Manage by Flying Around

Manage by Flying AroundSince the title of this blog is manage by walking around, kudos to Haruka Nishimatsu, the president and CEO of Japan Air. According to a CBS News article, he practices management by walking flying around:

“If management is distant, up in the clouds, people just wait for orders,” Nishimatsu told CBS News through a translator. “I want my people to think for themselves.”

And meeting his people means popping into planes, chatting with flight attendants, even sorting the newspapers.  “I’d like to just find what is going on at the front line,” he said.

This is an admirable attitude but Nishimatsu goes a step further, recognizing that a good leader should motivate employees by treating everyone equally. Unlike the American car company CEOs who used private jets while asking for billions in bailout funds, Japan Airlines’ CEO comes to work on the city bus. And when he cut employee salaries to reduce expenses, he also cut his own. Nishimatsu even eats in the company cafeteria.

Too many managers act like they are better, smarter, or more entitled than everyone else. With that attitude, maybe they should get rid of all of their employees and do the job themselves. Instead, I believe that you should hire good people and let them do their jobs. And don’t ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.

Although I’ve never flown on Japan Airlines, I bet you it’s extraordinarily well run. It wouldn’t even surprise me if Nishimatsu refilled my drink while I was on board.

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3 Responses to Manage by Flying Around

  1. Jeff Rosenberg April 22, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    Fantastic story – thanks for highlighting it. Like you I think it’s imperative that managers not act with a sense of entitlement, or that they have “already paid their dues”. I appreciate your writing on this topic, because while other topics may get more exposure (like the social web, of which I am a huge advocate), without a proper approach to organizational management businesses cannot reach their true potential. I referenced this post and offer my own airline experience at

  2. Jonathan April 22, 2009 at 3:03 pm #


    Thanks for the nice words. I just check out your post and really like your story. I’ll check out the rest of your blog.

  3. Paul Ritchie April 29, 2009 at 6:09 am #

    Hi Jonathan,
    This story doesn’t make it clear, but Nishimatsu-san is leading a massive turnaround. JAL hasn’t been healthy for a long time. Here’s a story from when he came on-board (


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