Four Leadership Lessons from Japan
Two weeks in Japan and you’ll fall in love like I did last month on vacation with my family. You’ll fall in love with the food, the culture, and the amazing people and hopefully you too will meet someone who steps up unexpectedly with exceptional leadership like Taka. Our first day in Tokyo, I woke up to a message informing me that our guide for the day had hurt his leg and no replacement could be found. I went to the hotel front desk , since there was no concierge, and asked a fellow at the desk for help in finding another guide. That fellow turned out to be Takahiro who we got to know affectionately as Taka. Taka carefully listened and took his time to understand what kind of help I needed asking lots of questions. Once he understood, he started to research and see if he could find some options and April is busy season in Japan so there really are few if any options. He searched a number of possible solutions on the computer as I waited, called some friends who were concierge at another hotel and as he did so mentioned that he might be able to “show us around a bit” when he finished his shift at 10:30am. After a considerable amount of calling and searching he explained he was out of ideas and I let him know I’d go back and email and research myself to see what I could find and later had no luck of my own.
My husband and I then went back to the reception desk and asked Taka if he was serious about being our guide for the day. He checked with his supervisor for permission and then came back with news that he’d be delighted to do so on his personal time and not as a representative of the hotel. (all with permission of his supervisor)
This is an example of a team member that truly understands the impact of his role on the company and its guests. He greatly demonstrated that title does not dictate leadership, attitude and actions do. Here are four leadership lessons I’ve taken away from getting to know Takahiro:
Taka was a patient listener seeking first to understand from a language perspective and next to understand the impact of us not having a guide our first day in Tokyo.
Act like a host
Taka treated us like friends from the first moment I talked to him at the hotel reception desk. He worked hard to help, expressed empathy and I truly felt he wanted to take great care of me as a guest not just in the hotel where he worked but also in his city and country. He stepped up in a way that was not expected or required but what he felt was the right thing to do for a guest.
Go above and beyond
Taka became our guide for the day spending 10 hours with us including dinner at the end of the day and we were all sad to say goodbye. Throughout our day, he had a second cell phone for us to use whenever we were separated so that we could find each other again. He taught us about Japanese culture, he showed us around the city to beautiful places, he had lunch with us. Little did we know until well into the day that Taka had just finished working a 16 hour shift, gave up a day off with his wife and two young daughters to help us feel at home and welcome in Tokyo.
He was hands down the best ‘guide’ we had during our two week trip to Japan, but he’s not a guide at all. We learned the most from him about Japanese culture, Tokyo and the places we visited. It was like touring Japan with our best friend.
I’m not sure what Taka thought when he decided to help us and be our guide for the day, but I can tell you that he didn’t realize he’d have so much fun. Over the day we saw Taka go from formal and reserved to informal and having a blast. He laughed with us and explored Tokyo along side us through new eyes.
What an incredible first day experience we had with Taka and, as it turns out, one of our fondest memories from Japan.