Japanese rail workers routinely point at signs as they read them aloud.
The practice is called shisa kanko and, according to a study conducted by the Japan Railway Technical Research Institute, it has enabled a MAJOR improvement in occupational safety – as in reducing unforced errors by 85%!!!
It works like this:
A Shisa Kano Example
I recently took a coaching exam – the International Coach Federation’s Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) – to measure my “understanding of the knowledge and skills important in the practice of coaching,” including its Core Competencies and Code of Ethics.
(The CKA is required for anyone seeking certification from the ICF, these days, but by virtue of my having been coaching, professionally, for 18 years and having earned my MCC-Master Certified Coach credential (the gold standard of coach certifications, one that fewer than 2% of all coaches worldwide have received) back in 2007, I was grandfathered from needing to take it. But I still wanted to. Just to see.)
Format-wise, it’s a computer-based, multiple-choice exam with 155 questions and a 3-hour time limit. (Another part of the overall certification process is actually demonstrating one’s coaching skills, but I won’t cover that here.)
Again, just to see, I decided that I wouldn’t study for the CKA – I’d take it ‘cold’ – I would shisa kano the heck out of it, though!!
So, I put on some lovely Japanese music (The Art of the Japanese Koto, Shakuhachi and Shamisen [#2], by the Yamato Ensemble, and Behind the Light, by Osamu Kitajima, since you asked) and settled in to begin the test. But rather than race through it, as one might typically do when under a time-constraint, I read each question aloud, slowly and purposefully, and considered each possible answer, again aloud, while using my index finger to point to, and follow along with, the words on the screen.
What a relaxing and engaging test it turned out to be!
Yes, I passed. So now I am also officially listed in the ICF’s Mentor Coach Registry. (Mentor coaching is another requirement for those seeking certification, by the way.)
Leadership Implications of Shisa Kanko
So what if leaders started using shisa kanko in their daily activities? What might that look like?
Well, first off, many (most?) would likely create a mess, I fear. Why? Because they’d probably be way too aggressive in their pointing!
You could TOTALLY see that sort of thing happening, right?!
So maybe it WOULDN’T work so well.
But what if the tone and tenor were modified a bit? What would be the implications if bosses, everywhere, started, routinely:
- …articulating, out loud, what they actually want instead of making us guess or shoot at a moving target?
- …thinking more crisply and cleanly about the decisions they’re making, along with any potentially unintended implications?
- …giving us their full and undivided attention instead of finishing off an email, reading a memo, or be clearly distracted by something else during our 1-on-1’s with them?
- …literally pointing to, and explaining, what success looks like instead of just defining it through the absence of everything we’re doing wrong?
- …providing meaningful guidance, tutelage, and insight when we ask for them instead of, well, not?
- …coming to our cubes or offices instead of always calling us into theirs?
An Imperfect Analogy
Okay, sure, you can argue that some of my examples aren’t really examples of shisa kanko. But so what, I say! After all, they’re all irrefutable points along the line of improving one’s leadership impact and influence.
So the bigger question is: Do you want to take from them what you can…or be left at the ‘less capable leader’ station?
It’s your choice.