Just three months ago, Japan experienced unprecedented damage from an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. These three catastrophic events created enormous upheaval with many deaths and huge challenges for leaders in all sectors.
Black Out Conditions
Japanese Prime Minister Kan became wildly popular 20 years ago for his ethics and mission focus. As health minister he exposed his own ministry’s use of HIV tainted blood which caused illness and death. This corruption was long known by others but conveniently ignored. A savvy man, for sure, but in the recent crisis, analysts now say he was “acting in near black-out conditions.” Fortunately, Kan’s work history, his instincts and a handful of trusted co-workers helped him navigate. During the crisis and long after, the thick politics between primary stakeholders in the drama have been obstructions.
In hindsight, deep mistrust was a key factor in this situation. It added delay when urgency was vital, and it cost credibility with both citizens and nations alike. Because Kan could not rely on people in key positions the severe implications from multiple disasters was not obvious for many days. In addition, advisers in important roles were unaware of the resources available to them. The right information was not shared quickly.
Find Capable , Ethical Allies
In an important confluence of events, the plant manager at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant bucked the system. Despite the pressure of crisis, Mr. Yoshida, who had built a reputation for ethical choices and capable behavior, acted fast. He allowed seawater to cool the nuclear core and defied orders from his employer. Experts say this decision almost certainly prevented far more damage. A day after the tsunami, Prime Minister Kan took a trip to the nuclear plant. Kan met Yoshida and was impressed by his candor. The Prime Minister recognized an ally who would “do the right thing” and was highly capable.
The bold moves of a few thoughtful people in the Japanese crisis offer important leadership examples. It reminds us that credibility is tested in small ways – daily. People are watching. They see patterns of behaviors. Dishonesty, avoidance, denial are errors that could derail your objectives. Display trustworthiness through transparency, facts, and thoughtful analysis. Acknowledge mistakes. It underscores your credibility and creates essential trust.
Trust & Mission-Focus
Suspicion is not a hospitable environment for high performance. It can (and does) dramatically affect decisions. Quality information and consistent credible actions contribute to trust. Acting consistently on shared values offers encouragement. It shows a commitment to common good, mission, and to ideals that are bigger than self. Do all you can to squash petty politics for efforts on the “right work.” In the midst of the routine or calamity, build trust and keep a mission focus. These are a welcome refuge for your colleagues.
If you’re hoping people will follow you – act in worthy ways.
-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author & W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow.See:: www.pwkinc.com