Comparison between US and Japan Leadership


Empowerment of top management and employees is considered essential in the modern world. Leadership in organizations links all the functional departments in a corporate body. Several studies link leadership styles and approaches employed to the ultimate performance of a company. Additionally various studies show a positive correlation between the applied leadership and various factors which affect organizational efficiency including satisfaction of employees, empowerment and satisfaction of organizations clients. The need and role of strategic management in organizational management cannot be overstated. Managers take decisions on behalf of on behalf of company shareholders. These decisions involve resources utilization in such ways that it enhances organizations performance (Hambrick & Chen, 2007). These decisions made by managers define the strategic management initiatives that are intended to keep firms running profitably. The processes involved in strategic management are often cumbersome and often requires a systematic methodology if proper decisions are to be made. Marketing managers deals with strategic decision that affects individual company marketing strategies (Lamb, 1984). Various persons have written articles that touch on strategic management issues in order to create more enlightenment into the processes and what it takes to make a strategic management decision. Various authors have cited that organization prosperity is often pegged on the ability of the managers to make strategic decision that positively impact on its performance (Hambrick & Chen, 2007). They cite that it offer a unique opportunity for managers to analyze and understand both external and internal environments that impact n their firms in order to come up with rational decisions that offer direction to the organization (Handwerker, 2002). It has often been stated that firms that practice strategic management tend to outperform their counterparts who do not practice the same. Most executives have for instance indicated high satisfaction levels strategic management tools in coming with crucial decision affecting organizational performance Handwerker, 2002). It is important to emphasize that most researchers acknowledge the importance of strategic management in organizational management.

In US and Japan, leadership approaches significantly differ and so does productivity associated with them. Various persons state that leadership between the two is discordant in nature with little links existing between the two. A young US executive who joined a Japanese industry failed to cope after staying for a period of two years without getting promoted despite having better qualification that most of the staff. However, he appreciated the fact that the management was more understanding to his individual needs and personal life. Out of his ambition, the executive regretted that he had to eventually leave the organization. This is just reflective of the differing leadership nature in which the two nation’s leaderships operate. This paper studies the leadership approaches and attempts to either confirm or dispute the widespread assumption that Japanese leadership styles significantly differ from American leadership styles.

Background information

Japan and United States of America have a plethora of differences in culture. This translates into difference in leadership styles and approaches adopted by leaders from respective countries. Various researchers have cited that the difference in leadership styles is a direct product of diverse culture and societal norms across these countries. Japan, unlike the United States is widely known for its participatory leadership where team work is of prime importance. Additionally, their approach to professionalism is rather generalized unlike the case in America. A recent research established enormous differences between the management styles applied in the US in comparison to those applied in Japan (Yancey, 2009). The differences infiltrated all core leadership dimensions. Additionally, the research indicated that managerial perceptions with regard to effectiveness of departments also differ enormously (Yancey, 2009). Various studies on leadership styles in America and Japan have pointed out some salient features that distinguish the two from each other (Sullivan & Nonaka, 1986).

Corporate leadership and management have in the recent past received lots of attention globally with regard to corporate performance and success globally (Mehta, et al., 2003). Various critics to global leadership approaches cite that diverse management styles account for competitiveness difference levels in global corporations. While many leadership experts agree that leadership is easy to learn and adapt to newer techniques, they note that the learning process is tedious and lengthy and hence the role of culture cannot be underestimated. Joe Reynolds, an ex-executive of Proctor and Gamble compares learning new leadership approach to learning how to play a violin in front of strangers (Tichy & Ulrich, 1984). Leadership styles can therefore be said to vary across cultures and leadership backgrounds. Conceptual leadership and management models are often identified based on six principles dimensions. These include style of supervisions, decision making approaches, communication techniques, control mechanisms, inter-departmental relationship and paternalistic orientation (Sullivan & Nonaka, 1986). These dimensions are useful in defining leadership patterns as they basically highlight the differences and similarities associated with leadership patterns. Additionally, they are useful in defining key leadership elements that constitute individual leadership styles.

