Steven's Blog

Why doesn’t my leadership team bring new ideas to me? The “wa” of Confrontation

CEOs often ask me this question, as most would like their team to propose ideas and alternatives to them.In Japanese culture, proposing an idea can be viewed as suggesting you know better than your boss, and that you disagree with his or her point of view. At best this can be interpreted as impertinence, at worst as insubordination.

However, the reality for us as leaders is that we want our people to disagree with us if they have good ideas or alternatives to propose–even if they are bad ideas we still want to hear them and have the opportunity to decide!

The problem is that Japanese managers are often unable to distinguish between disagreeing with the goals and disagreeing with means. Disagreeing with goals can be insubordination, as it is saying “I don’t want to follow you where you want to go.” Disagreeing with means however is different. It is saying, “I agree with where we are trying to go, but I think there may be an alternative or better way to get there.” It is usually the latter where leaders want input.

Getting managers to change behavior in terms of wanting to do something different is a matter of changing fundamental beliefs. A frank discussion about the difference between disagreeing with means versus ends is a good start. Reinforce that with reward systems for the behavior of proposing alternative means–and not just for ideas that are accepted and successful–also goes a long way to help.

Japan is the country of wa (harmony). Confrontation is something to be avoided, particularly with superiors. The reality, however, is that there exists a wa of confrontation.

Help your people understand this, and you we will see great results. Click To Tweet

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