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Archive for December, 2010

Collaborative Leadership

December 31st, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

A collaborative leader in action

I am lucky to have an outstanding ‘yaki-tori’ restaurant in my neighborhood, within walking distance from my home in Tokyo. My wife and I eat there as often as we can afford. The restaurant is quite large for a restaurant of its type, seating about 75 people, and it is almost always crowded. We enjoy sitting at the counter to view the action, like sitting right behind home plate in a Seattle Mariners baseball game and watching the inimitable Ichiro hit one up the third base line. The service is excellent, and the choice of succulent chicken and other delights skewered and grilled over a charcoal fire is superb.

A distinctive quality apparent in this ‘yaki-tori’ restaurant is the amazing teamwork of the staff. Often in these local restaurants the owner works onsite but no owner seems present in this restaurant. Nor is there an obvious boss hawking orders. Yet the staff works with perfect harmony.

We tried to figure out who the boss really is, and concluded that it was the woman shown in the picture cooking ‘yaki-tori’ dishes on that one single grill. It is fascinating to watch her prepare the dishes—so highly professional is the way she goes about her job, even in something as mundane as her pinching of special salt and other seasoning that adds such good flavor to the food.

I could share many other anecdotes about Japanese excellent teamwork that I have observed living in Japan, at work or in community activities.  It is a great strength of the Japanese, something to be proud of and reflect upon on the eve of the new year. The opportunity ahead is to leverage that strength and build on it, by developing capability in cross-cultural environments and in exercising collaborative leadership shared with global partners. In the year of the rabbit, that’s a worthwhile resolution to dovetail with the general strategy to expand overseas.

The very best in 2011.

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

Leadership and Ethics

December 28th, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

Kyoto: Guardian @Yasaka Shrine

In the late 80s we had the insider trading scandals on Wall Street. In the mid-90s the rogue trader Nick Leeson tanked the oldest merchant bank in UK history, Barings Bank, with his ‘risk-unmanaged’ trading. In the early 00s we had the Enron fiasco, and fewer than ten years later we had the sub-prime mortgage debacle (and all of its after-shocks, some still coming). In late ‘08 FBI agents arrested the infamous Bernard Madoff for committing the mother of all Ponzi schemes. In ‘10 insider trading scandals tarnished the markets in the U.S., related to ‘expert networks’, and in Japan, related to short-selling on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The scandals are coming in waves and the waves appear more frequent.

Mike Milken, the junk bond king, went to jail in the aftermath of the 80s insider trading scandals, and so did Ivan Boesky, the arbitrageur. Enron’s CEO Jeff Skilling is serving a 24-year sentence. His CFO, Andrew Fastow, is scheduled to be released from prison at the end of next year. Madoff is in the clinker for life. Leeson did some time in a Singapore prison and is now a conference and after-dinner speaker.

I was visiting Harvard Business School (HBS) right after the Enron scandal broke, graciously hosted by a school official. When we finished a 3-hour tour of HBS, I was asked if I had any questions. I said, “Just one: how does Harvard teach ethics?” The school official gave me a look as if he had just swallowed a canary, and ushered me into the school’s inner sanctum, where the faculty confer.

We sat at an mahogany conference table about the size of the Queen Elizabeth 2, if not the USS Lexington. The official then proceeded to tell me about the debates among the faculty regarding different approaches to teach ethics at the school. One approach was to require all students to take courses on ethics, a second was to integrate ethics throughout the curriculum, and a third was to make ethics courses elective offerings. Some believed that teaching a discrete elective or required course on ethics would not have an impact on those unethical in character. Either they would not elect the ethics course, or if they did take an ethics course, required or elective, the lessons taught would run off their backs like rain in a New Orleans tropical storm.

Indeed, HBS includes a required ethics course in its core curriculum: Leadership and Corporate Accountability. Good for Harvard. What is sorely needed is not to ‘ebb and flow’ the teaching of ethics, giving it a high but short-lived profile in the aftermath of a scandal, but rather to make the teaching of ethics an interwoven part of the fabric of MBA school curricula.