Leadership style in America and Japan has a lot to contrast than associate. Ouchi identifies seven major characteristics of Japanese leadership that form basis for comparison to American leadership approaches (Ouchi, 1981). These include employment for a lifetime, career paths which lack specialization, implicit mechanisms of control, collective approach to decision making, collective approach to responsibility, and a holistic concern which covers employee-employer relationship including non-work, personal and family issues concern. He goes to further to assert that these traits are a direct contradiction of leadership doctrine witnessed in American leaders. He attributes these traits to the culture and lifestyle in America (Locke & Latham, 1984). Unlike, Japanese leadership style, American approach to leadership involves a task oriented supervisory style and most employs transactional leadership techniques. American leaders emphasize concrete results in decision making, and the decision making process is less participatory compared to Japanese leadership approach (Johnson, 1988). Top down and individual decision making initiatives seem to top the common trends in American leadership environments.

Principles of conceptual management

Supervisory style

Supervisory style refers to the interactions undertaken between the supervisors and their sub-ordinate. Different supervisors often adopt different ways in the process of managing operations.

Decision making

Decision making in management refers to the different approaches that different managers take in deciding the appropriate path to adopt in handling issues affecting operations under them. Each and every organization is run by a team of management personalities. Among the key functions of the management team is decision making. Each and every decision made in a firm translates into either a productive or non-productive outcome. Likewise, any change to either the external of the internal forces affecting a firm must be accompanied by a relevant decision making by the management team (Hofstede, 2001). In analyzing this subject, this paper will discuss some of the external forces that may affect managerial decision making within a firm.

Among the most important distinguishing characteristics of a good manager is his/her decisiveness. The way a manager handles a decision making process is what distinguishes her/him from the other managers. However, it is important to note that there are key factors that must be considered in decision making process (Hofstede, 2001). This may include government policies, organizations goals, emerging technology, market trends and most importantly is the nature of competition.

Government policies largely influence decision making within any organization. Each firm has the responsibility of keeping in line with the policies of the government under which it operates. A good example is the introduction of the German Packaging Regulations. Each firm had to make crucial decisions in order to comply with this regulation that required more funding by the firms.

The goals of the organization must be taken into account in making decision. Each organization has a prime goal of making profit. Any decision that might fail to address this goal is destructive to the firm and should be resisted by the management during their decision making process (Hofstede, 2001). It is important that the needs of both the stakeholders and stockholders be put into consideration during decision making.

Emerging technological change and market trends also affect decision making within organizations. The world has over the last years experienced a high rate of technological advancement as well as market diversity. As new technology erupts and new market trends emerge, there has been increasing need for corporate managers to make decision that will not only improve their performance but will also ensure that its production meets the changes (Hofstede, 2001). They must therefore be put into consideration during decision making process.


Communication in organizations refers to information communication including duty establishment, tasks, roles, and other aspects that ensure smooth work flow within the organization.

Control mechanism

These refer to standards of comparison adopted by managers.

Interdepartmental relations

They describe inter-departmental interactions within the entity. Often this aspect of management is facilitated by inputs obtained from various departments.

Paternalistic orientation

Makes reference to the concerns that managers have with regard to their employee’s welfare, and other non-job factors which affect the employee’s lifestyle.

Research methodology

This paper compares the leadership styles adopted by the US in comparison to those adopted in Japan. Accordingly, the descriptive research offers a clear picture of the necessary elements that constitute the management styles adopted by the two. It opens by first given an in-depth analysis of the existing leadership and styles of leadership styles. A secondary data review methodology is applied where both which involves extensive review of both published and unpublished reports on this study area. The study also extended from being qualitative to descriptive because qualitative approach requires descriptive methods to come up with more credible and comprehensive results.

Accordingly, with the descriptive research, it is necessary to have a clear picture of the phenomena on which a researcher wishes to collect data prior to the collection of the data (Harber & Samson, 1989). Even if many project tutors are often suspicious on work that is too descriptive, and they will want a researcher to go further and draw conclusions from the data gathered, description in management and business research has a very clear place, although, it should not be thought of as an end in itself, but only as a means to an end (Harber & Samson, 1989). The research approach is basically qualitative. Simplistically, typical qualitative research is often viewed as different research method sets bearing several commonality features. In this case, qualitative methods are in collection of information relevant to leadership in America and Japan. Such information include events, activities, behavioural occurrences and other factors that help understand the actions and behaviours which motivate leadership traits in these two countries.

