The Wise Leader

May 9, 2011

I just read this interesting article in Harvard Business Review by Ikujiro Nonaka. It really digs deep into the differences between Japanese leadership culture and Western style leadership. His thesis is that today’s leaders aren’t even asking the right questions before they start any project or in their executive roles. Questions like

Where are we going?

Who gains, who loses?

Is this development desirable?

What should we do?

I was impressed by how powerful yet simple these questions were, mainly because I don’t know anyone asking these questions, it’s all about ROI, we talk in dollars. This is the where we are mostly different from our Japanese friends. This is why Toyota was able to withstand probably one of the biggest recalls in automotive industry hardly unscathed, they were able to acknowledge their deviation from their tested principles and correct it. Simply; they were being wise.

Ikujiro then identified the following six abilities of wise leaders:

  1. Wise leaders can judge goodness.
  2. Wise leaders can grasp the essence.
  3. Wise leaders create shared contexts.
  4. Wise leaders communicate the essence.
  5. Wise leaders exercise political power.
  6. Wise leaders foster practical wisdom in others.

After reading and reflecting on these abilities, I was startled of how simple these abilities are to learn, and I noticed how these abilities are not typically linked to organizations, shareholders, customers, etc. as I’ve seen in some of the western literature on leadership. To the Japanese leaders making a profit is a by-product of doing the right things, while in the west is everything.

I will close this post with this thought from Ikujiro:

“…Unless companies create social as well as economic value, they will not survive in the long run…”

Regards,

Carlos

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