Ethan Bernstein, Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at Harvard Business School, makes a strong case for Japan needing new organisational structures, based on the wisdom of past Japanese leaders rather than simply imitating what the rest of the world does. “Leadership can be taught” he asserts, and definitions of what leadership is vary from person to person. No one country has the monopoly on it, and Japanese people are no less reluctant than other nationalities to be leaders.
The problem lies in Japan’s major companies turning into bureaucratic structures to attract and manage financing in the post war period, in order to expand their markets, he argues. Investing in robotics and electronics now the way previous post war industrial policy targeted other manufacturing growth sectors is not enough to compete globally. Japan needs to be better at commercialising its innovations, the way the USA is. Bernstein uses Omron‘s founder Tateisi [sic – this would usually be spelt Tateishi in romaji] Kazuma in his teaching as an example how to lead a Japanese company which has remained traditionally Japanese but competes globally. He also cites Matsushita Konosuke, founder of Panasonic.
It would indeed be wonderful if Japanese companies could find their dynamism again, without throwing away the traditional Japanese values that make them good corporate citizens and benevolent employers. Unfortunately the Nikkei interview with Bernstein does not give any further details on how they could transform their organisations in order to do this.
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