The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In the health and fitness world, a lot of attention is paid to developing a strong core. Core exercises are the most neglected part of a workout. But with strong core muscles, it’s easier to do most activities and stay flexible. A weak core impacts everything you do. It will delay your progress, reduce endurance, and lead to strain and difficulties over time. Mid-level managers—much like your core muscles—are the link that keeps your organization working smoothly. But they are often overlooked.

Mid-level managers have their feet in two worlds. They receive big-picture strategy from above but also must oversee the execution of that strategy by those below.

This presents a peculiar challenge: being a leader as well as a follower. Trying to keep both groups happy can result in anxiety and stress. According to a study of 22,000 full-time workers conducted by Columbia University, “Middle managers experience the highest rates of depression and anxiety (19%) relative to their superiors (14%) and subordinates (11%).”

Many believe that change must come from the top, but it is mid-level mana­gement that is closest to the boots on the ground. They effect firsthand how policy is implemented. In Japan, hierarchical relationships can create an extra layer of difficulty for those trying to enact reform. In a 2013 study of 56 companies published by the Harvard Business Review across varied industries, a majority failed large-scale change and innovation. “A hallmark of the successful 32 percent was the involvement of mid-level managers two or more levels below the CEO,” the report says. Behold the true influencers of organizational culture.

How can we leverage their position to foster real change? In the past, there has been a tendency to reserve coaching and leadership development to executive levels, but there has been a rise in pro­grams designed specifically for middle managers in recent years. Whether in the form of empowerment to have productive dialogue and ask for what they need from senior management, or techniques for alleviating the afore­mentioned stress and anxiety, effective middle managers are critical to success in any business.

This year marks the fourth ACCJ-Kansai Women in Business Summit, which attracts more than 200 participants from a wide range of sectors. One of the key takeaways of each gathering is that reducing challenges for women in the workforce benefits everyone.

From the inaugural theme of strength­e­ning diversity in the workplace to changing organizational culture to driving productivity and performance through workplace reform, each year builds off of the previous to foster learning and implementation of best practices.

At last year’s summit, we learned how work-style reform leads to professional and productivity gains as well as higher profit. This year’s theme is Work-Style Reform: Empowering the Middle, and we will dig a bit deeper into just how to achieve change—and the business case for it—by focusing on mid-level managers.

The Kansai Summit offers a framework and tools for getting positive results, and the keynote will emphasize why the empowerment of middle managers is important for business. A panel discus­sion will highlight the challenges and concerns that these managers face and provide advice for dealing with them. A highly interactive plenary session will spot­light the importance of inclusion and unconscious bias in successful work-style reform, and interactive workshops will offer opportunities to build skills, gain knowledge, and share ideas for success.

Join us on September 13 at the Hilton Osaka for a day of learning how to lead more effectively from the core.


September 13, 2018
1:00–8:00 p.m. at The Hilton Osaka

October 25, 2018
3:00–6:00 p.m. at Hotel Nagoya Castle

February 28, 2019
ANA InterContinental
Time TBA

Kina Jackson is a translator at KJ Consulting and co-founder of dining rewards platform Gochiso. She is also a member of the ACCJ–Kansai Women in Business Committee.