Hero: Masao Yoshida

On March 12, as the world watched the unfolding disaster in Japan, a monumental decision was made at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The plant manager, Masao Yoshida, ignored a direct order from his company superiors to stop pumping the sea water that was cooling the reactor. In one act of defiance, Yoshida prevented another plant meltdown, saved thousands of lives, and exposed the troubled relationship between his company Tepco and Japan’s ruling government.

Yoshida’s actions and their aftermath are chronicled in a June 12 article from the New York Times. The piece suggests that the complacency of Tepco and the numerous bureaucrats surrounding the Japanese Prime Minster created a situation that left plant workers to fend for themselves. The move to stop the cooling of the Fukushima plant was not based on reason – it simply had to be done.

Thankfully, Yoshida received only a light verbal reprimand from his superiors. Though they may not admit it, his actions prevented a terrible situation from becoming worse. Masao Yoshida joins the leagues of those who’ve had to disobey in order to do the right thing.

We can learn a lot of useful coaching approaches from Yoshida and from those who came before him. “Deep Throat,” a/k/a W. Mark Felt, helped expose the Watergate scandal by divulging information to the Washington Post. During the reign of the Nazi Party in Germany, many Germans put their lives at risk to help Jews and other minority citizens hide or escape the country. Frederic Whitehurst exposed the inefficiency and lack of investigative rigor in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Today, he oversees the Forensic Justice Project for the National Whistleblower Center.

What can we learn from these defiant heroes? Here are a few takeaway coaching tips:

  • Always do the right thing. Never rationalize destructive or ineffective behavior by claiming, “I did what was asked of me” – that will never be a suitable excuse.
  • If you fear that following your conscience will draw the wrath of your colleagues, consider the consequences of not doing the right thing. Think of how you will feel if you don’t take the risk and stand up for what you believe.
  • Remember that people doing the wrong thing often think they are right. When you follow your conscience, be prepared to face strong opposition with few allies.
  • Doing what you know is right is always, ultimately, its own reward.

When you take responsibility for following your own sense of what’s right, you may save lives or you may simply make things brighter in your own corner of the world. Whomever you are, this challenge is yours to accept.

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