I recently talked with a European senior manager who came to Tokyo nine months earlier to take on an expat assignment leading a large, predominantly locally staffed subsidiary of a global company. At one point, I asked him, “So far, what’s the impact of cross-cultural communications on your work?”
“Nothing,” he answered. “It’s really not much different than back home.”
Hearing that was a big surprise for me. If it was for you too, you might find it even more surprising that I hear comments like this with slow but steady regularity from fellow expats in Japan.
Reflecting on the conversation reminded me of two people I knew when I worked in New York. They left their respective former companies to work for competitors across town. The new companies’ cultures were significantly different, especially when it came to expectations for delivering results through other leaders. Despite a degree of success early on, they both failed spectacularly at their new companies because both managers underestimated the importance of adapting to their new cultures. Both had rigidly stuck to the leadership styles that had worked for them at their previous companies. The result? Both left their new companies within eighteen months of being hired.
If failing to adapt to cultural differences between two NY-based companies located just across town can derail two talented American leaders, imagine what can happen when you move abroad and need to navigate a wider variety of cultural differences.
I’m sure you would agree with me that few people set out to fail in their careers. But just in case you are one of the few who do, here are eight tips, couched with humor but written with sincerely positive intent, to help you fail spectacularly at leading in Japan.
So, remember to use as many of these eight “tips” as you can if you have your heart set on failing big in Japan. Otherwise, if being a successful leader in Japan matters to you, I encourage you to ignore all these tips. Or better yet, try doing the opposite!
Thanks for reading this article. You can find a list of my other posts by clicking here. I invite you to join people from 30 other countries around the world to the latest episodes of Humans At Work, my podcast that gives you fresh perspectives and actionable ideas for making working with other humans better for everyone.
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