situational leadership for Japanese managers

One of the issues that Japanese people who come to work in Europe find most challenging is the multiple nationalities of people they have to work with. Whether you are based in London, Duesseldorf or Amsterdam, it is highly likely that your colleagues will be a mixture of not just British, German or Dutch but also Romanian, Lithuanian, Polish, Spanish or indeed Indian or Chinese.

Much of the global leadership or management training that is offered in Japan is based on American models. Europeans are used to American management styles so they will tolerate them – at least superficially. However, many of these “one size fits all” models are not ultimately effective in getting Europeans to go beyond superficial compliance. In fact, they can have quite a demotivating effect, particularly if they are too rigidly focused on quantitative targets and objectives.

European managers themselves find that the American model which works the best is known as “situational leadership”. This is not a new theory – it was developed in the 1960s and 1970s by the Americans Dr Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. It suits the European context because the key idea is that there is no one best style of leadership, and situational leaders are those who are able to diagnose the situation, adjust their leadership style and communicate accordingly. They also need to be able to take account of the “performance readiness” – in other words the ability and willingness – of the various members of the team.

National cultural differences are not specifically mentioned in the model, but in my training I always relate situational leadership to what is known about the preferences in each European country for top down or consensus oriented decision making styles, as well as direct or indirect and formal or informal communication in the ways of giving feedback or direction.

Of course, this can be somewhat overwhelming for someone who is new to the European workplace. It is particularly tough for Japanese people who have worked in the more traditional Japanese companies, where people just do as best they can whatever their bosses tell them, whether they are willing or able or not.

But I think Japanese managers have two big advantages. Although this is a generalization and may not apply to all Japanese managers, in my twenty-five years’ experience of working with or in Japanese companies, most of the Japanese people I have met have been humble about their own abilities and also curious about other cultures. This means they are willing to learn and to accept that their usual way of working may have to be adjusted.

Japan Intercultural Consulting provides leadership training for Japanese managers both in the classroom and as an online courses: Servant Leadership, Servant Leadership Dojo,  and Decision making, Leadership and Risk.

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