#WeAreSymphony

5 Takeaways from 5 Days of Leadership Sessions at Rakuten’s Tokyo HQ

By
Geoff Hollingworth
Chief Marketing Officer
Rakuten Symphony
June 24, 2022
8
minute read

What is it like to be part of a team that is trying to change an industry? What is required to be successful in such an environment, for both the person and for the company?

As Japan slowly opens back up after the pandemic, 100+ people from Rakuten Symphony were invited to participate in five days of leadership sessions at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo. This is a personal reflection on those days, both for people that are in Rakuten Symphony but unable to join, and also for people that like the idea of the Rakuten Symphony mission and are considering joining us.

All journeys are individual. There is no one mold to follow, but there are foundational truths that are shared across all the highly performing teams and organizations. I share my thoughts in the hope to trigger and stimulate interaction and more thoughts from both people present at the sessions and people that could not join this time but hope to join the next time.  

“People who are brought together with a common desire to make a difference and change something important will always have more in common than what separates, regardless of culture, location or background.”
- Geoff Hollingworth, CMO, Rakuten Symphony

I awoke on the Friday morning at 7:30 in the morning. It was the first day that I felt I had half managed to sleep normally, having suffered from jet lag after a 15-hour flight from the U.S.  And the first thought was immediately of all the people in the room that I had not known previously and now I felt familiarity with. Unfortunately, nothing will ever replace the advantages of physical presence and shared experience. No teleconferencing tool, no holographic projections. We are animals that have evolved over thousands of years to sense what we are not aware of from our fellow people. We can sense subconsciously and interpret feelings without being aware. The first learning was of the importance of sharing the same space, breathing the same air and communicating in a common context.

1. Shared experience is important

Learning one is the importance of shared experience, even for short periods of time. If it was possible for all 3,500 people to be present at the same time, that would have happened. It was not. There are plans to replicate the experience at the local country/region level and it cannot happen fast enough.

These sessions were broken into two main types. Information sharing and discussion, and workshops centered around common values between people, between the core Rakuten Group and between Rakuten Symphony. We have much more in common than what separates us. People who are brought together with a common desire to make a difference and change something important will always have more in common than what separates, regardless of culture, location or background.

Rakuten Symphony held a special leadership summit at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo in June 2022.

2. Explicitly discover and acknowledge shared values

Learning number two is how important it is to explicitly acknowledge those shared values, verbalize, feel them and share them.

“There is always a human tendency to point the finger at somebody else when outcomes are personally disappointing.  But high performing teams never point fingers.”

Why is this important? Because large scale changes are hard, they are scary, they can make us emotional and they are a continuum of massive ups and massive downs. If it were easy, others would have already done it. The week was not, as Americans would say, a “Barney week,” where we all recited “I love you, you love me” mantras. Far from that. We had very challenging conversations. We are not doing everything as well as we can. We all need to look inside ourselves and improve what we are doing, accelerate and increase what is good, and address where we are not showing up.

 3. Be all you can be!

This is Learning number three: To be part of a major challenge (and transforming an industry is certainly that) requires us to be “be all we can be!” This is the first thought I had when waking on the Friday morning. Why had I observed various people showing frustration when problems still existed, when there was a belief that they should have already been resolved. It is because the frustrated people had decided they wanted to be “all they can be.” They recognized it was both scary at a personal level and frustrating when they felt they had not managed to deliver on their own personal promise to themselves. To create global change requires being dependent on others. Part of being all you can be then requires co-dependency and the passing of control beyond what is within an individual’s immediate sphere of influence. If you are a leader or manager, you’ll no doubt recognize this feeling, and it is not nice. When pressure increases and there is fear of falling short on the opportunity of a lifetime, we show frustration. We do not show our fear of failure. That is something that only we can feel if we have the chance to be honest within ourselves.

“Big missions are not a place for average people. However, average is not a categorization of people, rather a measure of mindset.”

Everybody that is part of a journey like ours needs to “be all they can be” and with that comes the need for awareness, both around the fear of missing the opportunity and of managing frustration when those feelings appear. They will always appear. How we deal with them is more important than their existence.

Rakuten Symphony CMO Geoff Hollingworth.

4. Live “extreme ownership”

Because of the challenges that such a journey places on all individuals there is always a human tendency to point the finger at somebody else when outcomes are personally disappointing.  But high performing teams never point fingers. Learning number four is to adopt “extreme ownership.” If something does not work out as planned, the person responsible needs to own that outcome, understand where the failing happened and ensure it does not happen twice. I recommend reading this book, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink.

“The book derives its title from the underlying principle — the mind-set — that provides the foundation for all the rest: Extreme Ownership. Leaders must own everything in their world. There is no one else to blame.”

5. Choose not to be average

And the final learning, learning number five, is this: Big missions are not a place for average people. However, average is not a categorization of people, but rather a measure of mindset.  People who desire to be more are not average. People who know they can grow, be better, and are willing to take personal ownership, thrive in such environments. It is the job of the mission to then embrace, keep safe and grow such people. And this is my closing reflection. Do not run away from challenge but rather, be strengthened by it.

To summarize

  1. Shared experience is important
  2. Explicitly discover and acknowledge shared values
  3. Be all you can be!
  4. Live “extreme ownership”
  5. Choose not to be average

Choose to be part of a journey. Be all you can be. Choose your missions wisely.

Shared Values
Symphony
Extreme Ownership
Japan