Saturday, 26 May 2007

Warrior management

OUR search for the Holy Grail of management has taken us to places we would never have expected to go.

To lands as far and away as China and Japan, and to times as ancient and mystical as those of the emperors and shoguns that ruled these far away kingdoms and fiefdoms. In order to run our organizations better, we have tried to emulate the spirit of the warrior, of great men like Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi.

But can we really know what it is to be like the great warriors of old? Is reading books about the battles that Sun Tzu won, or those that tell about Musashi’s prowess with the sword, really helpful in allowing us to understand how these men achieved great success in their time?

Our answer over the last two installments of this series has been no. The problems are two-fold, as we have examined. The first stumbling block is our insistence on learning the ways of the old, as if they were things we could pick up from modern-day convenience stores —on demand and instantaneously.

Nobody these days cares much about learning something the old-fashioned way, through sweat and hard work.

How else to explain the proliferation of on-line management schools offering MBA diplomas without one having to sit through thousands of hours of rigorous case discussions? Internet management, if I may call it that, has a lot to blame for this mentality.

Unlocking the secrets of the old means we have to go through the same path that the original holders of these secrets trod.

Which brings us to the second obstacle in our quest to learn from the masters— we want to merely experience things, not to be immersed in them.

This is best typified in the comment one of my American friends told me, when I asked him why he never ventured beyond the borders of the United States? “Why bother,” he said, “when I can see Paris in Las Vegas.” This Paris in-Las-Vegas syndrome, or in our case this Musashi-in-a-book affliction is one of the great maladies of our time. And it ails the practice of management particularly badly.

A common trait required in martial training is a true openness of mind. Zen masters often exhort their apprentices to empty their cups first, before they may be served any tea. This means getting rid of our cultural prejudices, personal preferences, preconceived notions and fixed paradigms. Anything less and true learning eludes us.

Another martial prerequisite is truthfulness to one’s self, as well as to others.

Translated in management terms, this means having total transparency in our actions, and the absence of subterfuge, scheming and manipulation in our ways.

But just think—how many managers can actually do this? Show me one who can, and I will show you hundreds who lie, scheme, connive and cheat their way to the top.

Contrary to what the name suggests, the warrior manager does not have to learn karate, aikido or kung fu to become one. As Sensei T.K. Chiba suggests, the modern day workplace itself is full of real life struggles that we must face steadfastly, and resolve with conviction.

The true warrior manager will not shirk from these challenges. But most importantly, he faces these problems with the openness of mind and the purity of heart as the warriors of old. Only then can he lead and inspire his organization to victory.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 26, 2007 (

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