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After trading for 4 centuries, the worldwide company recently took a long hard look at itself to find out where it wanted to go in the future.
Mitsui isn’t well known outside of Japan. So when Mitsui Chairman Masami Iijima found global business analysts couldn’t say what his 400 year old Japanese super trading company stood for, he knew it was time to work out what it did, and where it was going.
He knew quite clearly what it was not. What it didn’t do. Where it wasn’t going. But it wasn’t so clear what it was, what it did or where it was going. He knew it was unique; there’s no company anywhere in the world like Mitsui. He also felt he had to get to the core to find out what drives Mitsui. He had to explore ‘what was inside’.
It took 3 months for Mitsui to figure out what was at its core. This was revealed in a two page document to itself, on its internal website. The company won’ t share the document. It doesn’t need to - as long as Mitsui and the people in it know what it is, what it does, and where it’s going, that's all that matters. Iijima says this is the first stage in the Mitsui transformation – finding out ‘what was inside’.
It’s the same with leadership. Every now and again leaders have to figure out what they stand for, what they do and where they are going. And although it’s sometimes easier to work our what you don’t stand for, that’s not enough. Just as Masami IIjima did, you also have to understand what you do stand for, what’s driving you, and where you’re going. You don’t need to reveal what your results are either. You can go through an easy self-reflection process to find out ‘what’s inside’, with questions like:
Like Mitsui we can all be busy ‘doing’. It’s not until our value drops or someone asks us the question, or we get the feeling we’re not where we want to be, that we stop and take stock. As Iijima-san says, this can be a long overdue revelation and often the start of a transformation.
Knowing what you’re not is not enough, and unlike Mitsui you don’t have to wait 400 years to find out what you are or where you’re going. You don’t even have to wait 40 or even 4 years. What if you were to do it right now?