Leadership Style of Centuries-Old Organizations
We have all heard several times about the mission, vision, and values of organizations. This topic is not new and normally people, especially employees, tend to see them as mere corporate lingo that doesn’t mean anything practical.While I was still a college student learning about businesses, I recall how often the mission and vision of organizations were nothing more than a pretty frame hanging on a forgotten wall of the office. I remember reading some generic stuff like:
“Our mission is to drive value to our stakeholders, while enchanting clients.”
This literally means nothing. How can this be used as a real guideline for anyone who works in this company? It also feels very outdated, like an 80’s business strategy discussion made by management that rarely spoke to any customer.
Still, some companies took this topic very seriously and built a whole corporate leadership strategy driven by the values, mission, and vision of their organizations and teams. This article, inspired by Professor Haruo Funabashi’s book, “Timeless Ventures”, is the second in a series about what makes organizations last hundreds of years. We will discuss how some centuries-old companies implemented a mission-driven style of leadership.
Leadership by Clear Values
As I mentioned in the first article in this series, there are more than 20,000 active companies in Japan that have been operating for over 100 years. One of the important social structures of these organizations is the purpose of running a business not only to make money but to contribute to the well-being of society. Hence, business sustainability and preservation of tradition and values are critical for the longevous success of these companies. Taking a step back, everything starts with these organizations’ founders, their leadership, and their vision.
Most records of these very old organizations show a common pattern of leadership driven by clear values. The records have displayed that this leadership style served two main purposes. Firstly, it triggers aspirations, motivation, and purpose for everyone involved in the organization, which is critical during hardship times. Secondly, it gives a sense of direction to translate intent into a “mission for action”. Meaning that it reduces the level of decision-making by stating clear rules that drive action. Instead of the generic mission statement that I mentioned above, Japanese companies kept consistency in all parties involved in the day-to-day of the organization by defining a “motto” embodied by a code of conduct.
Code of Conduct
Making sure that leadership and employees from different generations maintain the core values and consistent action through time is no easy task. To keep the uniformity of core beliefs, most of these organizations established precepts and rules, mostly verbal and written in some cases. These precepts and rules are often compiled into a type of document that resembles what’s known in the West as a code of conduct. It is a guide that everyone, from the highest leadership position to the lowest rank employee, must follow.
Normally, this document was written at the inception of these organizations, which basically crystallized their founder’s thoughts. The most important aspect of this document is to guide everyone through a difficult period, inspiring the team to persevere on how to overcome their difficulties, but especially, teaching them how to continue their businesses.
The interesting thing about the code of conduct is that, after a few generations, some updates are made by the head of the controlling family or organization, to better reflect their times. For instance, rules like: “Don’t offend a samurai on the street. “, or, “Remove your wood sandals before entering the Feudal Lord castle. “, wouldn’t make much sense in more modern times. Still, the core values established by the founders and their descendants were being successfully transmitted through generations.
Values-Driven Leadership Outcome
So the real question here is — assuming that leadership by clear values, mission, and vision is a real strategy for the longevity success of an organization — what is the expected outcome?
The first one is to be exclusive. Meaning that the code of conduct needs to be used to filter out people that won’t share the same values as the company. Authentic organizations are the ones where the employees not only believe in the product but strongly share the same values as the company they work for. For instance, if one of your company values is “justice” (to judge people who break the rules harshly, but fairly) and the candidate that you are interviewing tends more toward the value of “mercy” (forgiveness of past mistakes committed by people who broke the rules), this is already a no-go. You want to be exclusive and bring only individuals who will really help your organization achieve its mission. This starts with understanding their values during the recruitment process.
The second one is a sense of clarity and direction for the whole team, which can also be interpreted as a way to achieve the company’s vision. The vision triggers aspirations and purpose, and the code of conduct converts the mission into action to help fulfill that purpose and to achieve that vision. The most important dynamic aspect of principle #1 ( leadership driven by values, vision, and mission), is not to reach an end-game but to keep the game going. In other words, the objective of these organizations is to keep serving the society for many years to come.
Lessons for Tomorrow Bio and Cryonics Industry
These stories convey many lessons for Tomorrow Bio and the cryonics industry about how to sustain organizations for such a long time. While facing so many challenges to stay on course, these organizations kept their dignity and were able to understand the changes of times. They were also capable of self-change, sometimes with radical transformations. Tradition is often met with adaptability. Another key learning is frugality, which in their perspective means to have prudence in difficult times and expand aggressively once the tide changes in your favor.
Leadership is also crucial since it is the motor that transmits legacies, starting with family traditions that institutionalized behavior, codified rules, and symbolized virtues from generation to generation. Codes of conduct and long-term management plans are the by-products of the leadership of these organizations. They aim to effectively transmit the core values of founders and the rules to be followed by everyone.
Finally, my favorite learning and the one which I believe is the most important for our company and industry is TRUST. You won’t see yourself being cryopreserved and, due to current regulations, it is impossible to legally “own” assets after you are declared legally dead. Therefore, the whole cryonics industry depends heavily on being trustworthy. We must keep our promises to advance the biostasis technology, to be sustainable in the long-term, to cryopreserve our patients as fast and with the best technology as possible, to keep their bodies protected for as long as it is needed and in the future, handover back to the patients the assets that were being taken care of on their behalf. TRUST needs to be the spirit of any organization, but we will make sure that, at Tomorrow Bio, our spirit is also TRUST itself.
To better understand this principle, we have some real-life examples. The study of Professor Funabashi highlighted a few companies where leadership driven by values, mission, and vision were the core of their strategy. We will give a quick overview of two of these organizations. We will talk about their history, businesses, and most importantly, their leadership style. Check our articles here:
The chapter Principle #1 — Leadership by Clear Values, Mission, and Vision of the book of Professor Haruo Funabashi “Timeless Ventures”, makes a statement. It is clear how legacy personified in strong values, and successfully transmitted through generations is the cornerstone of companies that last hundreds of years. I am curious to know what you think about it. If you found this content relevant, please rate my article on the blue bar on the right!