According to my language instructor as early as 20 years ago there was no word in Japan for accountability. In fact, the notion of accountability was one that the Japanese could not understand culturally. This was a difficult one for him to explain as I could not understand how the concept of the word was not present in the society, how do you trust someone? His explanation was that there was no need for this word as it was part of their societal norms, it was not required.

Fascinated, I kept questioning until he shared this story: When he was in the US, he was hired to teach Japanese at a school and was brought in front of the parents to explain how Japanese would help their children. The notion of having to explain to the parents was a very foreign experience for him, but required as the local taxpayers paid for the school’s programs. A parent stood up and said that he must be accountable for the money they are investing in him, to his bewilderment. He did not understand the word “accountable” and went home and looked it up in the dictionary. Even after reading it, he struggled with understanding the concept of individual accountability as it was not present in their culture.

In Japan it is all about about the group. That group pays taxes, contributes to society, lets the government lead (recently to their detriment) and think about the group over the individual. It is a homogeneous society (98.5% of the population is Japanese) where they all work together and the concept of rewarding the individual over the group remains foreign.

The downside to this thinking is that it may breed mediocrity, where the lower performers are protected by the group and higher performers are not individually rewarded as the society trends to a the middle. It also makes societal change such as women’s rights much harder to progress as it breeds a resistance to change.

The upside is that this notion is the epitome of the “golden rule”, where people take care of each other (Don’t get me started on the rich white “Christian” republican “cut taxes to line my own pocket” hypocrisy). It is the reason why I could leave my laptop on the train with a realistic expectation that I will get it back and walk around in Tokyo at 2am with almost no risk. 

With the notion of the individual so strong in North America and the notion of group so strong in Japan, it is easy to see how misunderstanding can flourish if not carefully managed.

Fascinating for this Canadian socialist who is fine paying 45% taxes due to a sense of obligation to the group’s welfare.



While in a Queen’s course on strategy and change management a few weeks ago they played a video from MIT where Anne Mulcahy of Xerox shared her ‘Leadership Lessons from the Firing Line’.

She walks through her introduction to the CEO position while Xerox was under siege with the future of the company in the balance. One of her first stories being a desperate attempt to get Warren Buffet to go back on his famous ‘I don’t invest in technology companies’ philosophy and invest in Xerox. He didn’t change his mind, but he did invite her for dinner and he gave a great piece of advice:

Focus on your customers and lead your employees like their lives depend on it”

Mrs. Mulcahy then goes on to discuss her experience during the Xerox turnaround and the leadership lessons that defined her tenure. The highlights from my notes:

· Good leaders listen, with a bias for action.

· Trust your management instincts. Companies love data, but sometimes you must trust your experience and gut.

· Create clear accountability and good aligned goals to guide the organization.

· People need a vision. Even though Rome was burning, people wanted to know the future. Her team wrote out an article of what Xerox would look like in 5 years, which built optimism.

· Invest for the best of times, even at the worst of times. Critics wanted Xerox to cut R&D, but they didn’t. Now 2/3rds of revenue comes from products that are less than 2 years old.

· Keep communicating, don’t go underground. Nothing beats face to face communications, aligns people to the goals and do not go underground.

· Remain customer focused. Spend time with customers, and continually ask ‘Would the customer pay for this?’

· Seek out the critics and look for critical feedback. Search it out, it is a blessing to find issues early on.

· Find the best talent. Hire people who are different, who have skills and views that are different then leverage those people to educate you.

· Lead by example, give credit to others and be humble.

An inspiring leader with a great story. Well worth the 30 minute investment to watch.


An interesting Middle East quote shared with me today:

‘Success has 1000 fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

So true. Everyone flocks to the win and shuns the failure. Which is why I always say ‘Good news should travel fast, bad news faster’. If you are a sales rep and facing failure (i.e. A lost deal, missing quota), then you need to ensure you do not become that orphan. How do you do that?

  • Make sure that all of the little things are done. Forecast accurately, do whatever internal things are required. Be on time to internal meetings. Be the picture of perfection. Demonstrate that you run a good business and that you are simply working through the issues and that your methods will win.
  • Don’t hide it. Be open about it. Deal going off the rails? Bring in executives, talk through it with your manager, let people know. If you are working on a deal and you lose it without others being involved, you will be an orphan because of YOUR own choice. But if everyone is involved, there is no one to blame. It is a shared loss.
  • Remain accountable. It is fine to blame M&E activity or something in the market, as external factors often have an impact. But, if you always end that with ‘That being said, we are driving a good business, working through the issues and ensuring we do everything to right the boat’, then people will have confidence that your actions and leadership are having an impact. They will be confident that you are the right person to lead through those tough times.

We all face tough times. It is the nature of sales and business. Good years. Bad years. But it is in the bad times that the true test of character happens and the greatness is seen in people. Something that applies to business and personal life.