Fortunately, many MBA schools are doing this. Stanford Graduate School of Business teaches Ethics and Management in the first-year autumn term. Wharton requires students to take Ethics and Responsibility. The Darden School of Business includes Business Ethics in its core. Leadership and Business Ethics is required at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

It’s obvious. Leaders at the top set the ethical tone by their own actions (or inactions). The rank and file generally follow.

In teaching global leadership to my clients, I emphasize that the quintessential responsibility of a top leader is twofold:

•  to roll out and negotiate the strategic vision

•  to serve as the critical role model for an organization’s ethics.

Ethics in practice. When the guys or gals at the top do not follow the rules codified in a company’s policy on ethics, the code means nothing but empty rhetoric. Never could that be more true than in the case of Enron. And never could it be more true than on Wall Street. When a banker’s bonus reflects the volume of financial derivatives that he or she peddles and senior leaders don’t have a tight enough handle on the bank’s risk management, a potential disaster is in the making. Ex-bankers at Lehman Brothers understand that point all too tragically.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

Taking the lead

December 23rd, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

Kyoto: Mother & Daughter

This is one of many articles that I will be blogging on my favorite subject: global leadership.

By now those of you actually pursuing MBA studies (or preparing to pursue them) are well aware of the strong emphasis that schools give to leadership. This has been an evolutionary process, as it was not so long ago that leadership was less than a buzz word in the schools. At the time Interface was researching its Guide to the Best Business Schools, I wanted to offer a book that both described MBA programs around the world and included a category organized by business functions. I wrote a chapter on MBA schools offering strong programs in distinct hot fields, like venture capital, real estate, biotech, and social enterprise. For another specialized category, I did quite a bit of “digging” to identify MBA schools emphasizing leadership in their curricula.

How times have changed. Today leadership has become a “mantra” and virtually all the schools tout their leadership programs.

I focus my coaching practice on the global leadership development of my clients, and am rewarded most in Interface by the contributions we have made to help some of Japan’s most distinguished next generation leaders. Leadership is the raison d’être and primordial mission of Interface.

In consulting Japanese clients for more then 20 years, I have observed misconceptions about what leadership is and how it can be practiced and developed. One stereotype is that leadership is limited to a conventional “command and control” model, more representative of the way organizations were led sometime back in the last century. In this model, the leader was like an autocratic general on the battle-field. He or she could be charismatic and inspirational, but the element of formal power and force was always a constant. People followed not always because they wanted to, but rather because they had to.

But this is not the only model of leadership, nor is it necessarily the most effective model. Leadership can be exercised in many forms—as any admissions officer knowing something about this topic will tell you. Indeed, study teams in business school rarely have assigned leaders. Rather leadership is co-shared and emergent. Over time the best leaders in a study group assume the greatest influence on the learning team.

The ability to exercise leadership in business organization, especially in hierarchically structured, mature bureaucracies (typically large organizations) is limited by seniority. The seniority system is institutional in Japanese business culture—but recognize that seniority also prevails in other cultures, even if the degree of formality is less.

However, this does not mean that younger workers cannot exercise leadership. They can exercise leadership by taking the initiative to propose potential improvements that are waiting for someone to realize, small ones and big ones. Leadership may be proposing the elimination of redundant work or unnecessary reporting and convincing your boss to support you through the hierarchy. It may be advocating a position that is contrary to the predominant view, always a challenge in a consensus-driven organization and society. It may be the mentoring of an even younger colleague struggling to keep up with work demands or facing some other professional or personal challenge. It may be resolving team conflict. The list goes on and on. Just look carefully around you and the leadership opportunities are there.

I have had clients who shared incredible experiences, experiences that displayed powerful leadership and became center pieces in their presentations to schools. The secret is to build upon these rich experiences and realize new growth and continuous learning. I have suggested ways to exercise leadership to my clients and am immensely pleased with the satisfaction their efforts brought them. This is the heart of professional consulting and coaching, a profession that I love dearly.

