An Interview with Kaoru Hosokawa
By Wendy Johnson

Kaoru Hosokawa, well-known Japanese business coach, founded Tokyo-based Coach-f Co., Ltd. in 2003. Coach-f currently offers corporate training services to high-profile companies in Japan, joint coaching seminars with Nikkei Venture Magazine and Nikkei Business Associates, and one-on-one and group business coaching. 

Mr. Hosokawa is one of the most active writers on business coaching in Japan. He has written many articles and columns for major business publications like Nikkei Business Associates, Nikkei Venture, and Tosho Newspaper. In addition, one of his recently published books has ranked #5 in the (Japanese monthly business book review.

Kaoru Hosokawa and Coach-f Co. have a three-fold vision:

  • Enhancing the motivation of corporate employees
  • Revitalizing business organizations
  • Building a powerful, healthy society

Mr. Hosokawa, thank you for speaking with us. Of all the things you could be doing at this point in your life, and coming from a successful career in corporate leadership, what attracted you to business coaching?

KH: I saw a better opportunity through business coaching to fulfill my vision of motivating employees and revitalizing businesses, and thus building society. Although I could do that within AIG Edison Life Insurance Company as a business leader, through business coaching I can extend my reach beyond one organization and have greater influence.

BCW: What sets you apart from others who also provide business coaching services?

KH: I believe that the salient features of Coach-f include:

  • We specialize in business coaching
  • With our clients, we identify and focus on specific desired business targets
  • We actively utilize the media as business partners
  • We are aiming to go public on the stock market in the business coaching field
  • We keep Coach-f constantly visible as a leading provider of business coaching
  • We focus primarily on working with the major business corporations in Japan

When I founded Coach-f, I began by coaching managers and executives within businesses and organizations. I soon found, however, that to reach my vision to enhance the motivation of corporate employees, revitalize business organizations, and build a powerful, healthy society, I needed a wider reach.

I have worked to spread the word about business coaching through synergistic alliances with the Japanese media as well as book and magazine publishers. I have also felt that for business coaching to really make a difference in Japanese business, leaders within Japanese companies must learn how to become coaches to those they lead. As a result, I have developed many seminars and training sessions wherein the participants can experience the results of coaching and then learn how to lead more effectively by using coaching methods.

BCW: When did business coaching emerge in Japan?

KH: Business coaching in Japan emerged about 1999. Although one-on-one coaching engagements are a part of our business coaching approach, we have found that the management of a corporation is usually more interested in a "one-to-many" training approach. 

When we work with an organization, the leaders will typically engage us for a one-, two- or three-day training program focused on improving and developing daily business activities for their management personnel. Through those training sessions, and sometimes subsequent one-on-one coaching, we focus on:

  • Helping the members of an organization and the organization as a whole grow without interruption.
  • Establishing ourselves as business partners involved in bringing outstanding achievements.
  • Building communication and accountability systems that foster business accomplishments.
  • Putting "out of the box" ideas into practice and shifting gears boldly for people and organizations.

What kinds of businesses and organizations tend to use business coaches?

KH: Although I don't see much difference in the use of business coaches between different kinds of organizations, I have found that the organizations that can translate business coaching outcomes to numbers (in other words, business coaching has impacted the company's bottom line through increased sales, profit, and/or customer service) are more likely to see the value of business coaching and continue with it. And the root of those outcomes is often the people--business leaders have a more positive outlook, humility, honesty and thoughtfulness toward others, which boosts employees' behavior, performance, diligence and morale. Team members begin to show the feeling of security and respect toward their leader, thus helping their team gain momentum.

BCW: We hear Japan is moving out of a recession into recovery and new growth. I imagine that businesses' and organizations' coaching needs have also changed during this time period. How?

KH: The largest factor that has brought change in business as a whole in Japan is "corporate restructuring" or "downsizing." As a result, most companies have a higher income but a reduced number of employees. Obviously, such rapid change in corporate environment has created a widespread concern about the lack of communication at different levels of the organization. Also, needs and requests are sharply rising for really powerful business leaders. We've found that business coaching can help a leader to think more strategically, but at the same time, to cultivate communication and compassion so that changes go much more smoothly.

BCW: As you know, many countries around the world have had their share of corporate malfeasance over the last years. Some notable North American examples are Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Global Crossing, Tyco, Martha Stewart, Livent, Bre-X, and Hollinger International. All reported accounts suggest that the executive management teams lost their bearings and control over appropriate governance and accountability. Has Japan encountered similar situations? If yes, how do you think business coaching could play a role in possibly preventing or minimizing these types of situations?

