The Bright Stars of a Future Japan

One of the pleasures of working with International students in California was becoming friends with “special” students. Yes, all students are special, but we would sometimes meet extraordinary students who had a passion for life and learning. Some International students study in America because it’s easier or less stressful than staying in their home country and treat their stay as a long vacation. But others come to fully embrace learning about a new culture and language in the short time they have. They take every opportunity to explore, to make friends outside of their own culture and immerse themselves in the English language.

While we lived in California, I only saw half of the picture: how these students behaved while living overseas. But moving to Japan and reconnecting with some of our exceptional student friends, I have had the chance to see the other half of the picture: how these students use what they learned studying abroad in their lives in Japan. And I am so impressed with what I have seen.

Here are a few examples from some of our students we had English conversation groups with or spent time with in other ways.

Jun is working for the Japan League Soccer Association and regularly using his English skills to help communicate with foreign professional soccer clubs and translate contracts for players wishing to play overseas.

Saya and Nana are working at a growing company developing tools to teach people English. Saya even got me some contract work doing voice-over for one of the tests they are developing.

Another Jun worked hard on improving his English and got a job last summer translating for the visiting Brunei national soccer team while they visited and played in Japan.

Mitsu is finishing his degree at Waseda University and working part time for a start-up company.

Now that we live in Japan, it’s more difficult for us to find┬áthese exceptional young Japanese people who want to have a positive impact on the future of Japan, though we know they are around us. Fortunately, my friend Steve Sakanashi has brought a company to Japan to attract exactly that kind of person.

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Sekai Creator started in Seattle as a course teaching leadership and entrepreneurial skills to Japanese international students studying at local universities, but Steve’s vision was to reach more potential leaders of the new Japanese economy by bringing the program to Japan. In mid-May, he finally realized his dream by launching his course in Tokyo.

Steve asked me to photograph the launch event which was attended by over 35 bright young stars of the future. They came from various universities across Tokyo to hear about the six-week program which will give them hands-on training in being an entrepreneur and experiencing every role necessary to bring a new product to market. Steve brings in experts in various areas of business to share their knowledge with the students, but the students are required to develop a product, market it and make a 50,000 yen (about $500) profit in the six-week period. It is a difficult task, but the challenge pushes the limits of the students’s abilities and helps them to learn through experience, success and failure.

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The kick-off party was appropriately held at Ryozan Park, a beautiful community workplace where people can rent shared office space to collaborate and network with others. Though not inspired by Sekai Creator, the concept of Ryozan Park definitely fits the mold of what Steve would like his students to create in Japan.

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At the party, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to many extraordinary students, learning their stories and seeing a glimpse into the future of Japan. And I like what I see in them.

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Congratulations to Steve and his team on realizing their dream of launching Sekai Creator in Tokyo. I look forward to seeing how Sekai Creator inspires the young people in Japan to break out of the traditional thinking patterns of Japanese business that are hindering the economy and innovation of this otherwise amazing country.

Why Christian Leadership Is Bogus

I find it interesting how many books and articles there are on becoming a good leader and how few there are on becoming a good follower. I believe the problem we have today is not a lack of good leaders, but a lack of those willing to learn how to be a good follower. Because to truly become a good leader, one must have experience as a good follower.

Think about what it means to be a good follower and you’ll see how applicable these skills are to being a good leader.

Humility. Leaders don’t need to be humble and many of them are not. However, one of the characteristics of what Jim Collins termed “Level 5 Leaders” in his book, Good to Great, is humility. The ultimate test of humility is your ability to help another person succeed without garnering any recognition for yourself. Look around corporate America and I doubt you’d find many people fitting this description. But when you do, you’ll find the makings of a great leader.

Loyalty. The idea of loyalty is one that has gone completely to the dogs these days (sorry, I could not resist). In the ancient times of the 20th century, companies rewarded loyal employees with practically guaranteed long term employment, but in the 80’s and 90’s the pendulum swung the other way. Employment today is based on the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality and being loyal is not on the list of good behaviors. It’s no surprise Corporate America is reaping the rotten harvest from sowing purely performance based reward systems. Backstabbing, hyper-competition between employees and company hopping for better pay are all common behaviors of the American white collar worker.

The idea of loyalty is standing behind your leader through good and bad times, of selfless sacrifice for the good someone else. Today, the idea of loyalty is mocked as archaic, stupid and career suicide. But if you can’t be trusted to be loyal to your leader, how can you be trusted to be loyal to those you are responsible for?

Patience. A good follower is able to bide his time, learning from the successes and mistakes of his leader. Of course, his loyalty demands he do whatever it takes for his leader to succeed, but when things don’t go well, he isn’t quick to try to seize the reigns or break away and do his own thing. The accelerated pace of the corporate world demands that we do things faster, even when faster isn’t necessarily better. The best beef brisket isn’t going to get better by smoking it in half the time. Building an airplane faster isn’t better if you’re going to skip tightening every other bolt.

A good follower knows it takes time to develop the skills to become a good leader. He also knows that becoming a good leader can happen under a good leader, a poor leader, or one in between. It simply requires the willingness to learn and learning takes time.

Here’s the kicker. The ministry is supposed to be a place to serve free from the methods and measurements the world uses to define success. Yet more and more, we see how these corporate ideas of leadership infiltrate the ministry, often in seemingly innocuous ways, teaching about “running ministry like a business” and proposing ludicrous ideas like “Jesus, CEO”.

I have a word for this kind of nonsense that can’t be written in a Christian blog, but it comes from a male bovine and smells real bad. It’s insane to even think of Jesus as a CEO since Jesus didn’t come to earth to maximize shareholder profit, but to give his life as a ransom for many. Any fool who would try to run his company based on what Jesus would have done is going to find himself out of a job quickly since Jesus would have sold the company and given all the profits to the poor. And Jesus never viewed himself as a leader because he wasn’t a leader, he was a Savior. His authority didn’t need to be earned; it was deserved because he was God.

I’m writing this because I know there are many in the ministry who are struggling or suffering because of this deception. Christians don’t need to learn to be good leaders, they need to learn to be God followers (see what I did there? Two in one blog posting!). The missions field is full of cowboys and lone wolves who have been deceived into thinking if something needs to be done, they need to do it themselves. Why try to partner with another ministry that probably has theological or philosophical differences from you when you can simply start your own thing, like a true entrepreneur? In a nation like Japan, where Christian workers are rarer than a late train on the Yamanote line, it’s not just a deception, it is a death sentence. Every day wasted by not working together to serve the Japanese is hundreds, thousands of opportunities lost forever to the cold, unrelenting hand of death.

God, let me learn to be a great follower, to check my ego at the immigration counter and simply learn to serve you with unswerving loyalty and infinite patience.