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What Bruce Lee has taught Canon India's CEO Manabu Yamazaki

The president and CEO of Canon India talks about how being 'formless' and having an open door policy has helped him as a leader and mentor

Manabu Yamazaki looks up to late martial arts actor and instructor Bruce Lee.
Manabu Yamazaki looks up to late martial arts actor and instructor Bruce Lee. (Canon India)

Manabu Yamazaki took over as president and CEO, Canon India, in April this year.  He has been at the Japan-headquartered organisation for the last 32 years and has served in markets across Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Currently based in Gurugram, Yamazaki talks about the people who have influenced him, and his mentorship style.

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Who do you consider your mentor and why? 

I consider Bruce Lee as my mentor. Along with being a master martial artist, he is also a philosopher and a poet. I started out being a fan of his movies, but subsequently, I discovered many of his books of poetry and philosophy and learned deeply about his unique perception of being, and method of self-control. The “Be Water” or “Be Formless” approach influenced the way I behave in many ways.

One major insight/change you worked on with your mentor's guidance?

Being in a world of uncertainty, you are constantly faced with challenges that put you under stress. That’s when I go formless – staying calm and emptying my mind to let yourself flow with them, and never to let the stress dictate your behaviour. Taking a short nap, for example, is one of the ways to go formless. Managing a large organization requires staying on top of the essence of issues, but this does not happen when one's mind is disrupted by stress and anxiety. It helps you to start being cool and ready to listen and to take control of any issues.

What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work? 

For me, a mentor is someone who can see the best in you and help you flourish your capabilities. This in turn makes you become a better person, both personally and professionally. It is a relationship that is based on mutual respect, trust, and integrity and can only be fostered if given the freedom to communicate without getting judged.

At my workplace, I ensure that my colleagues know I am approachable, accessible, and available when needed. An open-door policy helps strengthen the professional connection and brings in a lot more transparency across levels. Also, I feel that a critical aspect for a mentor is to reflect on their experiences and determine the next steps, and this is exactly what I do with my colleagues at work.

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What time do you wake up and what's the first thing you do after waking up? Basically, what's your morning schedule after waking up?

I wake up at 6 am, fix breakfast, have coffee, and then meditate for 15 minutes. It gives me time to introspect, channel my thoughts and help me reenergize for the day. Post meditation, I take a glance at the newspaper while having my breakfast following which, I power ahead on my planned schedule.

What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?

I realized that decorum to maintain a work-life balance is pivotal for one's mental and physical well-being, and I started with the same. Despite the busy workday, I make it a point to take out time to read and improve my knowledge of trends, technologies, and cultures. During my break time, I prefer taking a 15 minute power nap to recharge myself, which helps me stay productive. And I encourage my colleagues too to ensure they keep that balance and prioritize their well-being along with work. 

Any book/ podcast you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth? Why?

I strongly recommend everyone to read Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living by Bruce Lee.

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