Hamish Downie’s Five Questions with Leslie Taylor of The Human Element

Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.

Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.


TGG: I’m so pleased to be able to introduce my friend, Leslie Taylor, one of the best people I know in Tokyo. Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed today. Could you please introduce yourself and your company, “The Human Element”?

Leslie Taylor: I am a native Californian and long-term liver and worker in Japan and Asia Pacific. After an extensive career in HR consulting roles, i formed my own boutique firm. I did this because I wanted to focus my own practice on executive coaching and on finding resources and developing approaches that made sense for leaders who are working in organizations in Asia/Asian or hybrid organizational cultures.

TGG: May I ask the $64,000 Question – What brought you to Japan?

LT: Hmmm, I spent a year in Japan as part of a junior year-abroad program sponsored by the University of the Pacific. During that program, I lived with a Japanese family, interned in a Zen Temple on Kyushu, and studied Japanese history, art, political systems at Sofia University in Tokyo. Why did I choose Japan, among several destinations? My city of birth is home to a large Asian population, which includes Japanese whose families go back many generations. Both my father and I grew up with the children of these families — our family, their families have been intertwined for generations. Also, Pac-Rim California’s culture has been greatly influenced by Japan; its architecture, food, fashion and general aesthetic have strong Japanese notes. I think I was impacted by this aesthetic and various relationships from a very young age — I wanted to know more.

TGG: What inspired you to be a non-directive coach (and could you explain what that is)?

LT: Hamish, that is a great question and thank you for asking.

I first became interested in coaching when I worked in the field of expatriate management. In that context, coaching leaders who were new to roles in Japan and other Asian countries — in real time — and over the course of their assignments seemed a much better approach than typical pre-departure training. Later, as a senior consultant (and practicing coach) working in the Japan branches of U.S. HR consultancies, I developed a deep appreciation of coaching because it could be customized to the individual leader’s objectives, delivered great results for the participant and the organization, AND, and this is important…

I felt coaching to be less culturally-biased than other development methods coming out of the West. I saw it as a ‘clean’ approach.

And, I think this was the case, at least in my early coaching practice, meaning that coaching participants were provided with information — and that could be psychometric data, feedback from their boss, peers and team members and coupled with self-assessment — but, really, it was very much up to the client to decide how he/she would interpret and respond to these messages and it was the client who created and owned the development agenda and the work of the coaching engagement. Again, I would call this a ‘clean’ and respectful approach, with well-defined roles and boundaries.

What I noted, though — and over time — was that coaching was being inflected with agendas other than those related to business goals, or the participant’s aspirations — or, what I would bucket under the desired outcome of behavioral change. As for other agendas, these seem to have emerged from what many call the Human Potential Movement, and relate to constructs like self-actualization, and states associated with peak-performance. So, I think we see a great deal of coaching bought, sold and delivered based on dramatic claims that the participant (and his organisation) will be ’transformed’ by the experience; that he/she will achieve ‘peak’ or ‘heightened’ states of effectiveness. Note, I just google’d the terms “peak performance” and “coaching” and got 22,000,000 hits!

I guess I should back up and say that another reason I initially gravitated to the coaching field is that I believed to to be research-based and data-driven. While many coach training programs and methods now claim to be evidence-based, I have not seen compelling evidence of the benefits of approaches labeled as ’transformational’. If a reader is in possession of such research, please send it my way. Please note, there is a difference between ’testimonials’, a client reporting a subjective state, and others perceiving it.

OK, what is Non-Directive Coaching? By definition, all coaching is non-directive, meaning that coaching by its very nature does not involve the transfer from coach to client of business or other kinds of knowledge, but relies on the client’s intrinsic ability to identify and solve his/her own issues, to attain his/her stated goals. That said, good coaches do have expertise in facilitating self- and other-awareness and in structuring a learning process; and they do provide empathetic support to the client during this process. Many coaching approaches that claim to be non-directive seem, in fact, to contain the imperative to transform the client’s perceptual, thinking, and decision-making styles, and, I would add that a range of tools and techniques are covertly brought to bear in the work. These may include NLP, constructs associated with neuroscience, e.g. neuroleadership, and epigenetics. While I can allow that clients may derive some benefit from these approaches, or think they do, I: 1) don’t think adequate research has been done to merit broad-based adoption in the coaching field, and 2) techniques used in both coaching and coach training have proven harmful to some participants. For me, non-directive positioning means that we rely on the client’s internal resources to accomplish changes the client has identified, and we do not use technologies that are potentially harmful. It also means that the client sets clear, and measurable goals, and that progress against these goals is measured in some way.

One might call this a back to basics approach, but basics work very well.

TGG: So, those feel-good seminars could actually be doing a lot of harm. We really have to keep a skeptical eye trained at everything. If it’s too good to be true – it probably is. By the way, most of our readers are independent creators, is there a (universal) piece of advice you could give them? and/or What would be the biggest benefit to an independent creator in getting a coach?

LT: I’m not a business advisor. What I might say, and based on my own experience is that independent creators of ‘anything’ can benefit greatly from gaining a deeper understanding of their own drivers, and greater awareness of their environments. I also think ‘it is lonely out there’, and independents can really blossom in relationships that are structured, supportive and focused on their needs. Finally, an output of many coaching engagements is enhanced people management skills — in a way the clients models a coaching approach inside his/her organization, which can net many positive changes. If your readers think they can benefit from a coaching process, I would encourage them to speak to several different coaches and to ask direct questions about their approach, and track record.

TGG: Finally, how can we best connect with you (i.e. follow your blog, inquire about hiring you, linkedin etc)

LT: I have recently launched a new website, and will be (fingers crossed regarding CONVID-19) adding regular content to its blog. Please take a look at:


Also, as a coach who very much enjoys working with entrepreneurs in Japan, I would be happy to talk to anyone interested in coaching, or organization development. Please feel free to contact me directly at:


TGG: Thank you again for the fascinating responses!

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