Collaborative 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