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Working With A Japanese Manager? Does he have an Oda, Toyotomi, or Maybe a Tokugawa Style?

Although most Japanese managers share certain characteristics that reflect deep Japanese values, it is important to remember that each is an individual with a unique personality. In fact, many Japanese subordinates are fond of likening their bosses to famous people in Japanese history, particularly warlords. Here are examples of three common comparisons.

The Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) Style. A traditional poem sums up his style in his likely response to a bird that isn't singing: "If it does not sing, I will just kill it." Although articulate, innovative, and fascinated by new things, Oda had a reputation of being reckless, arrogant, highly emotional, and egotistical. He was a cultured but cruel tyrant who acted with furious determination, and the more he prevailed the less he employed diplomacy. Many of his successes came through the strategy of getting to his enemies before they could get to him, making his conquests primarily with the use of a sword.

The Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598) Style. A poem sums up his style in his likely response to the bird that isn't singing: "If it does not sing, I will make it sing." Although born a peasant, Toyotomi rose to become a powerful ruler through his natural talent for befriending and influencing others. Ambitious and confident in his own abilities, he worked methodically with resilient determination. He was clever, rational, progressive and competitive. Skilled at listening to others and building consensus, he would often elect to strategically make a deal with an enemy. When it came time for action, however, he did so decisively and firmly, never shying away from big challenges with broad implications, especially those that furthered his political aspirations.

The Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) Style. A poem sums up his style in his likely response to the bird that isn't singing: "If it does not sing, I will wait until it sings." Founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for 250 years, Tokugawa was a brilliant but complex general. He could be both fair and ruthless, compassionate and utterly heartless. A patient, steady, and careful long-term planner, he could also be very stubborn. He was a pragmatic, calculating political schemer who never forgot a friend or a grudge, and was brutal to those who betrayed or insulted him. More than anything, he was a man of vision and great patience, willing to play his cards in a cool, exacting manner that would assure his ultimate victory.

Of course, many Japanese managers are kind, gentle, and considerate. The most important thing to remember is that everybody needs to be understood both in terms of their cultural context, as well as by their own individual personalities.

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