LEADer/ A Beautiful Harmony

Photo credit Cabinet Public Relations Office of Japan

Photo credit Cabinet Public Relations Office of Japan


Manila, 1 May 2019 — Why I remember the conversation with an exceptional leader.

It happened several years ago in Tokyo. Together with a small group of fellow water professionals from Asia, we were granted an audience with the Crown Prince in his palace. Why do I remember the encounter so vividly?

A Conversation Remembered

Not only were we honored by the invitation. There was something about the brief individual conversations we were given during the audience that has stood out for me ever since as an example given by an exceptional leader.

I will never forget my sense of how the then Crown Prince Naruhito engaged in the short exchange of thoughts that we had. I can best describe it as an act of giving his total attention, listening intensely and being present 100% in the moment. 

By giving his one-to-one attention in such a focused manner, he brought us together in a moment of exceptional quality and, I can say, beauty.

Today, on the first day of his era as the new Emperor, I understood that what he shared in that audience could be seen as a precursor of Reiwa, the name that was chosen only last month by the government for the era of his reign.

Creating New Meaning

The choice of the name Reiwa was a creative process, involving several academicians and government leaders. The two characters making up the name had not been combined before into one word.

Reiwa was formed with inspiration from the oldest existing collection of Japanese poems dating back 1,200 years. That poetry was written not only for the aristocracy, but to be enjoyed by anyone who was interested.

By choosing to combine two existing terms, an opportunity was created to give a new meaning to a new situation, to a new period. Such a creation of meaning is widely acknowledged to be a quality of leaders and leadership.

When a new term is introduced, listeners may still have different opinions about it. This also happened with Reiwa, and it prompted the government to explain their interpretation of the name, while also leaving space for people to find their own meaning. 

That is another demonstration of leadership, to clarify, to elaborate, and to leave space for people to find beauty and inspiration in their own way. It reminded me of how a work of art will be appreciated by the public in different ways and perspectives. 

Reiwa is Beautiful Harmony

Reiwa then, according to English translations of the Prime Minister’s interpretation, can signify the beautiful harmony of a culture that is born and grows when people come together and care for each other

Beautiful Harmony, for short.

Otomo No Tabito, the poet whose words inspired Reiwa, wrote his poem about a sense as auspicious as in the soft manner of an early spring breeze. Beautiful indeed.

That there is also strength to be found in such beauty might be gleaned from other meanings of the word Rei, such as command or order, as explained and debated by some reviewers. If nothing else, we could think of the consistent order with which spring repeats itself every year. 

When Reiwa was announced, the people of Japan were invited to give it meaning in their lives in society. From a leadership perspective, a notion as uplifting as Beautiful Harmony still needs to be enacted by the feelings and actions of the people, who thereby bridge their differences to work toward a goal of harmony. 

While the Prime Minister addressed his comments mainly to the people of Japan when he interpreted Reiwa, the new Emperor in his first speech today expanded the scope of his concern to the citizens on our planet, with his wish for peace of the world.

Bringing People Together

Leaders are known for bridging divides and bring people together. They then find ways to bring a better future to the present. Without active listening and caring for the other, this cannot be accomplished. Leadership starts on a personal level by giving each other the gift of our undivided attention when we meet.

It’s a valuable lesson that I carry with me in my conversations with leaders, as I support them with training and coaching to bridge divides by bringing people together, build collaboration, and grow more leaders around them. 

Watching the events in Tokyo unfold today, on the first day of Japan’s Reiwa period, I reflected on the fortunate opportunity to learn that valuable lesson in the palace in Tokyo years ago, from an exceptional leader, about the beauty of people caring for one another.

To build a Beautiful Harmony, signified by the two characters of Reiwa.

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