Management and Leadership – The Japanese Way


This is a registered society formed voluntarily by engineers, executives, entrepreneurs and others who had their training with Japanese companies, through ABK, AOTS, Japan Foundation, JICA, and with clear focus to work as a bridge between Japan and India in all spheres. This chapter is one of the 70 AOTS Alumni in 42 countries and they are one of the 9 AOTS Alumni Associations in India.

‘Dosokai’ means Alumni Association in Japanese. And ABK stands for ‘Asian Bunka Kaikan’ in Japanese (Asian Cultural Organization). And AOTS used to be ‘The Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship’ earlier, but is now known as ‘The Association for Overseas Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Partnerships (AOTS)’. This is an organization for human resources development in developing countries to promote technical cooperation through training, experts dispatch and other programs.

What made you start this venture?

Well to answer this, I must take you back to Japan where I was deputed when I was working for Port Trust, Chennai. And this is when I met my dear Japanese friend K. Kumagai in 1969 and a beautiful bond of friendship blossomed between us and the seed for my Japanese affiliation was sown. And this affiliation has grown with each passing year and we have increased the number of initiatives to the point where our centre was the only one which received the Grand Cultural Award from AOTS during the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

What is your view of leadership keeping in mind your long career?

I became a leader in my 6th standard for my class. To cut a long story short, I was consecutively the class leader for three years and then I lost when I moved to 8th standard. My teacher Mr Ramanatha Iyer called me aside and told me that the reason that I lost was due to PRIDE. The moment leaders allow success to go their heads, their careers are undone, humility is the foundation for any leader at any age. Now or in the past, it is only humble leaders who have been able to lead people. The Japanese say, the mature rice plant has its head bowed, so summarized succinctly the Japanese approach to leadership is HUMILITY.

What are the aspects that we can learn from the Japanese?

Actually, Japanese people have two sides, arrogance and meticulous nature. The arrogance is because of their passion for perfection. They are unable to stand delays, incompetence and unpunctuality.

Some of the aspects that we can learn from the Japanese are:

  • The nation is obsessed with punctuality and all of them walk very fast
  • They are avid readers with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and have a good handle on the most advanced technology trends

In fact, they were the first to introduce robots even without technology. Karakuri Ningyo is the Japanese automated mechanical doll tradition during Edo period (1603–1867) and their thirst for knowledge and innovation, assimilating new things quickly and modify them according to Japanese way of doing things are worth learning from.

What are the key traits and behaviours of Japanese leaders?

You can never stop learning from the Japanese

  • They don’t just stop with knowledge gathering, but apply and experience the results
  • They value customers and if they have erred, they compensate it duly and ensure customer delight
  • They give a lot of room for creativity and encourage innovation at all levels
  • Their dedication and commitment are phenomenal
  • A long history of isolation and battered by typhoons & earthquakes has given a sense ofShimaguni Konjo (Island nation spirit – Fighting spirit – Island Mentality).
  • Their resilience and bouncing back qualities always impressed me
  • They are great listeners and never interrupt when someone is talking
  • Their way of saying NO is sophisticated and cultured, they never disagree openly but do it politely without hurting others
  • HANSEI – Reflection is key with the Japanese, when things go wrong, they immediately host huddle meetings, understand what went wrong, fix it right away and ensure it does not get repeated
  • They have exemplary negotiation skills, so anyone getting into a meeting with the Japanese to increase costing of a product/service will return with a decreased price. Such is their negotiation nimbleness

What can we learn from the Japanese style of Management?

Their management style comprises of flexibility, job rotation, biding their time for the right opportunities, going with the flow of things, continuous reporting and communication, able to swing back into action after major setbacks. They understand their limitations very well and try to bring about maximum results with minimum resources. When issues arise, they quickly come together, share relevant information, discuss course corrections and return to make modifications, respectively.

Their daily work management is based on common-sense and the HoRenSo System.  HoRenSo comprises of 3 words Hokoku (Reporting the progress constantly with the person who allotted the work), Renraku (constant team communication), and Sodan (Consulting – obtain knowledge and Practical tips from any expert). Horenso also means Spinach in Japanese and it is jokingly said that just like how spinach gave Popeye his strength, the HoRenSo system gives energy to the workplace and organization. The foundation of any workplace, organization or daily life is WA or Harmony which drives the nation.

The Japanese say, the mature rice plant has its head bowed, so summarized succinctly the Japanese approach to leadership is HUMILITY.

Who is a successful leader from a Japanese point of view?
Let me narrate a simple anecdote to prove how Japan takes to leadership. In one of the organizations that I was working for in Japan, the President of the company at the age of 70 and with a severe back problem, was standing in a long food queue along with the employees. He had a hunchback and when I offered my food tray he refused and said that he would wait his turn to collect food. I think this is the reason why the nation has grown to this extent.

M R Ranganathan M R Ranganathan

Chairman, ABK-AOTS DOSOKAI Chennai

M R Ranganathan or Ranga San as he is called, is a veteran with extensive tenure working in Japan. He set up the ABK-AOTS DOSOKAI Tamilnadu Center way back in 1974 from his home, and today it is the largest Japanese language school in South India. A non-profit, voluntary organization that promotes Indo Japanese language, culture, education and training activities.

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