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Leadership

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BSA538/M724 – Team 3 / Collaborative Group Project Leadership in Another Culture: Japan
Jay Coutu, Errol Wallace, and Tiffany Helber
Averett University
Contemporary Issues in Leadership
BSA 538
Dr. Danielle Babb
December 6, 2015

A culture that dates to 13,000 B.C., and the leadership traits that have made Japan a world power, are not easily defined. Such is the mystery that is Japanese leadership. Prior to the Meiji period, 1872 to 1910, Japan vacillated between warlord land grabs and adherence to the belief in a divine Emperor that demanded absolute loyalty and subservience. It was during the following period of Japanese history that the modern concept of leadership emerged and the nation found itself becoming a dominant world power. During the Taisho period Japan found itself in a difficult position. While a modern and powerful military influence in the Asian arena, the west continued to dismiss the nation’s culture and ambition. Following the disastrous war with the allied powers in the 20th century, the nation found itself again at a crossroads. Adhere to the leadership concepts of an ‘Emperor’ or finally focus on economic growth and democratic ideals? Japan chose the latter and thus engaged in a period of leadership evolution that set the standard for the modern world (Davies, 2002, p. 36). Where once blind allegiance to a living deity ruled the social structure, Japan evolved into a nation of dynamic and evolving leadership that tapped into a cultural norm of teamwork and sacrifice.
Relevant values in Japan Values play an important role in any society and in any organization and values “are fundamental beliefs that an individual considers to be important, that are relatively stable over time, and that have an impact on attitudes and behavior” (Daft, 2015, p. 109). For this reason, it is crucial that leadership understand the values of their organization and the culture they are operating in. “Japanese culture is deeply rooted in their values and they play a critical role in everyday life.” (Finney, 2001). Some core Japanese values include thinking of others, doing your best, not giving up, respecting your elders, knowing your role, and working in a group (Kanagy, 2013). The cultural considerations that impact these values are age, the importance of silence, traditions, history, and religion. These values have an impact on the attitudes and behaviors of individuals in Japanese organizations. With regards to age, the Japanese people follow a virtue, which originates with Confucianism, called Filial piety, or xiao (Wisegeek.org, n.d.). Filial piety is “the important virtue and primary duty of respect, obedience, and care for one's parents and elderly family members” (Dictionary.com, n.d.). In general, filial piety transcends beyond one’s immediate family and the Japanese have immense respect for all of their elders and they value them as critical members of their society. The value of respect is prominent in all aspects of Japanese culture to include in a business setting. It is important to understand filial piety when conducting business in Japan, especially when dealing with elder Japanese businessmen and women. Failure to do so may result in a foreigner coming off as rude and disrespectful. For example, if a foreigner, or even a Japanese leader, is disrespectful to someone that is older than they are, then it is likely that the behaviors and attitudes of those who witness the act will be negatively affected. This type of action could permanently damage the perception of the foreigner or Japanese leader. The Japanese also place great value on silence. Two proverbs that stress the importance of this concept are “he who speaks has no knowledge and he who has knowledge does not speak” (Finney, 2001) and “those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know” (Finney, 2001). In the Japanese culture, those who say very little are often considered credible and non-verbal cues and communication are more important than verbal communication (Finney, 2001). This is important to remember when conducting business in Japan. “Silence is necessary for contemplation, both in the private as well as the business world.” (Gatewaytojapan.org, 2009) Business leaders often say very little and this should not be taken as a sign of disrespect or that they are not knowledgeable in the topic being discussed. For example, if a leader or manager speaks all the time, which is common in western cultures, then the individual may be viewed by others as lacking knowledge and even as undeserving of their position of power. Finally, tradition and history have also played their part in the forming of Japanese values. Japanese traditions are deeply rooted in their two main religions, Buddhism and Shintoism, and these traditions have been cultivated over thousands of years. Also, the Japanese people have endured many hardships during their history and “their history is considered a principal factor in the basis of their values” (Finney, 2001). Doing your best, not giving up, knowing your role, and working in as one or in a group are all modern day Japanese values that have been influenced by their history and religions. A leader must have knowledge of Japanese traditions and history to truly understand how they impact their organizational values.