Outside of work, you can find an ocean of opportunity to exercise leadership. It need not involve volunteering. There tends to be stereotypical thinking that to appeal to a school you must become a volunteer. Volunteering is great if that is “your thing,” but there are many ways to serve your community and to lead outside of your work. Some Interfacers have had awesome experiences in volunteering, such as a client who worked in India for Mother Teresa`s organization, or another who used to spend his days off caring for demented elderly patients in a care center. He designed games for the patients to exercise physically and mentally.

Others have chosen different alternatives to serve the community. Some organize discussion groups on current issues or in professional organizations. One client promoted the use of traditional Chinese medicines in a club whose members were interested in this field. Some have become chapter leaders in Toastmasters International, and one was the top Japanese finisher in the Iron Man triathlon. And it’s not just Iron Man or men. A female client and leader in her field, health care, completed no fewer than eighteen 42.2 kilometer marathons and full triathlons.

Many options are available to you and no seniority system blocks you from leading or teaming up with others to lead.

Do what you like, whatever interests you. What is most important is that you seek opportunities to exercise leadership whenever you can. Surely, such experiences are the foodstuff of great essays. But most important is that those experiences represent the engines of your personal growth and enrichment.

Wishing you all happy holidays. Which reminds me, I had better go meet Santa coming down the chimney.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

Test preparation in the real world

December 21st, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Test Preparation

One of the basic techniques in time management relates to an old saying to “kill two birds with one stone.” Here we discuss two ‘birds’— success on the iBT and success in English for career and for life. One’ bird’ is a test world, which is transient, the other ‘bird’ the real world of English communication in school, in global business, throughout your life.

Partake of the sweet apple. Hit your iBT target, succeed in your international life.

Kyoto Market: How about 'dem apples?

If you are struggling to hit your iBT target, consider that in order to achieve a good iBT score, you must supplement your classroom studies with daily, relentless immersion in English. The iBT is designed to gauge your ability to use English in an interactive learning environment. You cannot expect to maximize your test score by limiting your study to an iBT class.

To do well on the iBT and on the GMAT, you must learn to read faster. You must listen to English daily, and you must speak English in a real-world setting as often as possible. You must sacrifice the comfort of reading exclusively books, magazines and newspapers in Japanese, so that you can free up more time to immerse in English.

Remember that the purpose of your improving your English is not simply to score high on the iBT. That may be your short-term focus, but everything you do should be understood within a long-term framework. Your immediate objective is to score high on the iBT in order to pass this stage of your application but the longer-term goal is to improve your English in order to contribute in school and in order to improve your communication skill in English throughout your career.

Because the iBT test is administered online, you should practice reading and listening to English on your computer. It is harder and less enjoyable to read online but important training to prepare you for the actual iBT exam.

Read whatever interests you. To kill two birds with one stone (isseki nichou) you may want to read international and business news. A truly outstanding source for international and business news is my favorite newspaper, the Asian Wall St. Journal:

If you don’t have a subscription to the WSJ, tune in to my tweets (@devalier_warren) and you will find that I send along daily the best of the global and Japan articles from this newspaper.

To improve your listening, listening to podcasts is an excellent investment of your time. Try listening to the Scientific American 60-second science, psychology, and earth podcasts.

Notice that transcripts are available. Try this exercise every day. It should take you fewer than 30 minutes. Make it a habit, like brushing your teeth:

1.     Listen to any Scientific American 60-second podcast.

2.     After listening to the podcast, summarize the main points of the podcast in a loud, clear voice.

3.     Now read the transcript of the podcast, also in a loud, clear voice.

4.     Listen to the podcast again to check your understanding, referring to the transcript as needed.

5.     Now write one paragraph that summarizes the main theme and supporting points of the podcast.

Want to kill “three birds with one stone.” You can familiarize yourself with topics being discussed in business school by subscribing to Knowledge@Wharton podcasts:

You may only be able to read the summary of the topic online but can listen to the entire discussion, most often a conversation by Wharton professors to simulate the real-world experience of a Wharton lecture.

Want still more listening and reading practice:

Go to the Harvard Business Publishing site:

1.     Subscribe to the Management Tip of the Day and/or Daily Stat.

You can have these sent to you by email.