Qualitative research, allows the researcher to be adaptable at all stages of the research process because it is both inductive and deductive (Creswell 1994). The approach is initially inductive. In essence this indicates that initially, themes, patterns and information categories are not imposed but rather emerge automatically. Working propositions are later developed and working ideas/propositions tested and in analysis of the existing data thus transforming the research into a deductive one. At this stage additional data is obtained to reinforces/concur with the secondary data resented. The constant interplay between collection of data and its analysis, results into description of qualitative research as being iterative. The value of qualitative research can best be understood by examining its characteristics (Collis & Hussey 2003). Its openness and allowing of refinement room for research ideas presented, gives this method an advantage over other quantitative research which is often stringent on collected data. Additionally, the method is advantageous as the researcher does not manipulate research presentations but rather undertakes to understand and present the information presented. Unlike deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning is of common usage in qualitative research alongside content analysis in favour of statistical analysis(Marshall & Rossman, 1995).

The key point in qualitative data analysis as used in this context is concerned with data reduction and interpretation. Reduction of the data includes carving it into information chunks which are manageable an easy to understand. The data is generally simplified and configured into patterns which fit and relate to each other.

The data used in this research was solely secondary. These included both raw unpublished information and published information from previous researches. The secondary information analyzed utilized both qualitative and quantitative techniques in coming up with its findings. Marshall and colleagues (2003) construed that secondary data fall into three main subgroups namely documentary data, survey-based data, and those compiled from different sources. The researcher particularly utilized data from books, magazines and journals and newspapers. As already mentioned, the data were qualitatively analyzed to come with relevant conclusions on the differing and similar approaches to leadership in US and Japan.

Styles of leadership

With the extensive collection of leadership literatures, it is but common to expect that there have been sufficient evidences to provide comprehensive comparison to any leadership topic involving styles, countries, and so on. Leadership in its hundred of definitions is summed up in terms of specification and application. Leadership style refers to the leadership degree accorded by a senior staff to his/her junior staff to influence their behavioural approach to organizational task accomplishment (Gibson & Marcoulides 1995). Examining various leadership styles in every given country like United States and Japan is important in international context because it serves as a potent source of criteria in evaluating the differences of these approaches particularly across geographical borders. Leadership styles are mainly assessed using scales developed by Schein (1983) asserts that include participative, supportive, and directive leadership styles. Because of the role of culture in the global business community, it is acknowledge that leadership styles are bounded by nationalistic attributes as applied in the business practice and arena. The trademarks of various nationalities are seen in any leadership endeavour as leaders are frequently identified in the ways and manners they manage situations and people through cultural inclinations (Achua & Lussier 2000). Furthermore, the changing conditions of the international business arena as well as its underlying functions necessitate constant evaluation of leadership styles not only within organisational boundaries but across national territories. The human labour force is also experiencing the transformation and that the people who lead every group must be equipped with the appropriate leadership style. Davenport and Prusak (1998) adhered to the idea that traditional criteria used to characterize successful leadership are no longer appropriate, if not insufficient, considering the trends of today’s modern workplace. The new practice and science of leadership entails a mixture of various vital skills acquired from professional environment, experience, and formal education. Experimental cases and business studies acknowledge that there is no single most excellent style of leadership (Davenport & Prusak 1998). Gibson & Marcoulides (2005) affirmed that the most triumphant leaders are the ones who are capable to adapt their leadership style specifically in providing subordinates’ needs and particular situations such as goal-setting and achievement.

Similarly, the existing knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required by workers particularly in highly industrialized countries like the United States, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom and others, are more complex. This is attributed to the global shift from a so-called “industry economy” to a “service economy” and now are supposed to be transforming on the way toward a “knowledge economy” (Abramson, 1997). As work progressively becomes “knowledge work”, Abramson (1997) argued that the need for traditional leadership styles will disappear. As a result, the order for a leadership style to be valuable in today’s contemporary workplace must regress from hierarchical position-based to new knowledge-based influences. There is a call for gradual integration of the lessons of leadership and management relationship and integration in the previous years. This is because knowledge workers no longer consider themselves as subordinates or employees instead make themselves more as “associates” of the organisation. This makes them unsuitable to be handled using conventional management practices (e.g. the Theory X or Theory Y way) (Taylor, 1990). The leadership styles employed by the managers need to more collaboration with workers knowledge instead of purely focusing on their management. Considering this aspect, the leadership styles of the United States and Japan and its individual characteristics must work towards overall organisational management.

