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Leadership Preferences in Japan: an Exploratory Study Report

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Updated: May 27th, 2019

Introduction

Japan is one of the most rapidly growing economies in the larger Asian continent. Many researchers have attempted to explore the various ways of life in this country including their institutional management, culture, and other diverse peculiar preferences. This report paper will offer a summary of the work conducted in finding out the most preferred leadership styles by Japanese followers in relation to the appropriateness of the Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model.

It will discuss the purpose of the research, the research methodology used, the findings, the problems encountered and their practical implications, and finally the impact of the Bass and Avolio’s and House’s leadership theories.

Objective

The case study sought to explore the most preferred leadership styles by the Japanese followers. The appropriateness of the entire Bass and Avolio’s model of leadership was also investigated. The research provides a review of the existing literature concerning the various leadership styles and theories, and culture that can be considered to influence the preference of a given way of leadership, especially by the Japanese followers.

The case study provides the nine scales of leadership extracted from Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model which most western researchers over the last two decades have considered it to have a universal influence. On the contrary, this case study explores the suitability of this model to the led people of Japan.

Methods

In order to come up with reliable findings and conclusion, the study mostly used a qualitative approach in the collection of data. Templates and numerous contents were also analysed. The data was collected in two phases: Phase 1 involved the use of semi-structured interviews while questionnaires were used during the second Phase. Three research questions were used:

  1. What are the perceptions of Japanese followers regarding contemporary culture?
  2. What are the perceptions of Japanese followers towards Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model?
  3. Are there aspects of leadership not covered by Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model, which can be defined as culture-specific conceptualisations of Japanese leadership?

This study involved 12 Japanese interviewees (five females and seven males), with an average age of 32.5. The respondents were Japanese employees and they identified themselves as followers under the supervision of Japanese leaders, and were drawn from several industries in Japan.

The subjects were asked three general questions at random. The first one sought to know the respondent’s recognition of Japanese leadership; the second enquired the kind of leader that the interviewee would like to work with, and lastly, the subject’s perception of Japanese culture. The data collected constituted Phase 1 and were analysed by template.

Phase 2 of the study involved the use of questionnaires and composed of 57 Japanese respondents (38 males and 19 females with an average age of 33.1) who were drawn from a cross-section of Japanese industries.

The questions were a further breakdown of the first three used in Phase 1 into 15 of them. Unlike in phase 1, Phase 2 was analysed by the content of the questionnaires. The language used in both phases was Japanese but the authors translated it into English.

Results

The interview results (Phase 1):

According to the study, most of the interviewees, when asked about the trend of the Japanese culture, their responses implied that the Japanese culture and the management systems have been changing as a result of internationalisation, the impact of the bubble economy, and the financial crisis experienced in Asia.

Furthermore, they identified a significant change from male chauvinism to gender equality, as reflected in the ever increasing number of female employees in virtually all Japanese places of work. However, two male interviewees suggested that male chauvinism, in their perception, still existed.

Two of them suggested that collectivism was still part and parcel of Japanese culture while two interviewees indicated that there had been a significant change from collectivism to individualism. Moreover, two interviewees thought seniority was still part of Japanese work culture. In the contrary, five suggested that meritocracy was on the rise.

On the other hand, eleven interviewees provided their responses concerning the Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership styles.

Firstly, despite the fact that idealized influence attributed is one of the five transformational leadership styles which are expected to be the most effective as far as enhancing performance is concerned, only two interviewees approved its use. Nine of them indicated negative attitude towards this style of leadership.

Six interviewees were positive about the use of idealized influence behaviours style of leadership. The collective sense of mission and the keenness towards decision-making exhibited by such leaders was their core reason for liking the style. However, five of the interviewees expressed their dislike, emphasising that in business, what matters most is the “outcome.”

Moreover, although it is one of the core transformational styles of leadership, the study had only five interviewees approving the use of inspirational motivation.

Some of them suggested that any leader in Japan who talked optimistically about the future was no longer effective following the burst of Japan’s economy. Most of them explained that followers needed a leader who has a proper understanding of managing risk and contingency plans instead of a ‘hopeful’ leader.

All the 11 interviewees approved a leader who exhibits the intellectual stimulation style. This was due to their belief that such a leader has the potential of solving the day to day problems and proposing strategies of handling future issues. Individualised consideration, on the other hand, was supported by seven interviewees.

