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Coaching in Japan – The Cross Cultural Workplace

News views and events from Leadenhall

The Executive Coaching market in Japan can be traced back to the 1990’s with the foundation of the Japan Coach Association in 1999, a sign of the emergence of coaching as a profession.

Since then, market has developed into several different dimensions:

  • Coaching provided to Japanese Executives in domestic Japanese companies and while they are on assignments overseas. Domestic coaching firms provide this service, usually Japanese coaches working with Japanese executives on their development.
  • Executives from outside Japan who are on international assignment (or have moved to Japan to live and work more permanently) and
  • Japanese executives who work for international firms.


While executive coaching within global companies in Japan has followed a similar agenda and approach to coaching elsewhere in the world, there is a particular dynamic that adds a different dimension to the coaching work required.


Put simply, many of the the subsidiaries of international companies in Japan are at the interface of a distinct business and social cultural difference which makes effective communication and working practices more difficult.  This is usually combined with the ‘Head Office’ vs ‘Local Office’ dynamic which is a feature of many international organisations.

Our research has uncovered a couple of important issues:

  1. Western executives and leaders who try to lead and motivate Japanese employees with a western management model/mindset and become frustrated when they do not have similar results to home.
  2. Japanese executives frustrated that there is a ‘glass ceiling’ preventing them from progressing to more senior levels with their perception is that they are not ‘western’ enough or they are not exhibiting western executive behaviours in certain circumstances.


How is Leadenhall leading the revolution of Coaching for these executives?

Initially, there were western coaches looking to coach ex-patriate executives and Japanese locals on what they need to do to succeed in working at this interface between two cultures.  The coaching was generally in English and worked to help people understand the differences in business and social culture.

Leadenhall is now looking at Japanese coaches playing a part in coaching employees and leading workshops on leadership effectiveness in cross-cultural workplaces and women in leadership.  We are also looking to implement a Japanese interpretation of diversity and inclusion that is not a straight lift from the western model and focuses on what these things mean in a Japanese context.

At Leadenhall our hand-picked Japanese coaches, fluent in English; with considerable international experience in Asia and beyond;  bring a unique understanding of the challenges and proficiencies of working in this cross cultural workplace.  Leadenhall delivers one to one coaching and lead facilitated workshops for Japanese and non-Japanese executives for high quality international firms in the finance, consulting, technology and pharmaceutical sectors.

Keiko Shinohara our Japanese Associate Director has some more first hand insight:

Based on our experiences in coaching Japanese executives and leaders from other parts of the world, we are seeing that many Japanese executives aspire to develop themselves in several areas.

The first in their aspiration to become a global leader – The biggest challenge for many Japanese executives is their ability to communicate comfortably and effectively in English. People are often afraid of speaking in English because they want to be perfect and right. They need to overcome the mental barrier and realize that it is only a tool for communication, so that they can enjoy working with people from other countries and leading confidently in a cross-cultural environment.

The second is the desire to be visionary and authentic – Japanese are group-oriented: often people prefer to follow others and be part of a group. Despite being very hard-working and effective in process and execution, Japanese executives are often under-developed in terms of business vision, and demonstration of their passion and personal brand. Exploring who they are and becoming confident of their authentic self will enhance their ability to influence and inspire others.

Finally, they are keen to implement Adopting coaching approach to their leadership – Many Japanese leaders want to enhance team motivation and engagement, but find it difficult. In addition, managers are required to have regular 1-on-1 conversations with their team members in many Japanese companies. Despite their interest in adopting coaching in the workplace, there is a strong tendency for leaders wanting to teach, to know the answers, and to tell others what to do. However, the first step in coaching begins with deep listening and asking questions to make others think on their own.

Keiko Shinohara is one of Leadenhall’s high quality coaches based in Japan.  Find out more about her and her coaching practice and take a peak at her meet-the-coach video:


Leadenhall provides high quality in person and digital coaching and leadership development around the world. For more information on our Japanese and global services please drop us a line.

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