Leadership in United States

The United States is a highly individualistic and masculine-oriented country where a culture of people includes the active recognition of their roles and contributions. In reference to the collected literatures, American leadership style is seemingly participative and supportive as it provides a strong support in carrying out organisational objectives and targets (Taylor, 1990). There is also a tendency to focus on self-interest and expectation to take care of their selves particularly in the possession or acquisition of wealth. They are mostly governed by strict implementation of rules and laws that hinder a comfortable, friendly environment. There are also given differences in leadership styles where specialised tasks are involved. For the aspect of motivation, directive leadership style in contrast to participative and supportive leadership styles is more effective especially in channel management (Mehta et al 2003). In motivation, Americans are said to be governed by rules for behaviour and rewards for achievement and these influences their individual advancement. Literatures in the organisational management support leadership as a primary determinant of motivation (Mehta et al 2003).

In the United States, leadership description focuses on leadership functions adopted by a leader within a work environment. American scholar Taylor (1990) describes the leadership style of the US as the process of assisting the subordinates and facilitating cumulative efforts to achieve a common goal. By looking on this description, the leadership style in US is more likely the participative type of leadership. The participative leadership style involves the role of subordinates. American leaders specifically utilize this style of leadership in coming up with appropriate leadership decisions. This is comparable to participative management in which subordinates share a significant part and degree of influence in the decision-making power of their superiors (Gibson & Marcoulides, 2005). As emphasised by Gibson & Marcoulides (2005), the five (5) types of participation approaches including the quality circle, works team that are self-directed, work-life quality program, and gain-sharing plans exist in various leadership endeavours. The classifications provide organizations in America with models which have the potential of enhancing participation of staff. Using the participative leadership style, American leaders consults subordinates, solicits their valuable suggestions, and considers the relevance of such particularly with regards to making decisions towards the development of organisational policies and procedures, for instance.

Furthermore, American leadership style includes the presence of contingency reward and punishment used in advantageous position. Charismatic leadership is seen important to all levels of management (Bass 1990). Although American leaders share many cultural values like Japanese, they are less relationship-oriented. For American leaders, the nature of intelligence, honesty, determination, understanding, and excellent communication skills is a must. However, early studies on leadership style sprouted from Hofstede (1980) concluded that Americans are likely to exhibit autocratic and centralized styles of leadership as that witnessed in countries Norway, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, or Pakistan. The leadership style of the U.S. shows strong positive relationships on the satisfaction of subordinates and general organisational commitment.

Japanese leadership

Japan, being a highly industrialised country, has been recognised as second largest business affiliate of US, leader in innovations and uses participative leadership. In reference to culture, it is also similar to that of Americans who has high indication of masculinity and medium on collectivism in contrast to Americans’ identified individualism (Vogel, 1979). They also establish an atmosphere of respect and obedience from their subordinates but they do not impose more rules and laws that affect overall working relationship and conditions. Their paternalistic history emerges on the manner they manage their subordinates. While most Japanese organisation are highly hierarchical and rigidly organises, they have an outstanding concern for the personal lives of their subordinates. Trust plays a vital role as most Japanese leaders leave their subordinates set of instructions and it is up to them to carry out the works. In terms of decision making, they similarly acknowledge the consensus of everyone particularly during extensive consultation. Mainly most leadership studies (Bass 1990; Ochi 1981) construe Japanese leaders as advocates of equality and group harmony. Charisma is shown by leaders when they set up overall organisational theme, develop strategy, and employ high-level outside relations. Taking risk is something that is very improbable because a Japanese leader is flexible, fair, empathetic listener, active, and accountable.

Accordingly, the leadership style used by Japanese leaders is effective especially in achieving superior levels of employee motivation, commitment, delegation in terms of decision making and intrinsic job satisfaction (Ochi, 1981). In terms of communication, Japanese leaders display more efficiency in building communication channels within their organizations. This is attributed to the natural love they have for creation of harmonized work places. They are bounded by human relationship as they needed to know their subordinates’ lives so as to provide understanding on the manner in which they behave and from here, leadership techniques are developed. Aside from the given traits in relation to leadership styles, Japanese are identified not to have more analytical tools to analyse workplace situations because they are much into many fields of expertise rather than specialising into single area (Yancey, 2009).


