Leadership Lessons from a Heart-wrenching Tragedy

Originally published on ProjectConnections.com April 2011.

Pardon me if I’m not my normally humorous self. I’m obsessing on disaster these days after the recent quake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant tragedies in Japan. While there have been plenty of tragedies in the past that could have consumed my emotional bandwidth (see the complete list on Wikipedia if you don’t already feel like self-medicating with tequila), this is much more personal. Just about every month for the last five years I’ve flown to Japan to work for a couple of weeks. From my home in the Silicon Valley, Japan seemed a long way off. Until now, that is.

On March 11 at 4:00 AM the iPhone on my bed table rang. It was my dad calling from my parents’ home in Florida. “Get up! Your friends are in trouble,” he said. I don’t know what he thought I could do about a natural disaster occurring over 5,000 miles away, but that’s my dad—no matter how dire the circumstances, he always thinks there’s something a person can do to make a positive difference.Continue reading

Collaboration is Killing Me!

A lot of my work in the past couple of years has been consulting with a company in Tokyo called ALC Education.  It’s the biggest project of my life, with the longest time horizon of anything my A.D.D. brain has ever had to wrap itself around.  The goal of this project is nothing less than planetary transformation, something I’ve had a hankering to work on since my youth, but lacked the personal vision of exactly how to go about it.  All kidding aside, the senior executives who lead this company have told me quite matter-of-factly that they intend to transform the Japanese economy for the better, for the good of the world, through shifting the mindsets of leaders in international Japanese businesses.  When pressed, they estimated that it will take somewhere around a decade to get some traction on this whole mindset shift that will enable their clients to “solve global problems profitably”. Continue reading

The “Yes We Can” Boys of Akishima, Japan

It’s easy to be a cynic, like the person who made this ever-so-uninspiring sign . . . but . . . weird things are happening to me when I travel abroad since President Obama was elected.  I was recently at a local summer festival in Akishima, near Tokyo.  Now, just to give you some idea about the town of Akishima, it’s a good hour’s train ride from the center of Tokyo, and that’s on an express train.  They’ve got a bit of industry there, but it’s fairly “sleepy” as a town compared with Tokyo.  The big attraction for the festival, which was held at the elementary school near the train station, was a raised platform where the townspeople took turns amusing one another by belting out karaoke tunes.  My friend’s 87 year old mother snuck out of the house to go back to the festival after we’d called it quits, and we found her sipping sake and eating noodles with the over-80 crowd in the VIP tent when we finally tracked her down.Continue reading

Tokyo Book Launch Party "Genki"!

Kimberly_Pink“Genki” is a word my Japanese colleagues frequently use to describe me.  They tell me it means I am cheerful and fun, but I’m pretty sure it is a secret code meaning that I’m noisy, wild, and just a tad scary.  Nevertheless somewhere around five dozen people turned up for the book launch party for the Japanese version of “Scrappy Project Management” last night, and they all seemed pretty “genki” to me.  One of the party guests, who was a graduate of one of our six month Global Leadership Development Programs this past year gave a rousing congratulations speech.  The highlight was when he asked the audience to participate with him as he “challenged convention” in such a speech, removed his suit jacket, rolled up the sleeves on his crisp business shirt, and then got everyone flinging their arms in the air while shouting “Exciting!” to help express his feeling about the whole book lalapalooza.  His final wish was that I become a billionaire, but I’m not sure if he meant dollars, yen, or rupees.

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Onboard a Flying Swine Flu Screening Clinic

worlddoctorfluI’m healthy and I have proof!  Yes, indeedy, I have a cheerful yellow A4 size piece of paper from the Japanese government that testifies to the fact that I survived and passed a quarantine inspection.  That’s no small matter, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to surviving: 1) the hellish drive from my home to the San Francisco Airport, 2) the security inspection line at the airport, where well-meaning security guards who remind me of my mother bellow admonitions like “Take your shoes off!”, 3) airline food, 4) economy seating (the meaning of numb-bummosis should be clear even to people who are NOT medical professionals), 5) Eight channels of mildly uninspiring movies to choose from on the 10 hour flight.Continue reading

Welcome to the Worldwide Economic Mood Disorder!

Get out of the boxThe current global crisis, which I’m calling the “worldwide economic mood disorder” (WEMD for short), hit right about the time I was feeling that I’d finally recovered from the dot-com bubble bust of 2001. Although that period of business convulsions did reach beyond the Silicon Valley, my neighborhood was definitely “ground zero”. My cushy job as VP of Program Management and Organizational Effectiveness at a Xerox Parc spin-off evaporated, along with my inflated six figure salary and a very snazzy Jaguar that I hastily replaced with a second-hand Mustang convertible. I watched my exceedingly brilliant, experienced and well-educated friends from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the like, hit the job-search streets like bums looking for a place to crash for the night. I kept a list of all of the people I knew who were unemployed on my desk so I could send them job leads.Continue reading

Lights, Camera, Get Me the Hell Outta Here!

scared-monkey.pngLast week I spent 3 days in a TV studio in Tokyo filming 7 hours worth of my maniacal approach to breakthrough leadership. The 14 thirty minute shows will first air on Japanese business TV, and then be available for all the world to see on a broad band learning channel associated with one of the most successful global business schools in all of Japan, Kenichi Ohmae’s Business BreakThrough organization.

When I met Mr. Ohmae he was sporting a painting of a little soldier on his fingernail, something entirely out of alignment with everything the “experts” had told me about stodgy old Japanese businessmen. (I guess the world is changing faster than the experts can keep up!) Now 10 years ago I would have considered this video opportunity a dream come true. But the only feeling that I had as I pushed my way through the teaming masses in the humid subways of Tokyo was complete and utter terror. “Make love to the camera.” my friend advised. I just hoped I’d get to be on top. Continue reading