Kazuyoshi Hisano focuses on the future when coaching top business leaders, urging CEOs and executives to look forward rather than analyzing the past. He also counsels his clients to start asking simple questions about their future.
"That ignites future-oriented thinking," Conoway President and Professional Coach Hisano tells The CEO Magazine. "The most important thing for us is to look at the future and project our future. And if you project something, it’s going to be different than the present."
Coaching has long been a mainstay in athletics, but it has found an important place in high-performance arenas such as business. Hisano and other coaches work to bring out the best in their clients, often by offering insights for improving performance, but also by motivating clients, keeping them accountable and providing a sounding board when necessary.
Executives are increasingly valuing the role of coaching in their careers, something that barely existed 40 years ago. And just two decades ago, "Coaching was mainly directed at talented but abrasive executives who were likely to be fired if something didn’t change," David B Peterson wrote in Harvard Business Review. "Today, coaching is a popular and potent solution for ensuring top performance from an organization’s most critical talent."
Everybody can become a coach.
Hisano coaches top clients but says his methodology, based on cutting edge cognitive science. "It applies to any person who aspires to improve their way of life in order for them to reach their goals," he says.
His hope is that coaching can become commonplace. "Everybody can become a coach," he says, explaining that widespread coaching will "create a better world".
Wealth of experience
Hisano draws extensively on his academic and business experience in his practice. He earned an economics degree from Tokyo University and an MBA from Tsukuba University, then gained experience as a manager and executive in several multinational companies. That business background, he says, can make clients feel more comfortable to speak openly knowing they are on the same level. "But I don’t think that’s the essential thing," he adds.
Hisano also draws on several decades of studying leadership, cognitive science and coaching. He has developed an expertise in qualitative science and, he says, applying teachings from that to real life and business.
Hisano depends heavily on soft skills as well, such as listening and paying close attention to client concerns.
I’m very good at listening to people and thinking about the other person. eventually, that is going to be the driver for them to grow.
"I’m very good at listening to people and thinking about the other person," he says. "Eventually, that is going to be the driver for them to grow. People need somebody to believe in them.
"Sometimes the client loses confidence, but I still believe in them."
In his coaching, he displays a special talent for simplifying and structuring complicated concepts, taking large quantities of information and synthesizing it into a few key concepts.
"Simplicity is always important," he says. "It can help us to understand and to be able to use ideas effectively."
A lifetime of coaching
Hisano’s passion for coaching shines through when speaking on the subject. It was ignited at the tender age of seven and manifested in ways such as always cheering for friends and trying to teach others.
"I have 42 years of experience being a coach," Hisano says. "What I realized is that I love to help other people to become better. And, as a result, I also become better."
Hisano has made coaching his career, but it’s about more than making money.
"My background or nature is that this is not necessarily for business purposes, it just happened to become a business," he explains. "If we think of it as a business, it doesn’t really match the nature of coaching, because it’s about helping people. And if you think about money, the client starts looking like money."
What I realized is that I love to help other people to become better. And, as a result, I also become better.
Hisano has been successful in business, both owning and running companies in parallel. He has been President of Conoway in Japan, a management support company, which provides consulting services based in coaching.
One of the approaches he uses there is CEO Coaching. It is inspired by cognitive science, which Hisano says is based in how the human brain works and how clients can more effectively use their brain.
Another approach is known as ‘Gold Vision’, which stresses the importance of setting high goals and shifting comfort zones to achieve them.
He has also published multiple books, which have been translated into languages including English, Italian and Vietnamese.
But Hisano’s commitment to coaching goes beyond business success. He dreams of teaching coaching to the world. He also welcomes the possibility that AI will replace him one day, effectively making coaching available to the masses.
"My dream is that I want to teach my coaching skill to AI so that this AI or somebody will do something similar and teach people for free," he says. "My dream is that I will lose my job because AI is so good at doing this coaching thing."
Hisano has embraced technology, partly the product of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. He used Zoom to work with people he had never met. It’s a technology that has allowed people to understand that there’s no need to always be meeting in-person, he says.
"The requirement for physical communication put some limitations on us. And I think we are being freed from those kinds of limitations," he says.
The pandemic ultimately proved productive for Hisano. He published two books in English during that time, and he also drew lessons from the experience, such as learning to accept people’s personal decisions.
Even in the worst of times, people had hope for the future. Maybe if we have a terrible thing happen, we can take that opportunity to learn that we always have a new dawn at some point in the future.
"We need to be more generous about that," he says. "The differences between people became visible and that itself was a challenge. But it also provided us an opportunity to grow as human beings."
The severity of the pandemic also reinforced the importance of focusing on the future.
"Even in the worst of times, people had hope for the future," he says. "Maybe if we have a terrible thing happen, we can take that opportunity to learn that we always have a new dawn at some point in the future."
Another concept Hisano imparts with his clients is known as ‘Feed Forward’.
"If you look at your future, you’ll be able to become happier," he says of the concept. "When people lose the ability to look toward the future, they become depressed. When we look at the future, we imagine something better than the present. So the important thing that I highlight with Feed Forward is to simply ask a question."
When coaching his clients, Hisano rarely inquires about past events. He recalls the experience of intervening in a family member’s mental health crisis and reinforcing the need to focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past.
"The more this person spends time in the past, it’s going to be harder for them to get out of it," he explains. "I want to take this person out of that world. What I can do is to help them to think of the future."
When people lose the ability to look toward the future, they become depressed. When we look at the future, we imagine something better than the present.
Of course, the future offers no guarantees. Hisano points to his own personal experiences as examples. His wife battled cancer and ultimately recovered. He purchased many tickets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics only to have the pandemic postpone the event and close the competition to spectators.
But looking forward brings with it a unique energy which Hisano has come to truly understand through his work and wants to share with the world. "If you have something to look forward to in the future, you’ll live with anticipation," he says.