2.     Listen to the Harvard Business IdeaCast (podcast).

3.     Read whichever of the Most Read articles interest you.

I also tweet ‘of value’ articles from the Harvard Business Review and send them to my friends at Linked-in:

Here’s an example of a daily stat I recently received, published in the McKinsey Quarterly. It impressed me because I believe that there are great business opportunities for Japanese in venture investments developing green business in China. Sooner or later, China will be investing in “green business.”

Japan has the technology superiority to leverage in joint venture business with the Chinese in this field.

China’s Green Opportunity

“China’s rapid development has catapulted the country into the ranks of the world’s largest economies, but it has also made it a top emitter of greenhouse gasses. The country has set ambitious goals for improving energy efficiency. China’s plans to build more nuclear plants and plant forests could help it avoid producing 8.4 gigatons of emissions annually that it might otherwise emit if growth continued without any mitigation. Still, McKinsey research finds there’s room to do even more. Tapping emerging technologies, such as electric vehicles, new semiconductor-manufacturing equipment that’s better at controlling fluorocarbon emissions, and the use of agricultural waste as a fuel source in cement kilns, could save an additional 6.7 gigatons.”

By clicking on the title of the daily stat (e.g. China’s Green Opportunity), you can register and read the entire article in the McKinsey Quarterly.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

It’s a matter of ethics

December 17th, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

Picasso: La Petit Corrida

People sometimes confuse the meaning of the term “work ethic” and “ethics.”

“Work ethic” refers to the attitude you have toward work. Someone said to have high “work ethic” believes in hard work and works hard, works diligently. In general, Japanese have high “work ethic.” It is a strength, but of like all strengths can become a vulnerability if excessive. That is where “work-life” balance comes into play, spending enough time in leisure or community activities so that you recharge your batteries to increase your productivity at work.

You can have high “work ethic” yet still behave unethically. Nick Leeson brought down Barings Bank with unauthorized trading. Andrew Fastow and Jeff Skilling brought down Enron with fraudulent financial schemes. They all were hard-working executives (had high “work ethic”) but went to jail for the crimes they committed.

Just following your feelings of what is “right or wrong” does not guarantee that you act ethically. People rationalize their actions, and in so doing, often slide down a “slippery slope” that leads to unethical behavior. Again, I can cite the example of Enron. When Fastow et al first structured their investment partnerships as financing vehicles for Enron, they were legitimate “special purpose” subsidiaries that met the test of law. Eventually, as Enron’s financial needs became greater and as Fastow’s greed became voracious, he and Skilling crossed the line into illegal (and unethical) behavior.

What is illegal is most always unethical, but not always. Sometimes in history people have broken laws considered unethical, as in the case of apartheid in South Africa.

So what is ethics, and how does it different from integrity?

Some define ethics as an external body of rules, regulations or laws that govern behavior in society and any group in it, like a company. They view integrity as an internal set of principles that guides our behavior, whether in personal or professional relationships. Ethics may be imposed by laws in society. Integrity relates to wholeness and inner strength to behave correctly regardless of whether laws or regulations impose on us to do so.

Clearly ethics and integrity are interrelated. They both suggest how people ought to behave, to act rightly. We should not steal, murder, mug, slander, fraud, rape. We should deal fairly and honestly with our clients, colleagues, and friends.

To brainstorm issues in ethics, study your company’s code of ethics. If they do not have a code, you can exercise leadership by creating one for them. If the code is not clear, you can exercise leadership by making it clear. For the CEO of a company, ethical leadership is among the most critical responsibilities of the job. Hundreds of companies are now history because ethics was not adequately embedded in the business culture. Enron is the classic case. Did the company act ethically when it encouraged traders to rig the electricity markets that resulted in grid blackouts? Were the traders acting with integrity when they laughed about little old ladies left cold by their action?

In Essays, Interviews, Jobs, I included an essay or two that addressed challenges to ethics. In one, a former Japanese wrote about his experience in sailing. He got close to the Seoul Olympics for the two-man dinghy. He was training in the Bay of Tokyo when a storm came up. As he was heading for shore, he and his partner came across a distressed boat. The man on the boat screamed for help. The client faced the ethical dilemma of stopping to help the man or ensuring his own safety.

