Steven's Blog

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Ignore Prognosticators of Doom

There is no percentage in fear of the hypothetical, no matter how reasonable a hypothesis might sound. Anyone can prognosticate doom about anything someone doesn’t like for whatever reasons. The impossible is only something no one has done yet. 

The CEO of a European company in Japan I know hired a Chinese woman for a vice president of sales position of a division responsible for about a half-billion dollars in revenues. She had a track record of success and all the right attitudes, behaviors, and capabilities for the job. The company makes diversity a global priority, and the Japan business is no exception. Even though the CEO had his choice of excellent male candidates for the position immediately, he insisted on hiring a woman.

Female candidates were proposed to him, but none of them had the right stuff in his opinion. If they had been male, they would have been viewed as unqualified. Even though the CEO could have hired any one of the female candidates without complaint or criticism, he refused to compromise his standards of excellence for the position merely to check the box of KPI. 

He called on a number of the biggest and best headhunting firms in Tokyo for help. One by one, their account managers met with him. One by one, they all turned down the business.

“Impossible!” they each exclaimed. “There is no such woman for this kind of work! You must either consider men, or otherwise lower your standards!” was the professional advice of each. The CEO, however, was adamant.

I have never known a headhunting firm to walk away from money on the table, but I suppose there is always a first. If you have ever suspected the worst of headhunting firms in Tokyo, this certainly gives some credence to your concerns. 

While it took some time, about two months longer than if the CEO had decided to hire one of the initial candidates, he found his vice president of sales, but the resistance did not end there. The new vice president spoke no Japanese. Her mostly male team consisted of over one hundred people and mostly spoke no English. The company’s industry in Japan is male-dominated and frequently described as “traditionally Japanese” and “conservative.”  

For many, the sky was falling. Some people warned of certain doom, giving little credit to their colleagues, countrymen, and peers. 

“Japanese salesmen won’t follow a female leader, much less a Chinese woman who speaks no Japanese!”  

“How will she communicate with staff? She cannot be effective if she can’t speak the language!”

“How will she communicate with customers?”

“Will the conservative male leaders of our Japanese customer companies take a Chinese woman seriously? You can’t possibly think they will!”

“How will she deal with the racism and misogyny of the Japanese? Will a foreign woman have the stamina for that?” 

Yet, none of these concerns of the prognosticators of doom turned out to be valid. The sales team respected her and followed her. Like any good leader, she insisted on changes to improve the business and, like any organization, there was some resistance to these, but nothing insurmountable as is almost always the case.

The vice president found a workaround for the language issue. A junior salesperson of whom few people ever took notice stepped up and offered to help. He spoke superb English, and she had him sit in on important meetings both internally and with customers. Some more senior members of staff complained to her that it was inappropriate and unfair to more senior people to include such a junior employee in such important meetings.

“I am completely fair about this kind of thing. I will offer the same opportunity to ANY member of my staff who demonstrates the same capability in English!” The complaining ceased.

Leaders of customer companies loved her. She was insightful, accommodating, and responded to them with speed and urgency they had rarely seen others in her kind of role. She helped them improve their businesses, and if she could do that, who cares if she is a Chinese woman who speaks no Japanese? The language of value and success is universal.

This vice president turned out to be one of the most successful who had ever held the role, and the company’s results show it. The business is far better off than if the CEO had chosen from among the initial obvious candidates.  

So never give in to hypotheticals. Always insist on evidence and facts from prognosticators of doom. And give people credit. Always assume the best in people, not the worst, and make your decisions accordingly until you have evidence to the contrary. Click To Tweet This is what the CEO does habitually. This is what all my most successful clients do.


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