Characteristics of Japanese leadership
During the 1980’s great Japanese economic boom, William Ouchi spent years researching successful Japanese companies. He subsequently identified many traits of Japanese leadership which he then used to develop his Theory Z leadership style which is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Management Style. “Theory Z stresses the importance of a caring and benevolent relationship between leaders and followers, and presumes that workers will get motivated by a strong social relationship with the company.” (BusinessMate, 2011) A key component of Theory Z is loyalty and employee well-being, and Japanese leadership is focused on providing a job to their employees for life. Of note, the Japanese leadership style is also comparable to Paternalistic Leadership, which is most common leadership style in Asian countries (BusinessMate, 2011). With an understanding of relevant Japanese values and needs, it is easy to comprehend why Japanese leadership styles differ so much from the American approach to leadership. “The Japanese leadership approach is heavily group oriented, paternalistic, and concerned with the employee’s work and personal life.” (YouSigma, n.d.) The Japanese values of thinking of others, respecting your elders, knowing your role, and working in a group, all influence this type of leadership approach which is almost the exact opposite of the American leadership approach. The Japanese and U.S. approach differ on many different philosophical dimensions such as employment, evaluation and promotion, career paths, decision making, control mechanism, responsibility, and concern for employees (YouSigma, n.d.). With regards to employment, the Japanese approach is focused on providing employment for life and lay-offs are rare. Conversely, the American approach is generally short-term employment and lay-offs are common. With regards to employee evaluation and promotion, and career paths, the Japanese approach is slow promotions and general career paths with regular rotation throughout the organization. Conversely, the American approach is quick promotions and very specialized career paths (YouSigma, n.d.). One of the most extreme differences between the leadership approaches of these two countries can be observed in their decision making processes and control mechanisms. The Japanese leadership style of decision making is to make decisions via group decision and may be considered slow and tedious to western cultures. This group decision making process is formally known as ringi-sho consensus and may even consist of written proposals of a decision being staffed around the organization’s departments to obtain concurrence and consensus (Atma Global, 2013). Conversely, the American style of leadership is to delegate decision making to individual leaders and managers. With regards to control mechanisms, the Japanese leadership approach involves very implicit and informal direction to subordinates. This approach relies heavily on trust and loyalty. Conversely, American leadership is generally very direct and explicit in their guidance and direction to subordinates, and there is generally little room for interpretation (YouSigma, n.d.). Finally, the Japanese approach and American approach differ with regards to assignment of responsibility and concern for employees. With the Japanese approach, responsibility is shared by all and leadership’s concern for the well-being of their employees extends beyond just the work place and to the whole life of their employee. Much of this is has to do with their goal of providing a job for life and their value of the importance of the group. Conversely, the American approach involves assigning responsibility to individuals and leadership is generally concerned with only their employee’s work life (YouSigma, n.d.)
Trust in the Japanese culture While the western culture may take the concept of trust seriously, the Japanese social and business worlds frame it as a pillar upon which all other virtues exist. In the business world of modern Japan, the idea of trust is further broken down into essential practices. These concepts are not negotiable and are used in every modern business process. “Ho-Ren-Sou” is more than a homophone in the Japanese language, it is a reminder that trust evolves from three simple actions. First, the practice of reporting relevant information about a project or goal to one’s superiors on a regular basis is key. If you are asked about the status of a project or goal you have failed, and trust has been violated. Second, it is the responsibility of each leader to inform both his co-workers, superiors and subordinates of actions taken. This way the team is kept abreast of the numerous problems and solutions present during the business cycle. Surprising any member of the team during a meeting is considered a violation of trust and a failure. Finally, the action of consulting anchors the third pillar of trust. The Japanese adhere to the principal of honoring their elders. It is the responsibility of team-members and leaders to seek out the council of their elders for advice, allowing for a new set of eyes to examine their work (Mente & Mente, 2006). When these three pillars are applied, the leader can feel confident that trust has been established.
Whether a vision is required for leadership in Japan Japanese leadership differs in so many ways from the United States and it is truly amazing to see how all cultures, backgrounds, and values mix. Culture plays a huge role in leading and managing a country. A successful business and organization has a fine tuned vision statement that is laid out for their employees to understand where the company is coming from, where the company is going, and also how they are going to get there. Japanese culture is a very close knit and family oriented society. One example that stands out is that the leadership of Japan does not lay off their employee as often as in the United State, where employees have to worry about cut backs and layoffs. The average American lives in an “Employee at will State” and the employer does not have to have a reason to let you go and you are not tied to a job for specified period of time. Japanese people care for their employees and they are in it for the long haul which is very different than in United States. This should be an eye opening experience for everyone to know and see each cultures bring about changes and new values.
