Class 2, Case Study 3 (Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Incident)
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident in Japan is one that will remain etched in people’s minds for a long time to come. Not only was Japan hit by a 9.0 earthquake, it was further hit by a tsunami. The earthquake resulted in the crippling of the power grid in the nuclear plant’s area, after which back-up generators came in handy. With the hit by the tsunami, the nuclear plant lost all power, resulting in the plant’s reactors’ experiencing damage, thus losing all ability to cool the reactors. To make matters worse, Japan’s “government, the regulators, TEPCO management, and the Kantei lacked the preparation and mindset to efficiently operate an emergency response to an accident of this scope” (Price, 2013). TEPCO stands for the Tokyo Electrical Power Company: the organization responsible for the running of the nuclear plant. The quote just means that any leaders linked to the plant were unprepared to handle any of the occurrences on the nuclear plant and the devastating effects that this had on the operational systems of the plant as well as on the lives of people. With this in mind, this essay will seek to assess the strategic leadership process in light of the strategic leadership essential skills applied in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident of 2011. This will give a good idea about the role that the Japanese leadership played in either averting the situation or making the situation worse.
The Strategic Leadership Process during the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident
2011 was a year in which Japan was heavy-hit by the effects of the earthquake and the tsunami that the country experienced, especially following the damaging effects to the country’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant. There were devastating effects that followed. To gauge the effectiveness of the country’s leadership at that point in time, it is important to ensure that the strategic leadership process is assessed in line with the essential skills that strategic leaders ought to possess. The writer will consider the skills of anticipation, challenging, interpretation, decision, alignment, and learning; all of which play a significant role in defining a strategic leader (Schoemaker, Krupp, & Howland, 2013). The first essential skill in consideration is anticipation. Strategic leaders are expected to have the ability to spot any signals of change through their scanning capabilities of various situations. This aids them in detecting any threats or opportunities presenting signs of ambiguity and trying to interpret them in line with their business.
In consideration of the Japan case, several organizations that could be said to have had a say on the matter of the plant failed in their ability to anticipate the devastation by the earthquake and tsunami. Looking at the political leadership, for instance, it was still new in office following their takeover from the office-holding by the opposition for 50 years. As a newly appointed cabinet of government officers, there was a lot of difficulty that the team took over, including a lack of emergency planning by that government, insufficiency in their bureaucratic capabilities, and a situation that came with vested interests by opposition leaders (Parker, 2014). Their abilities and capabilities in this case were, to a great extent, limited. These were some of the issues that were an obstacle to the government’s efforts to consider anticipation of such occurrences. The inheritance of power by the new government was the source of the lack of anticipation by the same government.
Given that the issue was widespread, the lack of anticipation not only lay in the hands of the political leadership in Japan, but it also lay in the hands of any and every leadership that had, directly or indirectly, vested interests in the nuclear plant. The Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO), for instance, was the organization behind the nuclear plant. The inevitable was bound to happen, especially since the organization was responsible for making the decision to put up the plant on a known fault line. Their lack of preparation was deliberate, seeing that they colluded with the regulators in government to see it as a non-issue (Price, 2013). Owing to the decisions made by the government regulators, the prime minister back then was not in a position to manage the resulting issue due to unpreparedness. The emergency response, in this regard, was lacking within the country’s leadership. None of the leaders were able to foresee the amount of damage that would result from such a catastrophe nor have the effective capacity and capability to prevent or reduce the resulting damage. However, the lack of preparedness does not mean that the leadership put no effort into curbing or reducing the effects of the catastrophe. It just means that the leadership in charge at the time failed to see the oncoming catastrophe when it was already clear that the only thing was a “when” issue.
Challenge is yet another essential skill in a strategic leader’s life. It means taking a decisive action following careful examination of a problem and careful reflection of the situation. At the same time, such strategic leaders question the normal while challenging the views of others as well as their own. It further helps to have strategic leaders open to other people’s thoughts and using this for a clearer thought process on the issue in question. This usually creates an open environment to differing views on the same matter, giving an opportunity to all to be heard. Strategic leaders should be able to use the available information during a crisis and put it to good use. However, in the case of the nuclear incident in Japan, the prime minister at the time, Prime Minister Kan, is said to have refused to delegate responsibilities to help improve the situation. Instead, he got caught in the details of the incident so much that confusion resulted (Yakowicz, 2013). His focus was on ensuring all the important facts had first been collected before acting. He did not understand the essence of using the available information and acting fast, as any strategic leader ought to have been doing. The situation should have needed him to encourage ideas from various people he was working with, encourage unfiltered communication of the situation, and ensure delegation of various aspects of decision making to those trustworthy of responsibility handling.
