Distributed learning, distributed leadership

Naoto Kanehira, MBA ’08, broadens his perspective

Naoto Kanehira

While the analogy that an education at MIT is like drinking water from a fire hose has often been repeated, the blazing trajectory of Naoto Kanehira's long days as both an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan and as an MPA candidate at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government all but assure that the phrase is well warranted.

For Kanehira — a native of Japan and a former associate at McKinsey & Company in Tokyo — participating in the two challenging degree programs afforded him the opportunity to discover new views of leadership at both the business and governmental levels while “observing the world through different lenses.”

“My purpose at the beginning was to find something here that I could bring back to my clients in Japan to achieve sustained growth,” says Kanehira, a graduate of Keio University in Tokyo. “Japan is facing significant challenges. We are competing with China and India, our population is aging, business structures are changing, and people are confused by American capitalism. I wanted to utilize new ideas from the outside, and I thought MIT was the ideal place ... attracting talent from all over — from business entrepreneurs to engineers.”

After his first year at MIT Sloan, Kanehira decided to further broaden his growing perspective, jointly enrolling at the Kennedy School to gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the government sector as well. Added to this mix have been a series of internships that allowed Kanehira to work in the Global Manufacturing and Services Department of the World Bank as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At the latter, he worked on an initiative to engage the private sector in promoting economic development through the creation of innovative models to provide services, such as telecommunications, for the poor. The busy Kanehira also worked with MIT's Media Laboratory as a researcher and academic entrepreneur at Human Dynamics Group to help coordinate the launch — along with UNDP Macedonia — of a public-private partnership to introduce MIT's “$100 Laptop” in elementary education there.

Despite the doubly full course load, and the related internships and activities on both campuses, Kanehira was has already been able to realize one of his goals of bringing back some of what he learned to his native land.

As part of Professor Deborah Ancona's class, “Leadership Tools and Teams: A Product Development Lab,” Kanehira learned firsthand about X-Teams — a structure for people to work cohesively and successfully within the distributed leadership model — a theory that was completely counterintuitive to all that he learned prior to his arrival in the U.S.

“Everyone can be a leader”

“My idea of leadership was the old model, where you have one authoritative person” says Kanehira. “In Japan, I was helping my clients, the CEOs, to come up with the answers they needed. This class was an eye-opening experience. Leadership ... was more about social processes, and leadership is for everyone. Everyone can capture the opportunity to make progress, and everyone can contribute.”

To date, Kanehira's contribution, with the help of his X-Team, was the creation of a 10-day workshop to promote leadership development for young scientists and engineers in Japan, a goal he was able to realize last August in an event attended by entrepreneurs, professors, and government officials, as well as 20 students from MIT and Harvard, and 20 students from the University of Tokyo and the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

“For many students, it was an enormous experience,” he says. “And they had the same reaction that I did ... that everyone can be a leader.”

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