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The Amazing Race: Tokyo

December 16, 2020 — Leave a comment

Welcome back to The Amazing Race Series!

As those who have been reading this blog for awhile know, my passion is global business and I love to travel and interact with different people from different places.  Everywhere I go (and I have lived, worked or traveled to over 90 countries), I truly enjoy observing distinct cultures and taking away lessons learned from every place and every culture I interact with.  In fact, a good deal of my life’s work is based on this very concept.

I have frequently done business in Japan throughout my career, specifically Tokyo. It is interesting how the country and the culture have changed over time, but beneath its surface lies an extremely productive and effective society.

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To the outsider – or gaijin, as we are known to the locals – Japanese business customs appear to be so deeply entrenched in culture and tradition that they couldn’t possibly be applicable to the rest of the world. But don’t be too quick to write off the value that Japanese business practices offer the rest of the world…

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As those who have been reading this blog for a while know, my passion is global business. I love to travel and interact with different people from different places.  Everywhere I go (and I have lived, worked or traveled to over 90 countries), I truly enjoy observing distinct cultures and taking away lessons learned from each place and every culture I engage with.  In

Vienna

fact, a good deal of my life’s work is based on this very concept.

Recently, while attending Board Meetings in Vienna, I had the privilege of engaging with several colleagues – global executives and academic experts – to discuss some rather interesting views relating to the differences in business perspectives between Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.  It became interesting as the various views on doing business in different regions shifted… but today, Vienna:

Vienna is a beautiful city filled with exquisite buildings, powerful opera halls, sophisticated clothing and incredible art. The Viennese people themselves, without a doubt, embody “Culture” with a Capital C. From high art to street art, from music to theater, ballroom dance to interpretive movement, architecture to fashion – it’s all there…and it’s simply a way of life.

It is fascinating to find the city’s great landmarks are (literally) lived in, not just admired. While aesthetic and cultural traditions are highly respected, they have also grown and changed with the times. Just as Viennese youth still learn to waltz in preparation for Viennese Ball Season, moving in the same coordinated steps as the generations that came before, so too do they move through the city with a purpose that is determined to ensure Vienna becomes an economic powerhouse with unlimited business opportunities as they move into their future.

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Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, visiting Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick and a prayer, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

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As those of you who read my posts frequently know, I travel internationally a lot and I truly love experiencing other cultures and different ways of life! I have had the opportunity to return to Istanbul, Turkey for work on multiple occasions. I always feel as if I return to a city with an ever-evolving modern character that is still, at its core, bound by tradition. As I observe the frenzy of activity going on around me in the only city in the world that resides on two continents,  I often think about how there are unique leadership lessons inherent in every environment. If  we pay close attention, there is also learning inherent in each of these environments. It is easy to overlook the reminders that abound and I sometimes think to myself, “What can I learn from a country that has been riddled with unrest, struggles with human rights issues and is in a constant state of flux?” I it sometimes hard to see. Yes, these things are true… but it does not negate the fact that there are important reminders (lessons) that impact how we interact with people as leaders and how our views, as leaders, affect those around us. I have found that often, a change in scenery offers a valuable change in perspective.  Here are just a few of the things that came to my mind as I experienced, once again, one of the most amazing cities in the world:

  1. Business and personal relationships do not have to be mutually exclusive…

Living and visiting countries all over the world on a regular basis throughout most of my life, I remain very aware of how unique one location is from another. However, it also reminds me that despite the differences, there are some core foundations that we should all observe and incorporate. In our western culture, we tend to believe that work and life are separate. However in Istanbul, where East meets West, business and personal relationships are heavily intertwined.  The diversity and complexity of individuals is shaped not only by their culture, but through relationships that are consistently valued and continually evolve throughout a lifetime. As I attend client meetings focused solely on getting to know one another better, I am reminded how Turkish people usually only do business with people they know, like and respect.  In Turkey, business will only materialize if effective personal relationships are built. This is not only important in the moment, but throughout a lifetime. Later, as I visit the world famous Spice Bazaar, I am reminded once again how relationships can thread through our lives –  both as people and leaders – as I stop to chat with a shopkeeper and am invited in… not just for a sale, but to build a relationship. We chat for twenty minutes, shared some delicious apple tea (a hospitality must in Turkey), and exchange contact information. On my next visit will I stop in and purchase from Iskandar? Of course, but I will also recommend this particular shopkeeper to anyone I know visiting Istanbul!  As leaders, it seems to me that we could be infinitely more effective if we slowed down (both in our personal and professional lives), borrowed a page from the Turkish playbook, and took the time to get to know our colleagues on a more personal level – facilitating an extensive and priceless network of not only colleagues, but friends, that will benefit us for a lifetime.

2.      One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to learn from those above and teach those below…

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LetsConnectBigThe past couple of weeks I have been doing a considerable amount of thinking around the value of networking. Last week I was in meetings with clients and we spoke extensively about the value of networking to the Extreme Leader and how life in the global economy has changed us. This week I am preparing for board meetings in Vienna, and guess what? Still thinking about networking and how it has changed as we now commonly work across boundaries and borders.

Here are some fundamental insights and observations:
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