Averting a crisis requires leadership to acquire information critical to the situation in an expeditious manner. Prime Minister Kan is said to have failed in handling the situation strategically through the creation of effective communication system. The first issue in his system of communication was the long chain of communication that was in place. Conveyance of the information happened from TEPCO to Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), passing through the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and finally arriving at the doorstep of the Cabinet Office. The final step is where the prime minister’s office was located. Such a complicated communication system is bound to birth miscommunications, which resulted between the government and TEPCO. By the time the cabinet office was taking charge of the situation, five days have gone by since the difficulties with the tsunami and nuclear reactors began (Hayata, 2012). By this time, three nuclear reactors had already experienced a meltdown. This is when the cabinet office decided to establish the emergency response headquarters.
On top of the late response, the prime minister went ahead to decline international assistance. The U.S. government had offered to chip into providing expert knowledge and equipment to help with the crippled nuclear reactors but Kan turned it down. Not only did the cabinet office lack in important and factual information (considering the complicated channel of communication), it also decided not to take on external assistance that was much needed (Price, 2013). This is already an indication that the Prime Minister took on no challenge against his views while taking on no external thoughts for assistance. A lack of these can only be said to have reduced the chances of saving the situation.
Further still, the said nuclear experts on hand in the cabinet office were said to have and incapability in providing guidance that was considered useful. They neither made decisions on their own nor provided any important input that would have averted the situation. It is unfortunate that these were the experts that were to help out at the cabinet office. Prime Minister Kan made the situation direr after refusing to delegate responsibilities to those who would visit the site, and instead chose to go to the Fukushima site himself while disrupting the chain of command in the process. It can openly be said that the prime minister refused to be challenged or to take on a challenge as the case should have been (Reb, Iinuma, & Joshi, 2012). A further hindrance to the free flow of information and open ideas occurred since no one working with the prime minister took it upon himself to question authority and add ideas to the prime minister’s thought process. No one was willing to challenge or be challenged by the prime minister.
Instead, they all decided to borrow from the Japanese culture and what they had known all along: “our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our ‘groupism’; and our insularity” (Price, 2013). This type of mindset is said to be successful in the event that there is ample information to work with, but not in the case of crisis management, which requires fast thinking and decision making, especially in a limited information environment. This micro management and counterproductive style of management came in handy when ambiguity was needed at the time when the country was confused regarding what the government was doing (Biello, 2013). The serious coordination and information problems were solved in the process, instead of a complete disaster resulting from the nuclear plant’s meltdown. Despite slight change on the positive occurring, there was still great damage. On this note, therefore, challenging happened to a small extent, with a greater portion of decisions made relying on the Japanese cultural way of decision making.
Interpretation requires the correct handling of a challenge to self and others, as well as the correct handling of others’ opinions on a matter. Complex information that is also difficult to process becomes easier to interpret when the challenging process is smoother. Any new insights, patterns, and ambiguity are better read into and utilized to be interpreted correctly if indeed the challenge has been correctly dealt with (Funabashi & Kitazawa, 2012). In this case, however, the cabinet office where the prime minister was situated, takes just a few challenges within the coordination and information sphere. In this regard, therefore, the prime minister was able to correctly interpret the need for a slightly more effective coordination system due to his micro management skills. Despite these few changes, the nuclear experts present within this office provide no useful information that can be applied to the situation, thus creating no challenge for what the prime minister already thinks, given that he is a layman in matters to do with nuclear reactors.
A great amount of effort was spent on activities that would essentially be ineffective in dealing with the situation. A good example would be the decisions variously made by the prime minister regarding the extent of the evacuation zone. The government, through the prime minister, created distrust in his people when he changed his mind twice by first deciding to evacuate people within a 3 kilometer radius, following by 10 then 20 kilometer radius. Kan was considered to be inconsiderate of the depth of the situation (Yakowicz, 2013). This can clearly translate into skewed interpretation since the prime minister went with the waves each time he acquired new information. It is, therefore, safe to say that he had an ineffective way of interpreting the information reaching him. This was especially fueled by the lack of challenges in his information acquisition level. At the same time, the prime minister is unwelcoming to external assistance as he declines help from the United States government. He is not ready to be challenged. He probably thinks of the acceptance of the hand lent as a weak move or having motive. Further still the prime minister refuses to delegate both responsibilities and decision making to those who can be of assistance (Hayata, 2012). With no challenge whatsoever, it can be courageously said that the interpretation done in this regard only took in the little information that the prime minister possessed to make decisions seeing that only the cabinet office was making decisions following a complicated communication system.