When thinking of a vision for the entire country, there is a wide range of opportunity and issues for the country as a whole. As is known by all, American politicians can’t even manage to pass laws on one accord. The Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese prime minster since World War II to address the joint session and U. S congress. The honor of Shizo completing this has been a boost to the moral of a demoralized Japanese economy. As Daft stated, “to create a vision, leaders share their personal visions with others and encourage others to express their dreams for the future” (Daft, 2015, p. 405).
To be effective, Shinzo will have to have open arms and good listening skills to obtain the measure of the people in the county. If the people of Japan trust their leader, then they are one step closer to achieving their vision. The Japanese people are aligning because they want peaceful relations. In the Japanese culture it is a combined effort and the people of Japan are very close knit, which allows no room for mistakes and errors. As Daft stated, “leaders have to be clear on the organization’s purpose and vision before they can adopt an effective strategy” (Daft, 2015, p. 405). Shinzo needs to effectively execute the plan and align the vision to values to gain the trust and support of the people of Japan. The values of a tight knit culture and the concept of group efforts will support the vision and the growth of Japan. In conclusion, Japan, a civilization that dates to 13,000 B.C, has been through many transformations. Their culture is deeply rooted in their values which seems to guide them in everything they do. Japanese core values include thinking of others, doing your best, not giving up, respecting your elders, knowing your role, and working in a group. These values are heavily influenced by cultural considerations such as age, the importance of silence, traditions, history, and religion. The virtue Filial piety, or xiao, which focuses on respect and obedience to elders, is commonly observed in both personal and professional environments. The Japanese also place great value on silence. With regards to leadership, the Japanese approach, which is categorized as Theory Z or the Japanese Management Style, stresses the importance of a caring and benevolent relationship between leaders and followers, and presumes that workers will get motivated by a strong social relationship with the company. Finally, trust is a key component to the Japanese social and business structure and three key components to Japanese business trust are reporting information to superiors, informing team members, and consulting elders and the more experienced.
References

Atma Global. (2013). Decision-Making, the Japanese Way. Retrieved December 1, 2015 from Pspl.culture-quest.com: http://pspl.culture-quest.com/pspl/index.php/japan-doing-business-doing-business/japan-decision-making-the-japanese-way-doing-business
BusinessMate. (2011, March 27). What is William Ouchi's Theory Z of Leadership? Retrieved December 1, 2015 from Businessmate.org: http://www.businessmate.org/Article.php?ArtikelId=225
Daft, R. L. (2015). The Leadership Experience (6th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Davies, R. (2002). The Japanese mind: Understanding contemporary Japanese culture. Boston: Tuttle Pub.
Dictionary.com. (n.d.). Filial piety. Retrieved November 29, 2015 from Dictionary.reference.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/filial-piety
Finney, M. K. (2001, January 26). Japan: Values, Proverbs, and Language. Retrieved November 29, 2015 from Acad.depauw.edu: http://acad.depauw.edu/~mkfinney/teaching/Com227/culturalPortfolios/japan/values.htm#values
Gatewaytojapan.org. (2009). Business Traditions in Japan. Retrieved November 30, 2015 from Gatewaytojapan.org: http://www.gatewaytojapan.org/business-traditions-in-japan/
Kanagy, R. (2013, August 15). Cultural Values of Japan . Retrieved November 29, 2015 from Moon.com: http://moon.com/2013/08/cultural-values-of-japan/
Mente, B., & Mente, B. (2006). Business guide to Japan a quick guide to opening doors and closing deals. Tokyo: Tuttle Pub.
Wisegeek.org. (n.d.). What is Filial Piety? Retrieved November 29, 2015 from Wisegeek.org: http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-filial-piety.htm
YouSigma. (n.d.). Japanese vs. U.S. Leadership Styles. Retrieved December 1, 2015 from Yousigma.com: http://yousigma.com/tools/japanesevsusleadershipstyles.html…...

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