Interview with Claudio Toyama, CEO of Toyama&Co.
In today’s time of unprecedented change, leaders who can create positive influence that reaches every level of an organisation is very much needed. Toyama&Co’s CEO Claudio Toyama, who is also an international best-selling author, explains the three leadership personas: Samurai, Samba, and Vinci, and why Transformational Leadership – where “care” is an essential element – is of critical importance in creating lifelong learners and long-term success in every industry.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak with you, Mr Toyama. To start with, can you share with us some of your tips or favourite morning routines to jumpstart a busy day?
It’s my pleasure. I love to start my day with a gratefulness prayer and doing my CrossFit® (shout out to 12 Labours CrossFit!) in the morning. While driving to the gym, I listen to some book on Audible (I listen to about 4-5 books a month). These activities set the tone for the day.
You founded Toyama&Co., a highly acclaimed international consulting, training, and executive coaching company. Can you tell the story behind how you started Toyama&Co.? What have been the highlights of your professional journey so far?
I had started a consulting company in London but, when we moved to the US, I set up Toyama&Co. – my vision was (and still is) to positively impact companies worldwide. So far we have run projects in 113 countries and the main highlight of my professional journey was to be invited to coach a Nobel Prize Laureate that works at NASA. That was an honour and a great opportunity.
You have lived and worked across four continents and five countries. How has your rich cultural immersion given you competitive advantages and shaped your mission and vision of your personal and professional life?
I learned to never take anything at face value and to never take anything for granted. I have also been exposed to a huge variety of different ways of thinking and that helps tremendously when guiding my clients on problem solving and with seeing the bigger picture. The same goes for my personal life. I have been through quite a number of challenges in my life and this bigger perspective helped me to have hope, knowing that everything would be all right.
You have observed and worked with different leadership styles and corporate cultures globally. In your view, what are the keys to effective leadership and corporate culture in today’s fast changing world?
In one word: Care. Care is the essential element in effective leadership and corporate culture. When leaders care enough, they will make sure that their employees are cared for and the employees will go the extra mile in return.
Toyama&Co. leverages on combined 100+ years of expertise in transformational leadership and specialises in achieving sustainable peak performance cultures in organisations. Can you tell us more about transformational leadership and its importance in creating a successful organisation?
In transformational leadership, leaders encourage employees’ growth and they create an environment where this growth can happen. I know that there are many companies out there where fear and competition are the main driving forces but this is a very antiquated model and, hopefully, won’t make sense for much longer (even though it will continue to exist).
What would be the repercussions if a business leader does not have a transformational mindset? What are the changes one should start making to become a transformational leader?
In the short term, there isn’t much of a difference as companies that don’t have leaders with transformational mindsets can also thrive. In many cases, companies that have leaders with short-term mindsets can show better results (numbers) in the short term. What we don’t see is the path of destruction that generally follows in the long term.
What we see in companies without the transformational mindset is that the overall mood is that of fear, resentment, and/or resignation. These are much more difficult to be measured in numbers and much more difficult to notice until it is too late.
You may be aware of Gallup’s employee engagement report where it states that only around 33% of employees are actively engaged at work in the US (2017). This number is not very different in countries around the world, as this has become a global phenomenon. How come this is acceptable and, quite frankly, the norm? Can you imagine what would happen if this percentage was higher?
In order to become a transformational leader, one needs to start understanding what makes them and people around them tick. Being a lifelong learner and caring are a good start.
As the business world becomes more complex and hyper competitive, what would you say set Toyama&Co. apart from other leadership development and executive coaching consultancies? What industries or organisations will benefit most from your expertise?
We focus on change that we believe will make a difference so we try not to take any “2-day training workshops that will tick a box in the HR department”. What we mean by this is that we have seen so many companies that just want to tick a box when it comes to employees’ training. They think that a two-day training will change behaviour (which it doesn’t). That’s why we focus on a combination of training, coaching, reading materials and implementation at work.
We have been focussing on companies where subject matter experts (e.g. engineers, biochemists, physicists, etc) rise to leadership positions. In general, these subject matter experts have spent decades learning to become better at what they do but have spent almost no time learning to deal with people or learning to become better leaders so we help to close this gap. We have successfully worked with companies in a variety of sectors, including: banking, aerospace, biotech, telecommunications, medical and hospitality.
