The Magic of Confidence for International Professionals


Hiroto Yamaguchi works for a Fortune 100 company, currently lives in the U.S., speaks Japanese as his native language, and has a strong leadership vision for his company.  Hiroto also has a secret.  He gets massive headaches at the end of the day, goes home to his expensive NYC flat and lies down from exhaustion.  He then puts on Japanese television and tries to relax for the rest of the evening.  He is thrilled to listen to his native Japanese, and the pressure of using English is at least relieved for the evening.

The reason his headaches are a secret is that Satoru is a most successful executive who exudes confidence and exemplifies the definition of executive presence.  He has charm and charisma and makes people want to follow his lead. He has been in the New York for 18 months now.  He yearns to have a few more Japanese colleagues in the office with whom he can converse.  His English is what many people might call “broken,” and he struggles to get his ideas out in correct grammatical structures.

He, however, steadfastly refuses to apologize for his English.  He makes presentations weekly, provides briefings by phone to offices in California, and plays golf every weekend with U.S. colleagues.  He gets his message across even though he knows he makes mistakes.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that Hiroto does not care about his English.  He wants to speak English well and has been taking private lessons for the entire time he has been in the U.S.  He has made some progress, but he beats himself up regularly by saying and believing that he is just “not a good student.”

Now Hiroto finds himself in an interesting situation.  He will be returning to Japan in two months and is now coaching his replacement—Jin—who takes over for Hiroto for the next 18 months.  

Jin has attended many English language programs and has strong skills.  His pronunciation is clear and his vocabulary strong.  Sometimes he makes basic mistakes such as confusing the 3rd person singular i.e., Tom walk into the office.  Once when he made a pronoun mistake and called his youngest son “she,” an American colleague laughed.  While that colleague was probably just being light-hearted, Jin took it personally.  Being perfect in English is important to him. 

What an interesting dynamic.  Jin speaks more clearly than Hiroto, uses more concise messages, and has a stronger vocabulary.  On the other hand, he lacks confidence and feels somewhat insecure about a leadership role.  His belief that his English needs to be perfect will hold him back as a senior leader in this company. Thus, Hiroto takes him under his wing.

While the names in this story are fictitious, the scenario is real.  What is of great interest to us is that Hiroto exhibits great confidence in his leadership and goes out of his way to include others and make them feel important.  Yet, he suffers exhaustion at night because of the effort it takes to do this in English.

Jin, on the other hand, speaks English well, but he lacks confidence and feels that he needs “perfect” English to be a strong leader.  

Confidence is the difference.


Key takeaways to consider:  

  • Everyone has a different personality type

  • Being outgoing might not be easy, but it is essential when leading in the U.S.

  • Stay true to yourself, be authentic but do so with confidence

  • Strong leaders need to express a vision—regardless of their native language