Steven's Blog

The Middle-Aged Mid-Level Japanese Male Manager: The Bane of Business Leaders

No creativity or innovative ideas. Overly risk-averse. Fearful of change or anything new. Just going through the motions of their jobs, often working late, but more often just working slow. They’re not hungry! They are not assertive! They’re indecisive!. They’re afraid to speak up—afraid to say something with which others might disagree. Abominable at English, they wince at the mere suggestion of trying to learn. The problem is Japanese culture say some. I have encountered many such Japanese managers in Tokyo.

I live in Tsukuba—only 45 minutes to Tokyo by train, but a world away. Tsukuba is an outdoor sports lifestyle city. I meet a lot of middle-aged mid-level managers out here in that context. Like me, they run, hike, cycle, and swim. They are optimistic, energetic and vibrant. They have interesting business ideas and enjoy trying new things. Many of them speak a little English and even those who don’t are unafraid to try. They seem so different from their counterparts in Tokyo. Yet, they are cut from the same cloth.

There is no inherent flaw in Japanese culture to which we as leaders are helplessly bound. As leaders, we make culture, or otherwise allow a default culture to make us. The choice is yours here in Japan just as it is everywhere else in the world.

Dedication: To the sixty-year-old manager who cycles up Mount Tsukuba before work every day. Kudos to you.

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