The decision making stage requires a lot of input and guidance. It is a stage that considers all the possible options available to averting the situation. The government, through the prime minister, was able to make a few good decisions in line with Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident. The micro management skills that the prime minister applied through his requirement of all minute facts on the situation came in handy during coordination of the efforts by the Kantei (Akiyama, et al., 2012). Information was kept secretive, which helped prove both the effectiveness and the ineffectiveness of the cabinet office. It was effective due to its ability to deal with challenges in coordination and information management (Parker, 2014). However, it was also ineffective due to since decision making was concentrated within this office, and only little could be done at this point.
The ineffectiveness was also clear when the office could not take in new information or assistance from external parties, within the country and outside its borders. Decisions were solely made on the basis of the decision makers’ experiences and information held so far. This was limited, and could best be said to have been the source of the exaggerated effect of the tsunami on the nuclear plant and on the people that were affected as a result. The effects outgrew the capabilities of both the government and TEPCO, seeing their inability to be challenged or challenge others. If it would have been a difference scenario, the leaders in this case would have taken to listening to external ideas (other than their own), which would have calm in handy in managing the situation greatly and in a short amount of time (Acton & Hibbs, 2012). More clearly now, the government took a huge risk on the human lives that were affected during that period and the nuclear plant by taking little to no consideration of the devastation that would result from decisions made from limited information.
The success in alignment can best be attributed to gaining common ground in the views aired by the various stakeholders through constant engagement, communication, and building of trust. This is the only way that strategic leadership is born and bred. However, the one issue that led to the greatest effect to both the nuclear plant and the people was that of the Japanese culture. The Japanese culture greatly affected the decision making abilities of the leadership so much that no one made the point of challenging the leaders in the Kantei either through sharing new ideas or providing alternative options to what the leadership was holding on to for decision making. Stakeholders did not provide much input that would have made an impact in the way matters were handled. There was little or no input by the stakeholders; otherwise, their information would have been used to improve the effects of the nuclear plant meltdown as well as building trust (Kushida, 2014). Those that had been trusted to help with improving the situation had no useful information to add on. Looking at the engagement that the leadership involved itself in, there was a lot of ineffectiveness owing to the complicated communication channel from TEPCO to the cabinet office. Considering the fact that the first order of business by the prime minister was five days after the meltdown began, then it is clear that no alignment occurred, apart from the limited coordination at the Kantei.
A lot was learned from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident. Leadership faced one of the most difficult moments of all time for Japan. The issues that arose during that period cannot be entirely placed on the shoulders of the government at the time, since planning had not been effectively done for such an occurrence, even though it happened every once a century. The case of the change in evacuation stretch zone was a lesson for the government that there is significance in sharing the thoughts leading up to the decisions made, especially if the decision is provisional. Mistrust would have been eliminated (Price, 2013). At the same time, a better approach to the lack of information sharing with the public would have been dealt with through assuring the people that the government representative would report the progress so far once or twice a day to gain their trust and reassure them.
There was greater importance in noticing the signals before the devastation happened. When TEPCO was putting up the plant, the government regulators were aware of the building on a fault line as was TEPCO, but no action was taken due to collusion. The need for crisis preparation is important. However, an excuse can be given in this case that the new government did not have enough to go by on this front, thus leading to little or poor planning. Another lesson was the need for functional communication systems as opposed to complicated and lengthy ones, thus reducing chances of miscommunication (Hayata, 2012). Lastly, the structural problems could best be managed through learning, something that the Japanese government is yet to do. Improper investigations were done leading to limited information to guide in structural solutions. It would be important to consider the significance of accepting external assistance.
To summarize, the essential skills are significant to a strategic leader. They are needed in daily decision making, not only in the most difficult moments. Japan, to a great extent, failed to see the importance of this process when it was handling the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear incident. The Japanese culture had the greatest impact on the way things were handled during this period, since this affected every point that required decision making. The occurrence was neither anticipated nor averted as it should have. There were a lot of government structural problems, given that information was mostly concentrated within the decision making docket of the Kantei. The government officials were not bold enough to share their thoughts regarding handling of the issues at hand (Yang, 2014). The Japanese government would have done a better job had it had better access to information and to views and thoughts on other approaches other than of those that were in the decision making dockets. The government should also have been open with its people so that creation awareness would have reduced anxiety. Overall, the government and other points of leadership within Japan associated with occurrence learned a lot from it for the sake of Japan’s future, although the structural problem investigations were ineffectively done.
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