス達人の教え

3.    Wednesdays - The Sales Japan Series

4.    Thursdays – The Leadership Japan Series

Also every second Thursday - ビジネスプロポッドキャスト

5.    Fridays - The Japan Business Mastery Show

6.    Saturdays – Japan’s Top Business Interviews

Has 3 weekly TV shows on YouTube:

1.     Mondays - The Cutting Edge Japan Business Show

Also every Second Thursday - ビジネスプロTV

2.    Fridays – Japan Business Mastery

3.    Saturdays – Japan Top Business Interviews

In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development.

Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making, become a 39 year veteran of Japan and run his own company in Tokyo.

Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate (糸東流) and is currently a 6th Dan.

Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.