Ethical challenges can be quite difficult. Sometimes there is no easy answer, right or wrong. What schools are most interested in is the reasoning process you went through to sort out an ethical issue. Harvard has used extensively in classes on ethics a case entitled the Parable of the Sadhu that addresses the ethics of the individual (integrity). Western mountaineers in the Himalayas faced the dilemma of helping a dying Indian holy man and aborting their climb or continuing on their way. No law required that they act one way or another.

There are  countless ways a worker can face ethical challenges, among them:

  1. telling a client what it wants to hear rather than what it needs to know
  2. coaxing a client to buy a financial product to make a sale in order to meet a sales target
  3. misleading a client with a viewpoint designed to make a sale, when it is contrary to your company’s official view (for example, to sell a floating rate mortgage rather than a fixed rate mortgage when the forecasts are all pointing towards hyperinflation)
  4. not adequately ensuring that customers understand the full implications of the contracts they are signing (e.g. mortgage contracts)
  5. manipulating price transfer information to avoid being accused of dumping
  6. withholding needed information from a colleague in order to get ahead personally
  7. spreading false rumors about a colleague
  8. “trading” in insider information (now in the news in separate incidents both in Japan and the US)
  9. over-billing clients
  10. engaging in sexual or power harassment
  11. accepting an excessive payment for favor (a bribe)
  12. “cooking” the books

You can see that ethical issues almost always deal with what certainly would be embarrassing, if not a scandal or illegal, were the incident publicly known. You will also notice the interrelationship of ethics and integrity. When a teammate withholds information from a colleague that would benefit the team, such behavior is not illegal, but it certainly shows a lack of integrity, and it would be considered unacceptable if known by superiors in the organization.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

From Monk to MBA: A Japanese student in India

December 16th, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

I sometimes liken leading MBA schools to gran cru Bordeaux, classification of 1855, requested by none other than Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. Nineteen wines made up the coveted 1st and 2nd great growths, including the inimitable Chateau Latour.

Like the finest wines, top MBA schools are to the taste of the beholder. Sure brand name means a lot; after all, the brand is built on something distinguished, but what pleases the taste buds of one imbiber may not reach the same scale to another.

Simply stated, the most important criterion is to choose the MBA school that best meets your needs and satisfies your interests. For some that may be Wharton or Columbia, for others Tuck or Stanford, for still others INSEAD or Cambridge. It’s a long list.

Many people—perhaps most people— just follow the brand trail, moving as high up the ranking list as they can qualify. Which begs an immediate question: whose ranking list is it? They all vary, they all have biases.

I would like to introduce you to Keisuke Matsumoto, a Japanese next-generation leader who did not blindly decide on where he would pursue his MBA studies, slavish to a ranking list.

Please refer to this URL:

The Indian School of Business

Indian School of Business

A Buddhist monk, Matsumoto-san took a break from Komiyogi Temple in central Tokyo to study at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. With an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Tokyo University, a high GPA and competitive GMAT, he could have gone to any MBA program, Stanford, Harvard, you name it. He chose ISB, the only Japanese ever to study there, because ISB met his career needs and international cultural interests.

Matsumoto-san’s life aim is to reconnect Buddhist spirituality to the ordinary person living and struggling today. You will enjoy reading about his initiative to arrange a music concert and open a café in the temple to attract working people in Tokyo. You will admire his personal leadership just as I do, and his guts to think for himself and decide for his well-being.

To mix two metaphors, Matsuomoto both “thought out of the box” and “got out of his comfort zone.”

And so can you.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

Doing well on the iBT

December 14th, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Test Preparation

Kyoto: View from Kurama Temple

Many of you are struggling to achieve your target iBT scores. Others may be just beginning your test preparation. I post here 3 crucial strategic mistakes to avoid in your iBT and general test preparation for leading graduate schools.