KH: Although we don't see as much fraud or deception, procrastination and cover-up are the problems more prominent with corporations here in Japan. During a manager's or business leader's tenure, he would prefer not to hear of things going badly and may ignore those reports or attempt to cover them up. These executives, especially in large corporations, will often hire peace-loving subordinate officers who will not want to rock the boat and will go along with the cover-up. 

As an example, three years ago a large foodstuff maker in Japan lost its brand and business reputation throughout the country because of this sort of malpractice. The upper management ignored a number of "bad-news reports" that had been made inside the factories, which resulted in producing defective products and causing damages to consumers. What's worse, the company failed to fix the problem once it became evident to the public because of slow reporting inside the company. That accelerated the widespread damage in the market and society.

One clear advantage of practicing business coaching is that companies are able to establish positive, clear-sighted self-responsibility and team-responsibility in the organization, which makes people in any position capable of responding to requirements and questions about them. This will eventually build an organization of prompt and accurate responsiveness.

BCW: Can business coaching bring about change and improvement in people and organizations in ways that other kinds of interventions (i.e. consulting) cannot?

KH: Yes, it can. The primary role of a business coach is to help the client shift herself into a real business leader, not simply to offer a helping hand to solve problems in the short-term. The high-caliber business coach is humble and has the ability to communicate with anyone amicably, from junior staff members to organizational leaders. Business coaching can help junior staff members grow to be successful managers, and managers to excellent leaders in the organization. Those leaders are able to grow a company and/or team into a profit center in the real sense of the term.

BCW: Working with our clients impacts us. In this way, our beliefs, values and ideas can be challenged, giving rise to our own growth as coaches and human beings. Can you share with us such a time that a client really impacted you?

KH: I have found that what our clients do with the insights they gain through coaching can have incredible results, both tangible and intangible. I had a memorable business coaching experience with one of my business clients, Mr. Saito. As a result of our work together, Mr. Saito reformed his business team into an organization capable of boosting its monthly business performance by 250%. It was impressive to see how Mr. Saito enhanced the motivation and growth of his team members.

The remarkable thing was not just the achievement itself, but Mr. Saito's understanding and application of the coaching process that fostered it. Mr. Saito said, "Until some time ago, I believed that the role of a manager as coach was to help team leaders grow and mature. Now, I've changed my mind about the role: All I did was touch and push their hidden power up above the surface so that they could see it and act on it."

BCW: What is the most important issue that the business coaching industry as a whole faces in Japan and around the world?

KH: I am concerned that we do not have a standard for business coaching training and certification. Some clients do not have the assurance that a business coach will be truly competent and able to meet their needs. Three things have to be done, I believe. 

One, we must create a comprehensive business coaching educational system. Through such a system, we need to be able to teach numerous advanced-level business coaching skills. Because business coaching requires business experience, I'd like to see that we only allow experienced businesspeople to participate and that participants complete and pass on-the-job training assignments before they can progress to higher-level courses. I believe that the WABC could work with experienced business coaching companies to create the educational curriculum and subsequent certification necessary to train top-notch international business coaches.

Second, when working with our clients, we need to use only business coaching methods with which we have a full track-record with a number of clients.

Third, and very importantly, we need to develop an advanced-level educational system through which we will create prominent mentor-level business coaches. I visualize a system in which we create super-level business coaches out of fully-experienced, resourceful businesspeople.

BCW: What's the best piece of business advice you've followed and why?

KH: "Give a full thought, and then be sure to put it into practice."

I've adopted this as a motto. What it means to me is this: I must consider a question from all possible angles and once I've identified a solution, I must follow through immediately.

BCW: If you could give one piece of advice to someone just beginning a career as a business coach, what would it be?

KH: May I give three?

  • Be constantly aware of the client's environment and how it is impacting him.
  • Listen to the client's inner voice, not just the client's outer words or voice. The client's real intention is in her mind, not in her words.
  • Make sure you live what you are coaching your clients to put into practice.

BCW: And to our more experienced business coach who wants to take their business to the next level of success?

KH: As an advanced business coach, you must be able to help your clients produce immediate, tangible results. However, you must, at the same time, live your mission, vision, and philosophy--think of it as "show and tell" in your everyday life. You must always be present and visible to your clients and to others, both physically and mentally. Establishing yourself in such a way can undoubtedly be the gateway to becoming a top-notch business coach.

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