Great leaders understand that stability often helps employees perform better and streamlines planning. Life is rarely predictable, however, and the future often shows up looking like nothing you anticipated. What do you do then? How can you learn from the experience of others when no one else seems to have experienced what you're facing? By learning how from those who preceded, you successfully adapt to unexpected challenges.
YPO member Tadahiro Kawada is all about the future, robotics in particular, but his company has an incredible past. Kawada Industries Inc. was founded in 1922 by his great grandfather Chutaro Kawada. The Kawadas descend from the metalworkers who made swords for the old Samurai of Japan. Today, the company is less about instruments of war and more about the infrastructure of modern society: bridges, steel building structures, robotics, and aircraft. I sat down with Kawada, president of his family's company since 2005, to talk about the relationship between tradition and adaptation, experience and innovation, and how he's achieved a balance worthy of a Samurai blade.
1. Find New Applications For Old Skills
"My great grandfather was a trained swordsmith," Kawada told me. "But the time of the Samurai had passed, so unfortunately there were no customers. He had to do whatever he needed to do, making pots and pans, and that's how we got started." Even when a market for a particular product completely evaporates, knowledge and expertise don't necessarily become obsolete. Leverage the skills you already have by finding new venues for them.
2. Keep Moving Forward
When Kawada stepped into the president's role in 2005, two weeks before the annual shareholders meeting, he had no C-suite level experience or grooming. "It came very suddenly," he told me. "There was a scandal in the construction industry and all of a sudden my father called me and said, 'You have to be the president to resurrect this thing.'" Kawada felt unprepared, but he knew the company needed him. "Coming from the family, I knew I had to be strong to send a message that we would be okay." When things change rapidly, leaders must provide reassurance. It's better to step up, even before you feel ready, than to allow a vacuum. "Even if you are uncertain when you make a decision, you have to stick with it," he told me. Leadership requires confidence, or at least the appearance of it.
3. Learn From Those You Replace
Just because the people who came before you have no experience with the new issues you face, it doesn't mean they have nothing to teach you. Kawada learned from his father's experience. "My father already knew that the business of bridges and spires couldn't go on forever. That's why he wanted to go into aviation in the first place," Kawada says. Extrapolating from his father's experience, and his great-grandfather's before him, Kawada realized that, "Aviation won't last forever either. Japan has a declining population and a labor shortage so have to be a part of our human lives." Kawada is putting his company ahead of the changing times, leading
Kawada Industries, Inc. into robotics. Help usher the future in rather than wait and be overtaken by it.
4. Recognize What Stays The Same
Even in times of rapid change, and perhaps particularly then, some things remain constant. "Integrity, sincerity, honesty, and hard work," Kawada told me are all traits he learned from his father. They're values his great-grandfather embodied. Along with "a clear vision and a passion for what you do," they are the things Kawada says are what's needed for success no matter what the circumstances. When everything is changing around you, the one thing you don't need to adapt is your core values. Keeping your values consistent will allow you to respond to everything else more successfully.
Each week on his podcast, Kevin has conversations with members of , the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.