How do you meet the increasing demands of your clients? Are there interesting trends you have observed in terms of organisations’ coaching and leadership training needs?
Some of the more visionary companies are implementing longer term coaching and training initiatives and are not focussing so much on just their short-term needs. And in order to keep costs down, some of these long-term initiatives are being delivered through a mix of online and in-person methods, which helps with geography and with spreading these initiatives to other layers down the management chain.
Can you share with us some of the best feedback you have received from your clients and the changes/improvements they have received after working with you?
I think one of the most gratifying moments is when the leader we are working with starts seeing the same situation from a different perspective and they come up with completely different ways of being that were not previously accessible to them. In a recent case, we managed to, not only, avoid a leader being sacked but having him be promoted after just six months of coaching, with quick improvements showing in the first month of our engagement. This was a big shift as that particular problem had been going on for years and the company didn’t want to lose this employee. He was extremely valuable for the company but they thought they had no other option but to let him go. As a last resort, they called us and we were able to turn that situation around pretty quickly.
Another coachee, a company Director, was about to retire from his organisation and he told me in one of our sessions: Claudio, this is the first time that I focus on myself. I’ve spent almost 70 years catering to the needs of others and you showed me that it’s ok for me to focus on myself. I am very grateful!
One of your trademarks is the Samurai Samba Vinci ProgramTM. Your book about it also became an international bestseller. Can you tell us more about it? How do the principles of Samurai Samba Vinci WayTM help you achieve success as a global leader in this field? How do these three principles help and inspire leaders to create positive changes and become more successful in their roles?
I was surprised that my book has sold copies in 16 countries so far and it seems to be resonating with people from around the world as the metaphor that I use is very visual and easy to understand.
The main essence of the Samurai Samba Vinci programme is this: the leader of the 21st century knows who he/she is and has an unwavering core (Samurai), is very flexible and adaptable to different situations and circumstances (Samba) and amalgamates everything that they are whilst focusing on innovation and in the future (Vinci).
If you are too Samurai-like, you become very rigid and you are not as adaptable and malleable, whilst if you are too Samba-like, you become too flexible and too adaptable, which makes it easy for you to lose yourself. And the Vinci (based on Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance Period) helps to bring your whole person into the equation (as there is a tendency for professionals to try to compartmentalise and separate their work persona from their social persona and this rarely works).
Once you have a good balance of all three, you become more authentic, you are also very adaptable and you are able to amalgamate your whole being into all of your interactions.
What excites you most about the field of leadership development? What is your short and long term goals for Toyama&Co. in the coming years?
I really love that we get to positively impact many teams and companies around the world. We spend so many hours at work and, as we have mentioned in previous questions, the great majority of employees are dissatisfied at work and it doesn’t need to be this way.
We want to continue to positively impact companies around the globe and to see the ripple effects of having better bosses, having more cohesive teams, better communication among employees, and how these factors impact morale both in the company and in their personal lives.
On a lighter note, we are interested to know what are the top things or activities a high-calibre business leader like you does to recharge during your day off from work?
Well, what I love to do to recharge is to spend time with my four-year-old daughter. She teaches me every day how to see the world from her perspective and she brings so much joy and lightness to my days. So many times, I have been worried with loads on my mind and she reminds me to take things lightly and to focus in the moment.
To end this interview, could you share with us your favourite motivational quote? What does success mean to you?
“Tired of trying to cram her sparkly star-shaped self into society’s beige square holes, she chose to embrace her ridiculous awesomeness and shine like the freaking supernova she was meant to be.” – Unknown
Success means being happy and grateful with my current life (and all of its imperfections) and how impactful my contribution to the ones around me is.
Thank you very much Mr Toyama. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
About the Interviewee
Claudio Toyama is an accomplished executive coach,workshop facilitator and customer experience consultant with over 25 years of international experience. Claudio’s passion lies in transforming business as we know it. He loves to work with leaders and teams that want to make a positive impact and leave a legacy. He believes that profit and growth are byproducts of great offerings and outstanding delivery. He has lived and worked in five countries on four continents – Brazil, Japan, Italy, U.K., and the U.S., and he is also an international award-winning author of the book“The Samurai Samba Vinci Way: How to Improve Your Executive Presence, Increase Trust and Lead Your Team at a World-Class Level”.