The business world is an ever-changing environment, and theories of management seem to come and go. Trends in management seem to swing every 10 years or so like a pendulum, sweeping from one extreme to another. At one end is the hard-as-nails, cold management style that relies on numbers and statistics to make decisions regardless of their effect on workers. At the other end are concepts like “empowered teams,” which place an emphasis on how workers feel about themselves and the world.
Is there one method of management universal enough to work across the breadth of the pendulum’s arc, or are we as managers to be left swinging in the winds of change? Perhaps there is a universal answer. It is a method that has worked for almost a thousand years and has enough flexibility to adapt to whatever environment comes along. Samurai Management is based on the Code of Bushido, designed to bring order and efficiency to Japan centuries ago.
The Samurai were both ruthless killers and consummate artists. They admired equally the skills of a swordsman and a poet. In every endeavor, they strove to be the absolute best they could. The Samurai class managed Japan with both an iron fist and a velvet glove, developing a system of incredible efficiency at a time when business technology was certainly crude by any measure. How did they do it?
In 1899, our modern understanding of Samurai Management was described in a book written by Inazo Nitobe called “Bushido: The Warrior’s Code.” He described the seven basic guiding principles of Bushido and their place in society. By extension, these can be applied to every business, including your chiropractic practice.
1. Rectitude – Correct Judgment
“Rectitude is the power of deciding upon a certain course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering.”
Judgment in business is the firmness of a skeleton in a human body. A manager or organization that cannot make a decision based upon the available facts, without wavering, will go nowhere fast. It’s like the adage that says, “Go left, go right, or at least get out of my way.”
A manager leads, and people want a sense of forward movement and action. They trust the leader will choose the best direction based upon his best judgment, and act on it. Without a sense of direction, a team wanders aimlessly.
Having made the decision, a manager cannot regret the results. She must accept the glory of the victory as well as the agony of a defeat. If the decision was wrong, the manager must learn from it and not repeat it. Regret only mires you in pity and prevents you from moving forward again.
2. Courage – The Spirit of Daring
“To rush into battle and be slain in it, is easy enough; the lowest fool is equal to the task.”
Courage does not mean being foolhardy, nor does it require you to fight a losing battle. We’ve all been asked at one time or another, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Courage to act must be tempered with the fortitude of judgment. However, when the cause is worthy and the path is clear, a manager must have the courage to act, especially when the little voice inside is telling him he might fail.
Few things in life worth having are easy to obtain, and few achievements in business drop from heaven into your lap. It takes courage to try new things and face the unknown. A good manager draws on her past to recall the times she has done similar things and been successful, and she also remembers times when things weren’t quite so successful.
This information is processed and developed into a plan. The plan is evaluated in light of the costs to achieve the benefits desired. Once the cause is deemed worthy and the plan pronounced as sound, the manager must have the courage to act.
3. Benevolence – The Tenderness of a Warrior
“Though they may wound your feelings, these three you have only to forgive; the breeze that scatters your flowers, the cloud that hides your moon, and the person who picks a quarrel with you.”
Forgiving those who wrong you, or team members who fail you as a manager, is not a sign of weakness. There are times when someone fails or falls short of a goal, but the person legitimately did the absolute best he could. The easiest thing for a manager is to blame the employee for the overall failure and reprimand or fire him. The manager who constantly takes such an inflexible stand against failure will someday be found lacking himself by the team. When that happens, what action can the manager take without being a hypocrite?
The smart manager shows benevolence in as public a manner as possible. She acknowledges the team’s shortcomings without minimizing a disdain for failure. The manager may even point out the person or department responsible, but there’s an important difference. She takes part of the responsibility for the failure.
The manager might say, “Everyone did their absolute best, and I thank you all for your effort, yet we somehow failed to meet our goal. As your leader, I must have missed something or failed to anticipate all the contingencies. Whatever the cause, we will do better the next time.”
4. Politeness – Regard for the Feelings of Others
“Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those that rejoice.”
There’s a time and a place for everything, so they say. In management, there are times of really good news, promotions, and bonuses. There are also times of really bad news, layoffs, and lost bonuses.
Success should be celebrated to excess. Involve everyone in good news, throw a party, have a two-minute cheering session, or ask everyone to pat each other on the back. Recognize the lowest worker as well as the highest.
Bad tidings aren’t the time for hiding. Time must be spent mourning the loss, venting emotion, answering fearful questions, or wondering what went wrong; but it shouldn’t be a lot of time. Acknowledge the loss, but push forward toward winning again.
5. Veracity – The Word of the Warrior
“My word should be sufficient guarantee for the truthfulness of an assertion.”
As a manager, you must be truthful with your team in all matters – or none at all. Just as there’s no such thing as being a “little bit pregnant,” there’s no such thing as telling a little lie when you’re a manager. Once you’re caught in a lie, your team will wonder if anything you ever say is the truth.
Being truthful in all matters can be extremely liberating. Mark Twain once said he could never be a liar because his memory wasn’t good enough. Once you start lying to people, you have to keep on top of so many things, just to be sure you don’t trip yourself up somewhere. It’s far safer to be truthful.
There are times in which legal or ethical reasons prevent you from telling your team something, but even then you need to be as truthful as possible. Tell your staff, “I’m sorry, but I can’t share that information with you at this time. The instant I can tell you, I will.” If you’ve been truthful with them all along, they’ll believe you.
6. Honor – The Only Possession of a Warrior
“Dishonor is like scar on a tree, which time, instead of healing only helps to enhance.”
In the Garden of Eden, the worst punishment to Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit was not the pain of childbirth, nor thorns and thistles, but the awakening of the sense of shame. Almost anyone can overcome or forget a failure, but few people can outlive a sense of shame.
Like truthfulness, a manager or an organization that is honorable is an absolute. You are either honorable or you are not. A mistake or even a small lie can be forgiven quickly, but organizations seldom recover from being labeled dishonorable. Even entire industries can be labeled.
7. Duty – The Sense of Loyalty
“Loyalty works both ways: kings are the first servants of the state.”
One thing you can never forget is that individuals are always part of a bigger whole. Sons are part of their father, who are part of their ancestry. Local government is part of the state, which is part of the nation. Your team is part of the division, which is part of the company.
No matter how far you rise in a company, you always work for somebody. Even if you own your own company, you work for your customers and pay taxes to the government.
As a manager, you earn the respect and loyalty of your team. Your reputation spreads and attracts others to your team. You give your loyalty back to the group, in how you behave and how well you lead. The mutual loyalty builds and strengthens the bonds of your organization. There’s a Japanese saying in keeping with this theme that says, “Tiny pebbles meet in the stream, cling together and grow into mighty rocks draped with moss.”