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Be an Educator

April 26, 2022

As many readers may know, we have an ongoing event known as the Beer Bash, where staff members get together and discuss axes and other foundation aspects of our company, called TOPC Axis. The axial theme last month was “Be an Educator.” Job-related training is all about the “what we do,” but if we don’t teach the “why we do it,” then jobs are reduced to rote tasks, and we end up losing sight of the significance of our work. This is why our company always places such great emphasis on the aspect of “why we do what we do,” i.e., the significance of our work.


In the context of the discussion last time, one of our staff spoke up and said, “The things that you are taught are certainly important, but the person doing the teaching is also very important. It is someone you respect, and you tend to accept it more readily. That means that educators and managers have to be people who are respected. And that is why I want to be the kind of person that others can respect.”


“That’s very interesting,” I thought. In reply, I said, “You are absolutely right in that a leader should be someone who is respected. However, in seeking to become such a person, there are some high hurdles to clear: you must strengthen your technical capabilities; you need to build character; you have to acquire compassion and considerateness, and many other things as well. It’s a somewhat daunting proposition and hard to know where to start. But even before all that, respect itself is someone else’s state of mind. It’s not necessarily something that you can summon forth. I experienced many failures when I was younger. Even now, I don’t know if others respect me.”


In actuality, it isn’t easy to earn others’ respect. Some readers may be familiar with the attempt by Ninomiya Sontoku [a highly esteemed 19th-century Japanese agricultural leader, philosopher, and economist] to restore the town of Sakuramachi. Sontoku sold off his own property to fund restoration efforts for flood victims and provide no-interest loans to others in need while standing in the vanguard of agricultural reform in the area. However, a certain looseness in the town encouraged gambling, and Sontoku’s efforts were opposed by a group of gangsters and corrupt bureaucrats who felt their financial interests were infringed upon. His attempted reforms were unsuccessful for five years, and he eventually felt the need to run away. Even though he had used his own assets to help the impoverished farmers, many supposed that there must be an ulterior arrangement for his self-promotion. Even someone with as strong a character as Sontoku was unable to earn the trust and respect of the town’s farmers despite five years of determined efforts. This illustrates how difficult education is at the organizational level.


Having run away, Sontoku secluded himself at Narita-san Temple. There, for 21 days, he meditated in the presence of the statue of Fudo Myo’o [the “Unmovable Wisdom King”] to determine if he had been selfishly motivated in trying to restore the town. Meanwhile, there was something of a commotion back at Sakuramachi. The gangsters who had so stubbornly opposed the reform effort began to wonder what would become of the town if Sontoku wouldn’t return. Now that Sontoku was no longer there. They started to realize what a significant presence he actually was, and to feel ashamed of their actions. In the end, the people who went to retrieve Sontoku after his sojourn at the temple included not only those who had supported his reforms, but gangsters as well. Finally, after five years, they perceived his selflessness and devotion to the people, and Sakuramachi eventually recovered.


I continued, “I may not know how to be respected, but I do know the one way forward that, by putting it into practice, will definitely enable you to gain the trust of your staff and clients.” I paused for a moment, then continued. “That way is always to desire the growth of your staff and clients and constantly think of what you can do to facilitate that growth. Don’t think about what you might get out of it. Keep thinking about the development of your staff and clients and the people around you, and continue to put things into practice. Getting rid of oneself and doing everything you can for the people around you allows you to move people’s hearts.” “I want you to remember our company mission: Empower Company, Empower You – make people and the company stronger. In other words, continue thinking about what you can do to support the growth of the staff, the company, and all of the people around you, and put those thoughts into practice. That is the real meaning of the mission. So, to be an educator is to manifest the motto.


I used to think that “education” was just about “educating.” I was pretty serious about what I was doing at the time, I can say, but I was completely focused on technique. I was teaching nothing but the “what” and neglecting the “why” – that is, the significance of the work. Furthermore, I really hadn’t adopted the attitude of a leader. I should have been grateful for my staff who had chosen to work at a small company like TOPC. Instead, back then, I was mainly frustrated that they couldn’t do their jobs as well as I would have liked, and I was constantly concerned with my financial situation. But in actuality, “education” is less about “educating” and primarily about “being an educator.” There are no assurances that one’s efforts will be rewarded, and the greater likelihood is that efforts will not be repaid in the near term. Nevertheless, the thing that managers can do is to keep focused on the future for their staff and to do whatever is required for that purpose. “If you strive with sincerity, the universe will help you find a way.” That saying has stuck with me ever since I heard the story of Ninomiya Sontoku some four years ago. It’s not about whether the staff understands something or whether they don’t. The thing is to continue communicating what you believe to be right sincerely. That is the mark of the true educator.


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