The greatest impediment to success in international business is cultural sensitivity. Yes, that’s right. Now take a moment to vent your outrage if you need to, and bear with me. It is not cultural sensitivity but rather cultural sense-making that you want, and these are not the same thing. Don’t get me wrong. I am no xenophobe. It is good to make yourself an expert in a foreign language or another country’s culture. However, there is a difference between using your expertise to adapt to the culture around you, as opposed to changing it.
When a new father asks for paternity leave, a manager can become defensive, even though paternity leave as stipulated by Japanese government regulation is one of the most generous in the world, with up to a year’s leave if desired. Government regulation has achieved nothing in terms of healthy work style behaviors because regulation is not the root cause of excesses. Whether excessive overtime or forgoing paternity leave, the root cause is never because of government regulation or company policy.
The root cause is always a deficit of leadership capability.
A number of CEOs hesitate to go direct even though their distributor relationships have outlived their value. However, there is absolutely no reason to avoid bypassing your distributor no matter what you may have been told.
Japan-fatigue is real and can be fatal to your success and career. Don’t try to explain how Japan is different to executives in your head office. While such conversations are great for dinner parties, talks with students, and war stories with friends, unless executives in your head office are interested in Japanology as a hobby, it’s best to leave Japanology to academics. Executives will find discussions only frustrating and tedious.