I am fascinated by the latest NHK Morning Drama, “Toto-ne-chan.” I am especially intrigued by the saga of three of the women leaders in the story, the owner of “Aoyagi Shoten” trading, the imposing Takiko Aoyagi, the unique teacher Chiyo Todo, and our heroine, Tsuneko Kohashi.
As women rightfully assume more and more leadership positions in business, in government, in academia, in all sectors, I see the question raised again and again – What is the most effective leadership style for women? I think the answer, based on the many, many role models out there, is that there is no single answer. Toto-ne-chan has her own unique way of engaging people. The often stern Takiko-san (but with a heart of gold) on the other hand runs her business in a more traditional style, and definitely gets results. And then there is the eccentric Chiyo Todo, the teacher who told her never to give up. Just in this one drama we have three different leadership styles by three different women. As I watch this drama, I am reminded of some of the extraordinary female leaders I have encountered in my own life, all with their own distinct ways of achieving their goals.
Ginni Rometty: Unite to Get it Done
I met the impressive IBM Chairwoman and CEO Ginni Rometty in Tokyo in June. She leads more than 400,000 employees worldwide. She made inspiring remarks at a conference organized by IBM on women business leaders, which also included a very moving speech by Japanese First Lady Akie Abe, an entrepreneur in her own right
Rometty said that years ago when IBM offered her a big promotion she asked her boss for time to think it over. She told her husband, Mark, that she thought she was not quite ready and needed a couple of years before she would be able to do her best. Mark said, Do you think a man would say that? That did it. She took the promotion right away and the rest is IBM history. She is known as a decisive leader who also introduced the Think Academy, an online education program for IBM employees worldwide. One of her principles is “Unite to get it done now.”
Shirley Ann Jackson: Aim For the Stars
I was also struck by the extraordinary personal history of Shirley Ann Jackson, President of the distinguished Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT. She was the first woman and first African-American to be Chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A woman of many firsts, and a leader in science. She advises young people setting out in life to set a direction then “try to keep your eye on that North Star.” Her father taught her, “Aim for the stars so you can reach the treetops.” She also counsels the importance of listening, empathy and consistent messaging, because “words mean something.”
Three Secretaries of State: Poised and Committed
I have worked for all three women Secretaries of State so far – Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton – three distinct styles, all highly accomplished and effective. An honor to work for all of them, as it is with Ambassador Kennedy, who has done so much for US-Japan friendship and our common goals.
Three brief vignettes, not about high policy but from seeing these three leaders close up. I was Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Ukraine in the early 2000s when Condoleezza Rice visited Kyiv as National Security Adviser. Despite the awesome responsibility she had, I found her very relaxed, polite and all business as we briefed her for her meetings with the Ukrainian leadership.
I was the Special Assistant for East Asian and Pacific Affairs when Madeleine Albright was Secretary of State and accompanied her on several trips, including to China, Indonesia and Thailand. I recall that she would select a brooch to wear to signal her official mood for the day – when she wore the dragon brooch one could expect serious negotiations!
Finally, I was Deputy Chief of Mission in Australia when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited multiple times. She always retained her calm and sense of humor regardless of the circumstances. We arranged for her to do a live interview on a very popular Australia program that was a bit off-beat. The interviewers showed up in tuxedos and tried to get her to invite them to an Australian-style barbeque at her residence. She took it all gamely in stride and gave back as good as she got. All three of these female leaders, I have to say, worked as hard as I have ever seen any executive work. I truly do not know how they kept up the pace.
Different leaders and managers, male and female, have different styles and that is all for the good. I have learned from my own experience, from running a consulate, to being the leader of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, to three assignments as Deputy Chief of Mission, that leadership is not a science and we have to know ourselves first before we can seek to understand and lead others. Be yourself.
We need all the help we can get to solve the problems that face us and build the future we all want. Toto-ne-chan found a way to get everyone (mostly) on board with her scheme to sell tooth powder in bento boxes; her enthusiasm was contagious. And I imagine what if Takiko Aoyagi were running one of Japan`s top corporations today…I think she would be a natural…