Leaning into Leadership: A Conversation with Chiaki Nishino
I’m constantly inspired and impressed by the next interviewee in my Leaning Into Leadership blog series. She is talented in always seeing the bigger picture, connecting the dots and connecting people. She is intentional about how she spends her time and prioritizes her day, and it truly shows in how she gets things done but also in how she clearly communicates with others. She’s a learner and gleans lessons from her many experiences and interactions and makes sure to share them with others. You can learn a lot from Chiaki Nishino, president of Prophet. (I know I do all the time!) Hope you enjoy getting to know Chiaki!
Amanda Nizzere: What do you do at Prophet and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
Chiaki Jin Nishino: I’m President of Prophet, and I think of my role as threefold. First is, running the North American business. People can come to me for anything on revenue, cost, talent, operational aspects of the business if it affects the way we work to deliver outcome, or if there are ways to enhance how we run the business. As President, what I feel most responsible for is not just tapping into my expertise, but connecting the dots across the expertise areas that we have within Prophet. Next, I do a lot of client service because my background is in customer-centric growth strategy. And finally, I sponsor the DEI effort at Prophet and that’s an important part of my role, both personally, in running the business, and with regard to my client work. All three aspects tie together in my mind.
AN: What energizes you with all of those different hats?
CN: No question it’s the different teams that I get to interact with. I think the great thing about the way we’ve grown over the years at Prophet is that we’re very interdisciplinary. That wasn’t the case when I first joined the firm, and I don’t mean that just from the client-delivery side, but across the firm as well. We have so many people with different types of expertise, whether it’s on the operational or client service side.
AN: What is your go-to productivity hack?
CN: I don’t know if it’s a hack as it sounds so basic…! But I keep a to-do list because it keeps me organized. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ll bold the things that I know I must get done and then un-bold the ones where I know I have a little bit of time. Ticking off each of them makes me feel productive and gives me a sense of accomplishment.
AN: Has anyone influenced you when it comes to how you approach your work or your working style?
CN: There’s no one singular person who’s influenced me, and that might have to do with the fact that there weren’t a lot of female leaders as I was moving up in my career. I’ve had such great male bosses and people around me over the years that I’ve had the opportunity to pull different aspects of how they work and then integrate them into my own style. I learned how to engage clients from one set of people, and ways to engage with teams from others. I would say it’s an amalgamation of everyone that I worked with, from when I was an analyst, all the way up to my leaders and colleagues at Prophet.
AN: Is there a specific way you start and end your day?
CJN: My preference is to start my day at least a half hour before my meetings – look at the calendar and say, “Okay, what’s the most important thing I really need to make sure gets done today?” It helps me focus and gets me grounded for the day, and importantly with a cup of Earl Gray tea in hand. Then I end the day, scanning the emails and Teams to make sure I haven’t missed urgent asks from teams or to-dos because the last thing I want to do is to be not responsive to team members I work with.
AN: What mistake did you make early on in your career and what did you learn from it?
CJN: When I was an analyst, I put my all into everything I did or whatever a partner asked me to do. I didn’t push back on things that I was asked to do or the hours that I was expected to work. At one point that almost drove me away from the consulting business because I was working long hours and holidays with a bad boss. I was so tired, and I didn’t deliver the output that I could have if I wasn’t so exhausted. I nearly quit, but my advisor asked me to do one more project so I could try to deliver my best before giving up on consulting. I’m glad he did because I wouldn’t be here today without that guidance.
This wasn’t about putting extra hours in with partners who cared about teams – I didn’t mind at all and in fact, putting in that extra effort allowed me to learn and get good at this business. It was more about putting a sanity lens on whether what I was doing was adding value in the right way or if I was delivering the best work. The experience helped me understand that it’s ok to pause if you think something isn’t feeling right and get advice from people around you to check your gut and see if you’re thinking about it the right way or not. Since then, I’ve always trusted people to go to and get that helpful outsider perspective. Have those go-to trusted people to get an objective perspective.
AN: If you could snap your fingers to become an expert in anything, what would it be?
CJN: I would learn to play the piano. Music isn’t something that my parents prioritized. My husband’s parents did, so both my kids started playing the piano when they were young. It’s such a wonderful skill to have.
AN: Is there one thing people don’t know about you?
CJN: I grew up doing origami as a way to make friends when I first came to the United States because I couldn’t speak English. As a third grader, the only way to make friends was to do something that would interest other kids because I couldn’t actually talk to them. My mom told me I should use origami to get to know people. Not only did it help me make friends, but it became a mode of relaxation for me as well. I usually have a pack of origami paper on my desk or in my bag.
Starting with this interview, I’m introducing a new series of Rapid Fire questions below. The interviewees did not see these in advance and had only a few seconds to think about their responses. Enjoy!
- How are you uncommon? I love connecting with people and connecting people to each other.
- What’s your favorite day of the year, and why? January 1 because it always feels like a fresh, new start. I’m usually in Japan every year at that time, so we go to a shrine, and we pray for a good year.
- What’s your favorite place in the world? Wherever home is. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and I could pick many locations that I’ve loved along the way, but I think it’s wherever home is. I’m a proud homebody.
- What is one thing in business that no one is talking about, but should? Relationship building – especially in new hybrid environments. I don’t know that we’re talking enough about the type of relationships that you should be building within and across levels and functions. It’s an important discussion in this new working reality we’re all trying to navigate.
- What charitable organizations or initiatives do you support? I’ve spent a lot of time at a boys’ summer camp, Mowglis, in New Hampshire. My husband went there as a kid and both of my boys have gone. Initially, I had a hard time saying yes as it’s a seven-week sleepaway camp in New Hampshire, but my kids loved it so much, that they’ve gone every year since they were 7 years old. I formed a mom’s group there years ago when my first son initially started in order to meet other moms and caretakers and answer questions they may have – that’s different from having an alumnus of the camp like my husband answer them. I still do that, so that’s been something that I’ve spent more time on outside of work.
- What is one wish that you have for the future? That our kids can grow up in an environment that feels safe. It’s been so top of mind for me this year and with my oldest son away now at college. Safety for our children is #1.
About the Series
Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the building blocks of leadership, from motivation, coaching and communication to mentorship, empathy, inspiration and more. Unraveling and understanding what makes a strong and impactful leader tick can help each of us implement new strategies to grow as individuals and leaders ourselves. Over the years, I’ve listened to podcasts, read books, attended conferences, and listened to TED Talks about various leadership topics, but some of the most impactful lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned have been from those around me—my mentors, colleagues, and industry peers—which led me to create this interview series. I invite you to join me as I interview various leaders in my network to share new tools and wise advice from them that you may just want to add to your own leadership toolbox.
See other Leaning Into Leadership articles here.
ABOUT CHIAKI NISHINO
Chiaki is Prophet’s President and runs the company’s North American business. Chiaki is also a member of Prophet’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors. Her extensive experience in strategy consulting has helped clients in financial services, communication and healthcare industries to achieve new levels of growth. Interested in talking to Chiaki? Contact her here.