Sep 15, 2023


Just a nobody

──The next-generation leader to form a team with humility

Yasushi Saito has specialized in administrative accounting and has dealt with "numbers" for many years since joining DENSO in 2006. He generally worked well with his idea about how leaders "should" be. According to him, however, the idea collapsed when he had his subordinates for the first time. Then, Saito broke out of the "framework" that had bound him with his efforts. Now he envisions another image of leaders. Let's unravel it.

Contents of this article

    Expertise cultivated over many years of administrative accounting

    ─Hello, Saito-san. First of all, could you tell us what you do in your current position?

    Saito:In the Corporate Strategy Division, I work as a manager of the section that manages profit & loss and resources including capital investment and research & development costs of DENSO group companies inside and outside Japan. While delegating basic tasks to applicable members who have high-level expertise in the relevant field, I am in charge of the general management of the section.

    ─Would you tell us about your career in DENSO?

    Saito:I joined DENSO as a new graduate in 2006 and was in charge of cost planning in a business unit. I experienced various tasks including planning a sales price for customers, working out product costs, and conducting difficult negotiations with partners. Some of them were tough, but I can now recall that those experiences cultivated my sensitivity about "numbers" and my capability to proceed with work by involving people around me.

    In 2014, I was transferred to the Corporate Planning Division to be in charge of the development of corporate policies. From 2018 to 2021, I was on loan to DENSO INTERNATIONAL AMERICA, INC., the North American regional headquarters. As a manager of corporate planning there, I was mainly in charge of management of regional profit & loss and resources.

    ─You had a difficult time because COVID-19 was spreading at that time, didn’t you?

    Saito:Yes. The infection forced us to significantly reduce production in 2020. I had difficulty making a cross-regional effort to reduce fixed costs while developing urgent measures for improving profit & loss.

    However, that contrarily enabled me to have intensive discussions with local members, and that was a very good experience for me. In September 2021, I was transferred to the current section in Japan.

    Shattered image of leaders

    ─I think that you experienced the necessary things for your current job as a manager while you were on loan to the group company in the US. Do you sometimes feel that you are suited to your current duties?

    Saito:Honestly saying, I was proud of my experience and knowledge right after I was back in Japan. I played the role of a manager under tough circumstances while I was on loan to a group company in the US, and it gave me confidence.

    I told myself, "I should be able to lead team members standing at the head of them because I have been working so hard." or "I am second to none, even if they are younger or older than me. I will do it myself". By putting pressure on myself like this, I tried to make myself look stronger at that time. But such a thought was completely knocked down.

    ─What do you mean by "knocked down"?

    Saito:In the course of an in-house management training program to deeply look back at how I usually behave or think, I had an opportunity to receive advice based on my personality. A trainer said, "You never make a detour." "You may have no room in your mind to take in others’ opinions because you are apt to do things straightaway using "numbers" towards concluding. You may fail to find the possible new options".

    It was also clearly pointed out that "You make me feel you are proud of something about "numbers", but I cannot figure out what you are trying to make or what you want to do". To be honest, I was hit by the words.

    I managed various types of numbers and participated in many different projects to improve them. I was proud of myself because I had refined my technical knowledge. However, I noticed that I had been bound by my image of leaders who promote things positively with the idea that "I have to be more familiar with tasks than anybody else in the section and have to show strong leadership."

    Photo: Included in DRIVEN BASE only

    ─I think you cannot so easily change your image of leaders cultivated through your experience...

    Saito:Naturally, I could not think differently right away.

    However, after seeing my seven members, I realized that they had their strengths and an overwhelming amount of knowledge in each field. Not only do they have much amount of knowledge, but also they sometimes see things from much higher viewpoints and with much wider view fields than mine. I recognized and accepted the fact that they were all leaders in each field regardless of years of employment or current titles.

    Then, I changed my mind to realized that I should play the role of creating an environment where my members can make the most of their strengths. I also realized that I should focus on behaving differently now and show better results as a team.

    To improve me beyond the "framework"

    ─Have you addressed anything new after changing your image of leaders?

    Saito:First, I provided the members with a place to discuss or have a dialogue so that individuals can freely talk to each other. Naturally, it was to have them show their expertise in a relaxed atmosphere to enhance the operation results. It was a significant discovery that freely exchanging opinions and sharing a sense of issues with them enabled me to find their high motivation.

    Thinking and speaking about what you want to do or what you should do as an individual without the frameworks such as the titles and the ages, for example, "What should I do to further grow the business" or "How can I make the most of my expertise", leads to behaving actively. My desire to achieve goals all together working even more lively than before has been further stronger.

    ─You are looking forward to the effort starting to be successful, aren’t you? Apart from your team members, is there anything that you are thinking of for your improvement?

    Saito:I think I have to find “something only I can do” and refine it, although it is still underway. I believe this will also help me “live my own life”.

    Looking back on my career, I have piled up my jobs of administrative accounting that "manage what someone else has produced using numbers", and there has not been the element of "myself" there. Now I want to not only manage what others have produced but also think of "what I produce" more seriously.

    ─Have you got a clue to "living your own life"?

    Saito:No, not yet at all. However, I want to accomplish something and give myself a "good" score when I finish my career at the company or face the final stage of my life. Nobody will evaluate what will have been proper in my life. It is important that I convince myself at the time that my life will have been good.

    That's why it may be important to "believe in myself". In that sense, I think that from now on I have to actively behave beyond the "framework", not do what I was told to do within the "framework".

    To be the next leader with a humble attitude

    ─You are trying to go beyond your stereotyped image of leaders or the "framework". This is linked to your intention to continue improving yourself, isn't it? Could you tell us the image of true leaders you envision now?

    Saito:I think true leaders can lead people with a hypothesis.

    The hypothesis here does not mean a set of ideas that are closed within the leader. It does mean a kind of mechanism with which the leader listens to and accepts the opinions of various people, shares good ideas with colleagues and merges them into a better one. The leader should be able to develop such a mechanism and allow his/her team to conduct the mechanism. I think that is the true leader.

    ─Having heard your story, now I feel that you have a sense of justice and a strong core. Finally, is there anything you cherish at work?

    Saito:Currently, I work as a manager to lead my team members. I think that the first important thing is to be humble, not to be too proud. I believe that respecting others from my heart will help move their mind.

    Trying to keep the stance reminds me of the words: "just a nobody". When I get up in the morning, I am natural before doing something for the day. I feel that is the instance of being "just a nobody". You can make an effort and study hard because you are just a nobody. You can humbly accept the greatness of others and try to work together because you are just a nobody.

    I believe so.

    * The information contained in this interview was as of May 2023.


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