Care and Feeding of CEOs Part Five: What Do You Get in the Package? The Personal Attributes

Care and Feeding of CEOs Part Five: What Do You Get in the Package? The Personal Attributes

CEOs are as varied as the companies that need them, and properly understanding what your needs are in order to pick someone with the right skill set is a good start to a long-term working relationship. This article attempts to help you understand that AFTER you have decided whether you need a saleswoman CEO or a statesman type, there are some constants that you should be able to confidently expect in your Japanese CEO. If these points are not evident in an interview, you need to drop your willingness to allow for cultural differences and the warning lights should go on.

Let's look at the CEO "package" in two ways, firstly this week the personal attributes, then next week the bonus items.

Leadership. The standard Japanese leadership style is a paternal autocracy, meaning that the CEO is expected to closely look after the welfare of his/her staff, and in return gets the right to tell them what to do. Thus, he/she will expect that you will leave the running of the office and the care and feeding of staff to him/her. Of course, your head office HR staff will want certain rules and regulations to be followed, not the least of which would be sexual harassment and job review rules. Fortunately, a Japanese CEO knows how to follow such rules and provided they are clearly laid out beforehand, will ensure that the local Japanese office integrates them into what will otherwise be pretty much a Japanese environment.

To a Japanese CEO, leadership usually means taking on the most responsibility and working the longest and hardest hours. Clearly this will be different for someone over 55 or so, but below that age, you can expect a strong time/energy commitment to delivering results and leading the team to do the same.

Japanese CEOs also understand leadership to mean maintaining a public face, and it is important to allow them to practice building both their personal and company brand on the speaker circuit and in the media. This activity is also particularly important to building an image for new recruits, since many college grads are still quite naive and thus easily inspired by strong, clear messages.

Communication. I'm taking it for granted that your CEO is going to be good at communicating with the troops, since this level of teamwork is drummed into all new recruits (including your CEO candidate 20 years ago) right from the first day of the first job. As you probably already know, this communication will take place both within the office and after work (thus the term "nomunication"). Taking the employees out is not a pernicious habit nor misuse of company funds - it's a direct contributor to employee retention and getting otherwise reticent employees to speak out about things which are troubling them.

There is also another level of communication which is vital for your CEO, and that is with head office. Despite your initial protection of a promising new CEO while they build the business in Japan, sooner or later they are going to have to get involved in the fray of head office politics and/or conflict management. This is an area where many Japanese have little experience and are probably not going to excel in initially. Quite simply, Western office politics is an alien behavioral pattern to the Japanese workplace. People here don't overtly fight back, counter attack, or debate issues, instead they go with the flow and bide their time...

Thus, to help your CEO survive the cut and thrust of a head office, it is often good to employ some assistive strategies right from the start. The best is to make the head office CEO the direct reporting manager for the Japan CEO. That way, so long as the Japan office is making reasonable money, language and presentation short-comings will get overlooked. Another strategy is to employ a minder in Japan who can undertake the integration role back to head office, understanding as they probably would the nuances of culture and political realities of the head office cliques.

Honesty. The last major item on my check list is whether or not you can trust your Japanese CEO. I can say that so long as you pay them market rates, and that your product/service is indeed saleable in Japan, keeping a Japanese CEO honest should be no trouble. Remember that once a CEO, a person who is diligently building up their personal brand through public and media appearances, has a lot to lose if they are discredited in public. Indeed, for many older CEOs, losing face over an apparent honesty issue can mark the end of one's career.

Where honesty is more likely to take a back seat is when you have set impossibly high goals for the CEO, and in their struggle to meet targets, they concoct schemes to satisfy short-term expectations and delay/avoid reality. There have been some highly publicized cases where gaishi CEOs have fudged the sales records so as to meet sales projections - not for their own benefit, but so as to keep everyone happy.

Another time when honesty can take a holiday is when there has been no oversight over the individual for a long period (e.g., some years) and thus they have either become bored or circumstances have caused them to reach into the till in some way. From what I've seen, when/if such fraud occurs, it will usually be through some cooperating vendor or involve creating a side business, and so it can be quite difficult to detect. One way to avoid this outcome is to have an effective yearly audit of the Japanese accounts, or better still, to have a "minder" from head office at the subsidiary all the time, partly to watch for abnormal spending patterns with a limited range of smaller vendors.

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