The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Government and Economy


Government and Economy

Leadership in the Whirlwind
- Overcoming the World Recession -

Yoshiya Teramoto,
Professor, Waseda Business School,
Director, Research Institute for Performance Excellence

Originating with the US subprime loan situation, it's not just the worldwide financial crisis that is causing problems - there is a growing and strong impact on the real economy. Businesses and individuals are desperately trying to find ways to survive. What is needed is strong leadership. The most critical qualification for these leaders is to bring optimism to the world. This can be summarized with the use of the "senses": "A strong sense of mission", "A sense of aesthetics" and "A rich sense of humor."

Strong sense of mission

The word "mission" in Japanese literally means "using one's own life" or "risking one's life." A leader must have a strong sense of mission to use his own life, dedicating all his strength, heart and soul. What attests to this strong sense of mission is its nobility. What kind of values or ideals must a leader realize and, to do so, what kind of life should a leader lead. A leader should pursue his concept of what he thinks the world should be. A sense of mission supported by a noble vision is the central and vital requirement of strong leadership.

To maintain such a strong sense of mission and realize this noble vision, leaders should not give in to unthinking opposition or resistance. Even when a leader is unfortunate and makes errors, he must have the courage to raise himself up and maintain a "fighting pose." To achieve the mission, he cannot be afraid to alienate. "People do not form groups because they are weak but become weak because they form groups." (Shuji Terayama)

Leaders must take responsibility willingly. Leaders are responsible for all the results, meaning forging ahead with no thoughts to resignation. No doing so would demonstrate sheer incompetence. Leaders must squarely face the consequences and accept responsibility for solving problems with total commitment. Responsibility does not arise from given authority. Because leaders readily accept heavy responsibility, the legitimacy of the authority to execute such responsibility comes into force. This is noblesse oblige - the moral obligation to act with honor.

Sense of aesthetics

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever." "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." (Keats)
"The existence of the world is justified only as an aesthetic phenomenon." (Nietzsche)
Why is a sense of aesthetics required of a leader? The answer is that reality is far removed from "beauty."

During the current financial crisis, temporary workers are being fired one after the other. Workers who are employed part-time or under contract are forced to unilaterally take the "pain" from a shortsighted countermeasure called "production adjustment" or, more euphemistically, "employment adjustment."

Indeed, the employment pattern has become more diversified as the work format has diversified. That is good but does not make sense unless at least salaries and compensation are the same as the "regular" employees for the same work. However, there is a big gap in reality. This is not right and not aesthetic. What is questioned is the sense of aesthetics of the leader.

In a way, a sense of aesthetics is a strong sense of balance. From the period of the ancient Greeks, "beauty" has always been linked to such concepts as symmetry and balance. Businesses in the future cannot survive just by providing products and services; exemplary management must be imbued with a sense of or criteria for aesthetics.

Speaking of a sophisticated sense of balance, the following example gives a clear explanation. In the Edo period, judgments of other people were very clear. One was not considered an adult unless two criteria could be satisfied: ability to earn and a sense of duty. "Earning" was now defined as financial ability. An individual worked, got paid, and supported himself and his family. But he was just "half a man." To be recognized as a whole man or full-fledged member of society, he was required to perform his "duty" and this "duty" equals "responsibility." He must serve the community - maintain the public areas, such as the village shrine, build dikes, water channels and levees with other villagers, etc. The person must carry out his public duty. If the person earned a living and carried out his responsibilities, he would be recognized as a full-fledged person.

In today's rapid growth economy, anyone who earns a lot of money is considered to be superior. Considering "half a man" as full-fledged person was the largest mistake that Japan made after the war. That resulted in the phenomenon of mammonism, or the greedy pursuit of riches, and society is now based on economy first.

Rich sense of humor

Tough times require that leaders have a sense of humor. Relatively speaking, Japanese leaders today lack a sense of humor. Western businessmen and politicians usually start their speech with humor or a joke. Japanese often start with excuses. Probably the difference between them is mental elbowroom. A person with a sense of humor can view himself from a relative point of view, in the sense of making himself an object of humor. This cannot be done unless he is at ease with himself.

It seems recently that more and more people utter "I'm busier than ever." It is difficult for a person to have a relaxed time in the current social situation. Even so, it becomes more important than ever to have increased psychological elbowroom to have a sense of fun. The kanji character "busy" consists of two radicals, "heart" and "vanish." The reason that there are many mindless crimes and scandals may be because the sense of humor has disappeared from society.

Humor involves a high spirit of service. "I want people to have fun", "I am glad I came here", "I am happy to have met this person"", etc. If there is no sprit of service, there is no sense of humor.

Exerting a unique sense of aesthetics and a rich sense of humor with a strong sense of mission is a mandatory state of mind - a qualification -for any future leader. This qualification does not mean just a high level of education or ability to read kanji. True qualification is a "heart that can understand the heart of other."

Yoshiya Teramoto, Ph.D
Waseda Business School,
Director, Research Institute for Performance Excellence


Born in 1942. Graduated from School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University
Completed Master's Program in Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University.
After working at Fujitsu Limited, completed Doctorial Program in Graduate School of Commerce, Waseda University. After professorship at Meiji Gakuin University, University of Tsukuba, Hokkaido University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, professor in Waseda University from 2000. Responsible in MOT and Ph. D (Knowledge Management, Business Quality Innovation Management)

Major field of study

Knowledge management principles, Human resource development principles, Knowledge society system implementation principles

Recent publications
"Challenges in Technical Management", Chikuma Shobo (Chikuma Shinsho) 2004
"Essence of Strategy", Nikkei Inc. 2005
"Context Changeover Management", Hakuto Shobo, 2005
"Intangible Asset Value Management", Seisansei Shuppan, 2006
"Business Model Revolution - Second Edition", Seisansei Shuppan, 2007