As an established belief, the cross-cultural differences and identities of each country affects the leadership styles being employed. The research of Hofstede (1980, 2001) can serve as a useful model (power distance, individualism, masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance) in identifying cultural differences (e.g. the case of the US and Japan). In specific reference to management and leadership dynamics, individualists emphasise individual action and self-interest (e.g. the Americans), while collectivists act and view themselves more as group members (e.g. the Japanese) (Yancey, 2009). In management practice, Yancey (2009) documented US leaders have higher indication for extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability while Japanese leaders have a consistent reversed causation explanation of personality mainly influenced by culture. Further, US managers are more conscientious and open to experience than Japanese managers. Generally, the leadership styles clearly reflect the cultural connection of leaders. Kustin and Jones (1995) assumed that professional-manager leadership style can be based in other factors like technology and knowledge of the behavioural science but lies on the identification of conditions under which certain theories are meaningfully used in overall leadership and management practices. However, different issues are more evident in Japanese setting particularly on the heavy emphasis of western’s individualism (Kustin & Jones 1995). Leadership styles are dependent on the culture of the leader who uses it but Bowman and Caison (1986 cited in Kustin and Jones 1995) that it “can be recreated in host environments, provided that cultural assessment and assimilation has taken place” (p. 11). Leadership is value-based Hofstede (1980). It is because it simply possesses beliefs about how to project appropriate conduct and what goals are central to achieve. The nature of personality of a leader in reference to the national culture inherent to his/her being is fundamental. Good leadership is said to be dependent on personal and professional value orientations of leaders. Lastly, it must be noted that culture in general is not homogenous Hofstede (1980). So it has its own unique set of values, beliefs, principles, and guidelines that are employed in the business setting. For American leaders, they need to focus on result. Japanese leaders, on the other hand, need to focus on work-process.


This section presents a summary of the insights gained with reference to US and Japanese leadership styles. After conducting an extensive period of doing research and probing, the researcher accomplished the results of the study through qualitative research approach guided by descriptive and analytical skills and came up concludes that Leadership is a complex area of empirical probation because it is deemed to be studied in various terms and application. Leadership extends beyond the performance of organisational management functions. The globalisation of the world necessitates the evaluation of leadership styles as it is an important component of organisational success. It is said that good leadership style includes establishing rapport with subordinates, identifying with their needs and concerns, setting good example, and others. The value of leadership is more than managing people for an organisation to work effectively. Aside from the personality of the leader, leadership style exists and makes difference. Such styles reflect relatively stable patterns of response to situations especially within given setting. In this research, leadership styles of the United States and Japan are compared using secondary data obtained from previously published studies.

On this study, both countries were chosen because of its identified cultural differences to Hofstede’s four dimension model. Aside from cultural differences, both countries are identified similar, or do not differ significantly, in terms of the following aspects: communication process and skills, goal setting and achievement, performance and productivity feedback, motivation, follower’s or subordinates feedback, and overall leadership behaviours. Significant differences in their leadership styles is seen in the application of management functions including decision making, supervising, forecasting ability, and training progression (Yancey, 2009). The findings acknowledge that as workplace grows in diversity, work traits and efficiency, both countries need to learn the best and productive traits from each other. The participative leadership styles of the United States and Japan is highly effective given that it is applied in specific areas with and maximum carefulness (Yancey, 2009). The investigation of the consequences of this leadership style is important for leaders to have underlying knowledge on how to lead and motivate the members of the organisation.

In this research study, it was noted that a given leadership style effectively applicable in one country (e.g. the US) may not be easily transferable or even applicable to another (e.g. Japan). Looking on the entire analysis and discussion, the leadership styles of both countries are somewhat similar and different in their own given rights. Because leadership styles are largely complex and designed to cater a specific area of management and practice, their specific relevance in various counties is uncertain. This uncertainty is a potential subject for further empirical exploration. It could be concluded that leadership styles are conceptually different and independently constructed because they can be displayed contemporaneously while empirically associated. The emphasis of leadership theory is centred on its essential contribution towards the unity and productivity of the entire organization.

Leadership styles have therefore have had to change in response to diversifying and gradually changing international work space and scope. Leadership styles must be created to address the demands of the current environment, adapt to these changes, and meet the organisational productivity and success. Generally, critical evaluation of leadership styles in Japan and the US indicate that leadership styles are largely influenced by the cultural background in which they originate.


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