If you want to know why many Japanese chief executive officers fall short as leaders, look no further than how they are paid.

That is the view of Atsushi Saito, who ended an eight-year stint as head of Japan Exchange Group Inc. in June. Japanese CEOs are underpaid, according to Saito. Not only that, most of their salary is fixed regardless of performance, and they will not make bold decisions for fear of missing out on cushy adviser roles after they retire, he says.

The solution: pay them more, link compensation to the share price and part ways when they step down.