Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The Samurai Leader
Correction. I am not a servant leader as my last post suggested. I am a Samurai Leader.
I am in a process of applying for senior or middle management positions. Most of those jobs in any organisation call for leadership abilities and examples of your leadership abilities. When I've thought how I'd address these requirements based on an organisational setting, I was stymied.
Leadership is a vexing topic. To paraphrase the father of stress research, Hans Selye, everybody knows what leadership is, but nobody really knows. I have determined what leadership is. Leadership is an ambiguous concept. There are many, many different definitions and explanations of leadership with no consensus. Above all else, leadership is an industry. Countless books and articles are produced on the subject, and countless courses, seminars and programmes are offered all in the name or producing or improving leaders. It is a multibillion dollar global industry. Leadership is also a cult. It is a religious movement where leadership is idolised and revered. Every one is to be or aspire to be a leader.
To cut a long story short that forms the basis of an article I wrote that is going to be published in at least one business magazine, I developed the concept of the Samurai Leader:
'When I considered my leadership abilities and leadership style, I found the focus on leadership distracting and misguided. Why would someone want to be a leader? There are many answers to that question but most involve satisfying personal desires such as power, ambition, prestige, status, material benefits etc. Are these the attributes we want of our ‘leaders’? As Douglas Adams wrote in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: ‘It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.’
When I considered how I would respond to questions concerning my leadership abilities, I found that I didn’t want to talk about leadership, rather, I wanted to talk about service. To serve means to be of use in achieving or satisfying something, in this case organisational goals. There is a scene towards the end of The Last Samurai where the Emperor asks Algren about the death of Katsumoto: ‘Tell me how he died,’ Algren replies, ‘No, I will tell you how he lived.’
Tell me how you lead. No, I will tell you how I serve. I am more proud of my service than my leadership, and I believe the organisations I served benefited from my focus on serving rather than leading.
Samurai is a Japanese term that is used to refer to the professional warrior of medieval Japan and is translated as, ‘to serve.’ ‘Samurai leadership-management’ is a concept that I have developed to refer to a focus on service and 'getting the job done' to advance organisational goals. Is it a leadership or management style? Who cares? It is a way of getting the job done and advancing organisational goals. ‘Leadership-management’ merges the concepts that some say are different, some say are different sides of the same coin, some include leadership within the functions of a manager, and some use the terms interchangeably. Now the focus is simply on how a person gets the job done and advances organisational goals.
Do not confuse service for servitude. Samurai serve, but they are not servants. Robert Greenleaf developed the servant-leader model of leadership in 1970. The focus of the servant-leader is nurturing those who are served, generally those within the organisation, and generally those in subordinate positions. That is an idealistic, socially biased model of leadership. It is idealistic and biased because Greenleaf was a Quaker advancing a religious/social agenda. The samurai leader-manager is focused on serving the organisation and advancing organisational goals, not being a servant to other organisational members. This does not suggest sacrificing others for the sake of organisational goals as the US military ‘nobody gets left behind’ philosophy in Black Hawk Down exemplifies.
How does a samurai leader-manager serve? Ideally, through the application of jujutsu. Jujutsu is a Japanese martial art that was derived from the hand-to-hand fighting skills of the samurai. It is made up of two ideographs: ju meaning gentleness or giving way and jutsu meaning art, so jujutsu can be translated as ‘the art of giving way’ with the implication of first yielding to ultimately gain victory. The idea of yielding to gain victory is a philosophy that permeates East Asian culture and the East Asian martial arts, from judo to Mao Zedong’s (Mao Tse-tung) military strategy have recognised and implemented this principle.
The Taoist analogy of the yielding nature of water to overcome obstacles is often used to explain the principle of ju: ‘Nothing in the world is softer than water, but we know it can wear away the hardest of things. The supple overcomes the hard, and the so-called weak, the strong.’ How soft was the Boxing Day tsunami or the 2001 tsunami of Japan? How soft are the monster waves at Teahupoo, Tahiti or Pipeline, Hawaii? Another translation of ju is adaptable or flexible. This is a more useful interpretation of the principle of ju. The most efficient way of overcoming an opponent is to not resist their force but to use their force against them. But efficiency and effectiveness are two different things. Sometimes you simply need to use force to overcome your opponent. The attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour fits in with this expanded idea of the principle of ju.
Shouldn’t we be more focused on service rather than leadership? Shouldn’t we be more interested in samurai leader-managers. Tell me how you lead. I’ll tell you how I serve. Domo arigato gozaimashita.'
What do you think about the concept?