An important part of business leadership is being able to walk that fine line between optimism and realism. It’s important to recognize the organization’s flaws, but if employees see the boss panicking, they’re likely to follow suit. A capable leader needs a certain amount of swagger, with the ability to convince those under him that there’s a way for the company to turn all of its crises into opportunities.

Or, there’s the tactic adopted by the head of one of Japan’s largest chain of 100-yen stores, which is to wear that uneasiness on your fear-sweat-drenched sleeve, telling everyone associated with your business that they should brace for disaster.

Hirotake Yano is the founder and president of Daiso, a huge company with 100-yen stores not only all across Japan, but in an increasing number of foreign countries as well. Still, success hasn’t come easily to Yano. Shortly after marrying, he took over his wife’s family’s yellowtail fishery business, only to run it into the ground just three years later. He would go on to change jobs nearly a dozen times, burning through stints as a salesman and bowling alley operator, before finally establishing Daiso in 1977.

So it’s sort of understandable that even with his company posting 376 billion yen (US $3.13 billion) in sales last fiscal year, Yano isn’t exactly brimming with confidence. Among the ways the 71-year-old native of Hiroshima has described himself are:

“I’m all washed up.”
“Time has passed me by, and I don’t know anything about the Internet.”
“I’m just a hopeless old man.”

It’s not just his own shortcomings that Yano is painfully aware of, though, but his company’s as well. In regards to Daiso, a number of less than glowing reviews have been attributed to its president:

“Seria (a rival 100-yen chain) has better stores and products than we do.”
“When I showed some of our products to the chairman of [Japanese mega-retailer], Ito-Yokado he was furious. ‘You’ll be out of business in three years if you make junk like this! You’ve got to put more effort into your products!’ he told me.”
“Daiso has a fundamentally shallow business plan.”

Deep or not, clean floors, well-stocked shelves, and lots of pink interior accents don’t seem like such a bad foundation to build off of.

Yano doesn’t exactly have a reputation for keeping his misgivings to himself, either. He’s been quoted as saying that during a dinner with the head of Mizuho Bank, he told his dining companion, “I don’t know what will happen with our company from here on out, and I’m sorry for the trouble we’re likely to cause you.”

No word as to whether Yano went on to apologize in advance for the high likelihood that he would spill wine all over the banker’s new suit.

And yet, somehow, Daiso keeps making money. It’s possible Yano just has an extremely dark and self-effacing sense of humor, with his concept of “self” broad enough to extend to his company and its workers. There’s also the chance that Daiso’s employees just feel bad for the perpetually outwardly gloomy guy, and are all working extra hard in hopes it’ll help him pull out of his ever-present funk.

Or, maybe the secret to Yano’s success lies in one of the few nice things he’s publicly said about himself:

“My good points are that I’m a deeply cheerful person who’s healthy and works hard.”

But speaking honestly, even though we’ve got no reason not to believe those last two qualities, we’re not entirely sold on the first.

Sources: Matorogu Tsuhou, All About, Livedoor
Featured image: Rocketnews24