The interviewees who approved of such a style considered its effectiveness especially as companies increasingly focused on individual performance and competences. This follows the perceived growth of meritocracy in Japan. Those interviewees who were negative on this style of leadership suggested that group targets might not be achieved if the leader focuses on individual needs.

Contingent reward, which is a transactional style of leadership, and supposed to be less effective compared to the five transformational styles of leadership in motivating the workers to optimum out put, was supported by 8 interviewees. They suggested that the use of rewards depending on performance to motivate employees was very effective in enhancing motivation.

For the case of management-by-exception active, one interviewee claimed that it was not dispensable while the rest did not endorse it, either. They argued that such leaders cause tension in the work place and hence less motivation of followers. Similarly, management-by exception passive was not approved by any of the interviewees and they expressed their unilateral dislike of the laissez-faire leadership approach.

The third part of the study evaluated the Japanese leadership styles. The opinions of the interviewees on the actual styles of leadership in Japan included directive leadership, participative leadership, social activities outside work, and overtime-work.

Two interviewees explained that their leaders embraced directive style of leadership where they give specific orders to be strictly followed, whereas three interviewees mentioned participative leadership. Two of them saw this type of leader as very accommodative and one claimed that the participative style can be problematic if the leader cannot make own decisions.

Eight interviewees approved the need for social activities outside work. Seven explained that such activities provide the platform for followers to interact with their leaders and share openly. Furthermore, six interviewees mentioned overtime-work. Most of them thought that there was still overtime-work in most Japanese companies and that the length of the overtime-work depends, to some degree, on the type of leader in charge.

During the study, Protective, network, and gender equality leadership was mentioned by the interviewees. Four interviewees approved the protective leader who can stand up for them and defend them from the onslaught of senior mangers. On the other hand, three interviewees supported the network leadership and expected their leader to help them advance in their career-path by being influential.

Furthermore, gender equality was mentioned by three subjects. Two of the interviewees saw it as appropriate for the then current state of affairs in Japan. Only one interviewee considered this idea as being superficial and a western ideology without any relevant Japanese adjustment.

The questionnaire results (Phase 2)

From the study, 30 respondents, representing 52.6 % felt that the Japanese culture had some convergence with the Western culture as a result of globalisation. 24 (42.1%) thought that internationalisation had not caused any convergence between Japanese and western culture, and a low 5.3% were not sure whether there was any convergence.

In relation to Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model, 51 respondents provided useful information concerning the type of leader(s) whom they would prefer to work with or under. The responses were initially compared with the nine “assumed categories” from Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model. The content analysis method was used in the comparison.

From the analyses, 51 % approved the individualised consideration while intellectual stimulation received seven positive comments. Contingent reward, on the other hand, had five respondents supporting it while management-by-exception active had two.

Inspirational motivation, idealised influence behaviour, and idealised influence attributed each received one positive comment. Moreover, management-by-exception passive and laissez-faire were approved by none of the respondents.

When asked to comment about their individual preferences towards Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership style, according to the study, most of the respondents did not endorse many of the transformational styles of leadership. In fact, 34 respondents, representing 59.6 % of the respondents, were positive about contingent reward, which is a transactional style of leadership.

As for the Japanese leadership styles, the study investigated both the actual and the preferred styles of leadership. 49 responses were considered useful for the research analysis. The participative leadership was the most mentioned followed by directive leadership. Authoritarian and protective leadership follow respectively. Next, there were the bargaining and laissez-faire, followed by supportive style.

The ones that were least mentioned are punctual and egocentric leadership. Further findings reveal that Japanese followers believe that their leaders base their judgments more upon their own abilities, competences, and performances instead of gender differences or age. 68.4 % of the respondents approved the worth of overtime-work.

Practical implications

From the analysis of the findings of both the interviews and questionnaires, leaders who work in Japan would find this case study very useful. It helps them know the preferred styles of leadership within the Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model. The leaders will then adjust accordingly for better results.

Implications for future research

This case study concludes that it is important for researchers to carry out investigations which are culture-specific, for instance in Japan. The case study further notes that western theories should not be generalised under all contexts.

The findings provide the link between traditional and modern leadership approaches. The challenge encountered in the study was the small representation of the Japanese people in the research. Future researches should involve more subjects to enhance the credibility of the findings.

Conclusion

This report has attempted to provide a summary of the research into the suitability of Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model to the Japanese context. It has highlighted major findings both from the interviews and questionnaires.

The highly endorsed style of leadership was the contingent reward. Notably, this was found to contradict the earlier assumption by the Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model which is not comprehensive when it comes to leadership preferences by Japanese followers.

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