LEADERSHIP LESSON: JAPANESE CORPORATE GOVERNANCE

Whenever the average person thinks of Japan, I bet they picture Sumo Wrestlers, Sushi, Notorious Gangs with Funny Names, Ninjas and Karate. But is that all there is to this small but powerful country? If wealth was measured by the size of a country, there’s no doubt Japan would be one of the poorest in the world. However, Japan stands today among the strong economies of the world.  Geographically speaking, the country doesn’t have much to offer; They have few, if any, natural resources and a usable landmass that is subjected to Earthquakes. Then, in contrast, let us take Zambia as an example; My country has an abundance of Natural Resources. We experience little, if any, natural disasters such as Earthquakes, Hurricanes and the like. In fact, I have never personally witnessed any of those disasters… (I know I have the memory of an old woman sometimes, but on this one? I am absolutely sure.)  So, what’s missing here? Why the stark difference?

The answer is one word: Leadership.

Japan is a country of many leaders and few followers while Zambia is a country of a few leaders and many followers. No matter how talented or gifted someone or something is, the only people on Earth that can release that potential are leaders. Now, sometimes the person with the talent also happens to be a leader; A rare circumstance but a most fortunate one. However, leaders are most of the time, the people in the sidelines facilitating and helping that person achieve their goal.

So, let us go back to Japan…

According to the book, Keeping Good Company by Jonathan Charkham, the 3 main features that affect Japanese attitudes towards Corporate Governance are their concepts of ‘obligation’, ‘family’ and ‘consensus’ all linked into one.

By ‘obligation’, we mean that Japanese workers at every level in the Company feel that their effort counts and that they have something to contribute. A good leader always communicates his vision and that’s exactly what the Japanese do.

(We will take a look at vision later on in subsequent posts).

The second is family. To use the author’s words, what that means is that the leaders create an atmosphere that ‘commands allegiance and prime attention of everyone from top to bottom.’ Which is somehow tied to the point mentioned earlier on ‘Obligation’.

Then lastly, by ‘Consensus’, we mean that immense efforts are put into building a consensus, i.e. a general or widespread agreement with the members of the company. This is fervently enforced even at the cost of a slow and often cumbersome decision-making process.

One of the main challenges of leadership is deciding on what’s more important than the other. Usually, leaders have the challenge of making the decision on whether achieving their goal should be prioritized over motivating their teams. The Japanese seem to handle the dilemma quite well. They understand what needs to be achieved, and instead of shoving the company’s goals down the employees’ throat, they make him understand his relevance to the company beyond a salary. (through consensus of course)

Although these are not all of the Principles of Leadership that the Japanese use, they are nonetheless as powerful as they are rare. Hopefully, companies and people in third world countries like Zambia could learn a thing or two from them. It’s in doing so, that I feel mind transformation and ultimately good leadership could take place.