Because I do business all over the world, I have the opportunity to travel and learn unique skills. Unless you want to see quick disaster, it’s important to prepare carefully when meeting with counterparts from other cultures.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Japan. My experience with Japanese business leaders has always been positive. I appreciate the unique culture. On this trip, I was once again struck by the Japanese hospitality, by their respect, deference, and kindness.
If you’ve ever studied Japanese business etiquette, you may know that the norms are very different from Western standards.
Rank and title are more meaningful than in the United States.
Where to sit at a negotiation table, or at dinner, is carefully orchestrated by rank and standing.
Business cards are exchanged with intention. Hold the business card with both hands and show respect to the person with a slight bow to it. Never put the card in your back pocket or casually put it away. Instead, place it close to your heart in a card case.
The group is more important than the individual.
Slurping soup is proper etiquette and shows your appreciation.
Giving gifts is very important and is a ritualistic exchange.
Toasting is important at dinner.
Nodding is customary to show attention and comprehension.
The bookstores have volumes and the media is full of examples of people who believe the way to success is to crush the competition—out-strategizing people and pressing your advantage till they are crushed by the wayside. Young leaders are told to step on faces to get ahead or aim for short term goals of size and profit.
But there is another way. There is a clear path to have stunning success and still be able to sleep at night and be proud to tell your grandchildren how the world is a better place because you were in it.
Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose. It is not complicated. It is just difficult.
“Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.” -Jeff Thompson
Let’s take for example the last broad economic downturn.
How are the priorities in your department or company organized to deal with this problem? Who were the first to be affected? The most vulnerable? The last people who were brought in the organization (your future)? The people with the least power and the least influence? Who took the biggest beating? What won the day? The long-term good of the organization or the short-term financial performance report for the board? Shareholders may clamor for short-term wins, but there is no law that says you have to sacrifice the long-term health of the organization or its people to satisfying this immediate clamor. Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.
“Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.” -Jeff Thompson
How old I was, I don’t know. Probably around four or five years old, give or take, though my father will likely correct the number with his own memory of the same event. It was a typical hot summer day, and my family was enjoying a day at the beach. We were in Ocean City, New Jersey, to be specific. At that time, the beach seemed to stretch on forever, which I now realize was a function of my age more than the actual distance of the sand. We brought food to the beach, which was typical because there was no way my father would pay Boardwalk prices for anything.
As usual, I was in the water. Somehow I lost track of my brother, Jack, who was with me. When I pulled myself out, exhausted, I scanned the crowd, looking for someone I recognized. I started walking, dodging people, umbrellas, walking around towels, sunbathers, and family tents. After what seemed like a few hours, which likely meant twenty minutes, I realized I was completely, utterly lost.
No matter where I looked, I didn’t see a single person I recognized. I was just short of panic. It’s a feeling I can recall to this day. I had never been lost before, uncertain about what to do or where to go.
Then, I spotted my dad. Where I was stressed, he was as calm as could be. My heart rate may have been spiking, but not his. He was scanning the area, his eyes making a mechanical sweep of everything. As soon as I saw him, I felt a flood of relief as if one of the waves washed all of the worry away in an instant.
This is one of the first memories I have of my father, and one that’s fitting to remember on Father’s Day. A few years ago, I wrote about 9 Leadership Lessons from Mom. It was so popular that I was interviewed numerous times about my childhood. Today I want to turn that spotlight onto my dad and share some of that fatherly wisdom. Because that day on the beach, I had a realization: when I was lost, I wasn’t really on my own. Dad was looking for me. And he wouldn’t give up until he found me. Still to this day, when I hear a sermon about God leaving the flock of sheep to look for a single lost lamb (Matthew 18:12), I think of my own dad doing that very thing.
1. Leaders never stop learning.
My dad loves to learn. His degrees range from electrical engineering to operations research (and many others). He went to seminary and then got an MBA. Even now, he is finishing a doctorate in business. My siblings know that our family was able to “Google” something long before the search engine was even formed. We simply found Dad, inputted the question, and out would come the answer. When the internet first started, I would often find he was faster. And, when we took a family trip, we would have to stop and read every plaque and see more historical sites than anyone else I knew.
Leaders have an insatiable curiosity. The more you learn to ask questions, the more you will learn information that may change the future.
“Leaders have insatiable curiosity.” -Skip Prichard
When my wife and I were first married, we moved quite a bit. Guess who helped us move? Painted? Took down or put up wallpaper? How about fixing the leaky sinks? Inspecting the house? You’d think he was a contractor until I add that he did our taxes, analyzed the best mortgages, and told us about the history of the area.
That’s another way of saying my dad is uh…cheap. And you’d have to be with only a government salary to raise six kids and numerous others we would take into the family home. The lesson, though, is to look for the value in everything. Don’t overpay. Realize that we need to be good stewards of what we have. Don’t waste anything.
Leaders don’t wish for the impossible; they create results with what they have.
“Leaders create results with what they have, not what they wish they had.” -Skip Prichard
Yes, he had an important job. He dutifully gave his time and talent to his employer. However, my father didn’t lead at work and then fail at home. He spent time with us. He was loyal to his family, and in particular, to my mom. None of us ever questioned his devotion. And that taught me a powerful lesson about leadership: it isn’t defined by a job.
Leadership is defined by character, not position.
“Leadership is defined by character, not position.” -Skip Prichard
5. Leaders appreciate the uniqueness of each individual.
My childhood home was a bit unusual. Somehow people found their way to our home when they were in trouble. If you were abused, our home was a place of refuge. We had our share of rather strange people stopping over. I never recall my father judging any of them. They were in need, and so they were welcome. And that was it.
Leaders don’t judge. Leaders appreciate each individual for who they are.
“Leaders appreciate each individual for who they are.” -Skip Prichard
If I came home with a 93% on a paper, I don’t recall a celebration. Instead, I was asked what I got wrong, why, and did I understand what I did wrong. The focus wasn’t on the criticism, but on learning and on striving to be better. My parents required each of us to learn a musical instrument, too, simply because of the benefits we would accrue by doing that.
Leaders raise the bar. Leaders push those around them to reach for more.
“Leaders push those around them to reach for more.” -Skip Prichard
Have faith that things will work out if we do what we are suppose to do.
Don’t whine, complain or make excuses.
Do your best.
John Wooden didn’t cut corners, and he didn’t let his values slide in order to win. His consistency was legendary. I often read his inspiring quotes. He is known for winning ten NCAA national championships in twelve years. With his attitude and wisdom, I am certain he would have been successful at nearly any endeavor.
His many quotes continue to inspire. Here are a few of my favorite John Wooden quotes:
John Wooden Quotes
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.” -John Wooden
This morning I went for a walk in the woods behind my house. It’s that time of year when winter’s line is blurring into spring, and spring is beginning to win. The trees remain leafless, and yet, if you look closely enough, you can see the tiniest hints of green scattered here and there. Days are beginning to shift and I feel the restlessness of nature. A slight wind is at first cold and biting before it shifts to a warm, teasing breeze. Walking to the back of the house, I glance up and watch quietly as a small bird ducks under the deck, carrying twigs to make a nest. Spring, undoubtedly, is on the way.
The changing of the seasons. I’m not sure why, but it makes me stop and think more. It’s time for a pause, a look back and a look ahead. Spring is an exciting time, filled with new possibilities. To fully take advantage of its hope, we need to discard what we are carrying to free us to take on new opportunities.
“You cannot change the seasons, but you can change yourself.” –Jim Rohn