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Leadership Styles – Shinzo Abe

The following outtake is focused on exploring examples of different effective leadership styles. It is taken from a recent exclusive recording of an MMC Moments of Truth discussion between Stephanie Leigh-Rose, education and media director at MMC Learning, and Malcom Johnston, who is a consultant providing strategic support and coaching to businesses having become a leader in customer-centric growth through his years of experience of creating and running strategic marketing, sales, and management functions across multiple businesses.

In this extract, Stephanie and Malcom discuss the leadership style of Japanese Leader Shinzo Abe, who was responsible for revolutionising Japan’s economic policy during the early 2000’s and reforming many aspects of the country for the modern day.

Watch the 6 minute video below for an interesting exploration of an example of authentic, revolutionary and forward-thinking leadership from the 21st century.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

In this section, we’re going to be taking a look at some leaders and their varying leadership styles.

Malcolm Johnston:

Shinzo Abe, who unfortunately was murdered very recently, was a fascinating leader, especially in the context of Japan, because Japan is a very unique society. In terms of leaders achieving any sort of change there, Shinzo Abe was almost unique in having a form of economics named after him.

The economic programme that he instituted in Japan, which made a significant difference to the growth of GDP in Japan was called Abenomics. The Japan that was a powerhouse in the ’70s and ’80s really hit the rocks in the ’80s and the ’90s and certainly in this century has had a real challenge growing their economy for all sorts of reasons.

One of the qualities that Shinzo demonstrated is part of the five practises of exemplary leadership- the ability and the courage to challenge the process.

The ability to challenge the status quo is one of the elements of exemplary leadership. Shinzo Abe was willing and able to challenge many processes in Japan, including the image of Japan as a nation that would not contribute any defense services to any situation outside of their own country. I mean their armed forces are called the JDF, the Japanese Defense Forces.

There are a number of other myths and legends about the way that he stood up to and tried to drag Japan kicking and screaming into the 21st century, in terms of the way they looked at women in business, economics, their supply chains, their relationships with other countries, and as I say, their defense forces.

Since the Second World War, Japan has had a policy of non-engagement outside of their own country and a very specific attitude to international relations and Shinzo Abe challenged that and suggested that if Japan wanted to stay a key player in the world order, then they had a responsibility to step up in helping to maintain that world order.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

Interesting to note too, we talk a lot in the course about culture and the nature of change. It’s important to remember too, that in Japanese culture, you don’t challenge the norms- I wouldn’t say necessarily not think outside the box, but you don’t challenge precedent. So to be challenging these things, even in a good way to bring Japan forward was absolutely not done before. This was very outside-the-box thinking. So not only is he exhibiting these wonderful leadership qualities, but it was truly revolutionary thinking on his part because it was not standard at all.

Malcolm Johnston:

He was good at delegating, he enabled others to act.

Absolutely. As to your point about challenging and being seen as an individual; although he exhibited characteristics of a democratic leader in building consensus- which in itself is a fine art in Japan because to a degree, the country does not move forward without consensus- as you say, he was willing to challenge the status quo. I can’t remember it in Japanese, but there is a Japanese proverb saying something like, ‘the nail that stands proud must be hammered down’.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

Right. The nail that sticks up out of the board must be hammered back down.

Malcolm Johnston:

If it’s outside of the board, it has to be hammered back down yes!

This is an example of a leader who challenged the status quo yet still tried to bring together all of his people in consensus around some really difficult issues, which is very impressive.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

That’s exactly correct, and I think the reason it worked is because of the intent. He was able to do that and actually stick up out of the board, because it was for the good of the people, for the good of his country and it was not for his own personal gain, his own pride. But then again, actually, that is deeply Japanese. It’s for the good of his common man, his common person.

Malcolm Johnston:

Yes, I mean, I guess a lot of Japanese leaders would be called authentic leaders because many of them felt that way, and we will be talking about authentic leadership in the course, but Shinto was authentic to his principles and most definitely was someone, in my view anyway, as you said, who was not in it for self-aggrandisement, he was an authentic leader.

You might even say he was a ‘servant’ leader who was making sure that he looked after his people. He honestly felt genuine and authentic.

He believed that this different role for Japan on the world stage was appropriate for all Japanese people, not just because he wanted to make a name for himself.