1) Relying exclusively on iBT textbooks and classroom instruction

The iBT was designed to test skills required in interactive English usage in the real world, most particularly in a classroom learning environment. Whereas classroom instruction in ‘iBT English’ is worthwhile, such preparation is insufficient to build the kind of practical English proficiency that is tested on the iBT. You have to get out into the real world of English as often as possible, in reading, writing, and speaking. You cannot maximize your score potential by limiting your studies to iBT textbooks or short-fuse classroom instruction in typical test patterns and structures. You must supplement that study before and after your classes in real-world English usage. Befriend native English speakers. Join a Toastmasters International branch in your community. Do whatever you can to practice English in the real world.

2) Not developing integrated study of iBT and GMAT (or GRE)

Don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time studying for the iBT until you reach your test score target, and then begin to study GMAT (or GRE). Sadly, too many applicants take this approach. iBT test proficiency is acquired steadily over a period of time. Many applicants are still working on their iBT scores right up to the date of their application sto schools. If they begin GMAT (or GRE) preparation only after they have hit their IBT target, they run out of time.

Rather, consider test preparation as integrated study exercise. Sure, you may focus on iBT mostly at the beginning of your preparation, but also include study that is integral to both tests right from the beginning. What is common to both the iBT and GMAT is reading and writing. Read on the computer every day, and write in English as often as you can. When you begin to build momentum on iBT, and your test results show ‘traction’, begin to rebalance the amount of time spent on iBT preparation and on GMAT preparation, so that GMAT study becomes more, iBT study less.

Also, don’t put off studying Math until late in the game. It takes time and repetition to become ‘lighting fast’ utilizing all those math formulas you knew so well preparing for entrance exams but haven’t used since you went to work. Weave study of Math into your program early on.

3) Not taking enough test simulations prior to an actual test

You may be studying the Official Guide to GMAT Review or individual test sections of the GMAT. Great. It is a source of authentic material for mastering test patterns. But relying on these materials alone will not maximize your potential to score high on an actual test. The Official Guide is not a test, just material excerpted from tests. And studying individual sections over and over is not a full actual test either, just part of an actual GMAT test. After a while you know the answers, and are lulled into a false sense of security believing that your proficiency has improved more than the reality. So that when you take the actual test and find that you bombed, you are shocked.

To prepare fully for the GMAT, you must ‘test drive’ your knowledge of the GMAT test patterns in authentic full-test simulations. You must feel the time pressure of a full-test to fine-tune your strategic application and build your concentration power. Practice makes perfect but perfect practice is not relying on part of a test, it is taking a full-test simulation. Imagine that you aimed to learn to ski. You could read as many books as have been published on skiing, but until you got out on a pair of skis on the ski slopes and tried out the theory you had learned in a partial test section you would know whether you had actually learned to ski.

All the best,


©2010 Warren J. Devalier

The Dalai Lama

December 13th, 2010 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Leadership

Recently, I had the rare privilege of meeting the 14th Dalai Lama at a press conference at my club, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

Seated not father than a meter from his holiness, I felt the “ki”of a living saint. The Dalai Lama is old and frail now, but he radiates a serenity felt by anyone graced by his presence. He has a great sense of humor and is highly perceptive.

In his talk, the Dalai Lama stressed his equal standing with all people of the world, whether the presidents of countries, business people, store clerks, or street children. He avoided a discussion of political issues and stressed the need for people to develop their inner values. Two that he emphasized were compassion and non-violence.
The Dalai Lama
In the Q&A session, an astute reporter asked the Dalai Lama what his message is for the young people of Japan, some of whom are confused and lack motivation in these challenging times. The Dalai Lama’s message was simple yet profound. He advised young people to study what he called the universal language of English, and then go out and engage the world. He said he saw many Chinese in the US studying English and many Chinese university professors overseas, but did not often see Japanese professors. By engaging with the world rather than isolating oneself, he felt the motivation of Japanese youth would prosper.

In your quest for the MBA and in your forthcoming MBA experience, you will be doing exactly what the Dalai Lama advocates: engaging with the world and developing your global leadership to contribute to Japan and world society.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2010 Warren J. Devalier

Movie: Indian School of Business

December 8th, 2010 | Posts By interface | Filed in: Movies

©2010 Warren J. Devalier