Steven's Blog

You Are Not Carlos Ghosn

Some have argued the reason for Carlos Ghosn’s legal trouble is for having pushed change too hard—that he crossed some kind of Japanese nationalistic redline in wanting to merge Nissan and Renault, giving the French company control over the Japanese entity. Had Ghosn been more conservative in his actions, they reason, he would not be in the predicament in which he finds himself. This narrative, however, is disingenuous.

By disingenuous, I do not mean to say the people who called Ghosn out were not motivated by a desire to thwart the dramatic changes Ghosn wanted to make in the business. They likely did. There are just as likely as those who supported Ghosn’s plans. Yet make no mistake, it is not a violation of cultural tenets in Japan that has gotten Ghosn where he is, but rather the alleged violation of legal and ethical ones.

Every leader will always have detractors gunning for him or her, no matter the magnitude of change he or she is attempting, whether too much change or not enough. If you believe you can limit your detractors by being tentative with change—despite the need to improve the condition of the business—rest assured you cannot. By doing so, you merely shift the discontent from one group of people to another and compromise the best interests of the business in the process.

Any leader who breaks the law or otherwise violates ethics merely hands a potent weapon to his or her detractors to use against him or her, no matter what their actual grievance against that leader might be. Click To Tweet

While we don’t know if Ghosn is actually guilty of what has been alleged, if he is, whatever ulterior motives his detractors might have had for calling him out do not matter. He still would have broken the law. There is no business justification, cultural or otherwise, for breaking the law in Japan.

Ghosn’s imperious attitude and profligate lifestyle on the back of Nissan have done little to garner him much sympathy from either Nissan’s employees or the public. The Ghosn affair, however, garners my sympathy, but not because I see him as a victim of retribution for being an outsider who attempted too much change in Japan. Rather, my sympathy for Ghosn is from watching him be subjected to an onerous legal system in Japan, where the rights of the accused and the burdens of evidence are shockingly thin by the standards of most of the world’s democracies.

You are not Carlos Ghosn. Do not fear retribution for the magnitude of positive change you want to make in your business—no matter how many detractors you have or how vehemently they air their grievances against you. Just do what is right by the business as you see fit. That’s what the best leaders I know do.

None of them ever hands a weapon to his or her detractors by which to be bludgeoned. We need not either, and the vast majority of us never will.

I would be remiss if I did not bring to your attention my next “Conversation With…” luncheon event series with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. My featured guest will be LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Japan K.K. President Norbert Leuret. The French Chamber of Commerce in Japan will co-host. You can register through either the American or French Chambers.

Details available here.

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