Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

“Affluence has deprived the Japanese of a hungry spirit and endurance,” said Mr. Takanori Nakajo (Honorary Adviser, Asahi Breweries Ltd.) during a GLOBIS Executive Seminar dialogue.

Although it was perhaps a bit presumptuous on my part, I immediately contested this line of thinking:

“I don’t believe wealth necessarily takes away a hungry spirit. As you have said, a certain rebelliousness springing from the experience of economic hardship during childhood can’t be nurtured if one is wealthy. Indeed, many entrepreneurs have used rebelliousness stimulated by poverty as a stepping stone. The impetus of economic hardship, however, is likely to focus on personal economic satisfaction, and may not necessarily lead to prosperity for society as a whole.

“It’s more important to get people to recognize their calling in life by asking them, ‘What were you born to do in this world?’ and ‘What should you be doing with your life?’ Once someone has identified their calling and found a sense of duty, a limitless power naturally flows through them to fulfill their mission. I would hope that the leaders of change and creativity turned out by GLOBIS University are all aware of their own life’s purpose and contribute to society, just as the aspiring young leaders of the Meiji Restoration were driven by a sense of mission.”

I continued, “Moreover, I don’t think affluence always leads to weakness. Parents or a wealthy environment can spoil someone, and that certainly leads to weakness. However, despite wealth, by constantly facing difficult situations, people can still mature and toughen up, using challenges as stepping stones.”

As I was speaking, I thought about adversity quotient (AQ), a concept that I first heard about in Kyoto at a conference of company presidents from around the world. At the meeting, I was lucky enough to hear two presentations by Dr. Paul G. Stoltz, an American scholar. Dr. Stoltz advocates the concept of AQ as a complement to IQ and EQ. AQ is a measurement of emotional toughness. According to Dr. Stoltz, U.S. presidential candidates with a higher AQ won 22 of the last 23 elections. He said organizations led by those with a high AQ consistently perform better than those who have leaders with a lower AQ.

The AQ index is classified into five levels. A person with the lowest AQ runs away when faced with difficulties. A person with the second lowest AQ barely survives. A person with the third lowest AQ is still somewhat weak in that he or she simply wants to cope with adversity. A person with the second highest AQ manages firmly, but this is still not quite enough. People with the highest AQ harness themselves in adversity. In other words, they view hardship as an opportunity to learn and to grow.

I remember well a question Dr. Stoltz posed at the end of his speech. “Think about the people you respect. These people attained their positions because they went through some kind of hardship. Without adversity, they may not have achieved such a level of growth.” As I thought about this, I knew it was true.

Kukai, Julius Caesar, and Nobunaga Oda went through their ordeals and matured.

In other words, adversity is indispensable for human development. I often say hardship is your friend. Without it, you cannot truly develop. When you feel things have become too easy, it’s time to develop a sense of crisis and relish the opportunity to take on a challenge, thinking, “Yes! This is my chance to move forward.” This makes life enjoyable and constantly challenging.

How can one develop AQ?

When I asked Dr. Stoltz this, he grinned and said, “The only way is to keep exposing people to adversity from a young age. Wealthy parents tend to make things easy for their children. You should avoid this temptation and continue challenging them.”

Back in the GLOBIS seminar, as I remembered this moment, I explained to Mr. Nakajo, “Wealthy parents certainly tend to spoil their children, however, despite their wealth, kids can grow tougher if parents educate them by continuously exposing them to adversity.”

“In short, wealth is not the culprit for the lack of a hungry spirit. Kids will gain toughness and nurture a hungry spirit if they are presented with an environment that helps them realize their sense of purpose and continues to expose them to adversity. That’s why we ask students at GLOBIS University, to constantly think about their mission and keep telling them to aggressively pursue challenges.”

I am the president of a university, but I am also the father of five children. From this standpoint, I always ask myself: How can we improve our abilities as humans? How do people develop strength and charisma?

Through interactions with students, employees, and my own children, I’ve seen how just one word has the power to positively or negatively affect a lot of people. I have to constantly remind myself that what I say and how I act can impact a person’s development. You can’t expect genuine maturity or mental toughness without adversity.

With this understanding, I placed my children in a school in Australia so they could experience a different culture, despite their initial reluctance, and encourage them to exercise their bodies through swimming and their minds with Go. In short, I have them train their minds and bodies along with developing skills.

Mental toughness, however, will not be cultivated by just swimming, studying English, and playing Go. These activities will just make my kids better English speakers, faster swimmers, and more proficient Go players. That will not be enough.

Mental maturity is only possible by struggling with all your might under extreme pressure, staying on guard after a victory, and in the face of a loss, diligently making even greater efforts through tears. Losing can be good medicine.

To this end, you have to set goals. I keep on telling my children they should compete in Go in elementary school and in sports in junior high and high school. In elementary school, I want them to train their brains and minds instead of pushing their bodies to the limit in sports before they have physically matured. In the growth stage of junior high and high school, I want them to train their bodies by playing sports and going to national tournaments.

So I set the following goals for Go: Three children will represent their school and win the Tokyo District Tournament in the group competition and achieve good results in the national tournament. This year, our oldest son is a fifth grader, our second son is a third grader, and the third son has started elementary school.

Last year, I wanted the three boys to take part in a Junior Go Championship and directly approached the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association). However, they responded that pre-school kids cannot participate, so I reluctantly gave up. Since the three boys are enrolled at the same elementary school this year, they can participate as a trio in the group competition.

With this tournament as a goal, the children had special Go training after school and on weekends. The Tokyo District Tournament for the Junior Go Championship was held May 25, 2008 at the Nihon Ki-in, two days after Mr. Nakajo’s speech. On the morning of that day, I sensed the boys were nervous. Although I was pleased that this challenge would help the kids mature, I was a little anxious myself as the chaperon and father of these children representing their elementary school.

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