A 28 year old Japanese female writes to the Nikkei Business Online: “I didn’t get along well with my boss when I was posted overseas and ended up with mental health issues and returned to Japan.”
“My boss only cared about a big project that would be of benefit to them, that Japan headquarters had no chance of approving. My boss kept making me do the negotiations and aggressively asking me if it was done yet. I couldn’t get my Japan HQ boss to intervene. I explained as clearly as I could to my boss that Japan headquarters had told me when I was there that there was no chance this project would be adopted. My boss refused to listen and would not even join me in negotiating with Japan HQ.
“I told them there was another project I was working on which was more urgent but my boss told me to prioritize their project. I became stressed and could not go into the office any more. My boss made out that I was the problem and my boss in Japan eventually accepted this and I was returned to Japan. I really cannot accept the way I was treated – or should I just have accepted it? How should I have dealt with this?”
Ueda Junji, formerly of Itochu and President of Family Mart: “First of all, you are still young, so try to see this as a useful experience for the future. You say you had mental health problems, and actually being an expatriate is mentally very stressful. So having experienced this at an early stage should be of help to you later on in your career.
“Secondly, in trying to think what is behind that boss’s behaviour, just seeing it as them wanting to do it entirely for their own ambitions may be too harsh. Managers in any country want to pursue projects that they think are beneficial. And of course if it goes well it may lead to their promotion.”
“On the other hand, you say you had another project which you thought was more urgent, but since you are a member of a team, you have to accept the decision of your boss, if they say another project is higher priority.”
“I wonder whether being told by Japan HQ before you were posted that this project had no chance of being adopted already sowed seeds of distrust in your mind? Then explaining this to your local boss, however carefully, will have got the relationship off to a bad start. They may have seen you as just a spy from headquarters and hard to tolerate.”
“It might have been better to try to see it from the local perspective – Japan headquarters don’t really understand what is going on overseas. Try to be more like an ally to your local boss and come to your own judgement as to whether or not the project is workable. Maybe first of all ask the boss what their aims and objectives are with the project, then get them to explain this again to Japan headquarters and then see how Japan headquarters reacts, before coming to any conclusion.”
Ueda’s somewhat unsympathetic comments may come as a surprise but is an example of the tough love that Japanese bosses can be capable of. It’s reassuring that he was able to see the perspective of the local boss so clearly. It’s also also understandable how a Japanese junior expatriate, whose ultimate career lies back in Japan, will see it as their job just to comply with Japan headquarters rather than ally with the local management.
If you’re a boss to Japanese expatriate employees and/or trying to persuade Japan headquarters to accept your proposal, you may find our online coaching on building relations with Japan HQ a useful resource. More details and registration here.
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