The Five Greatest Advice Books of All Time:
Bushido: The Way of the Samurai
"If you attend an exclusive samurai's party and you feel
timid, you cannot do your part in making it a success. You
had first better prepare by convincing yourself that you will
have a grand time. And you should feel grateful for the invitation."
That bit of advice is from Bushido: The Way of the Samurai,
based on the writings of Tsunetomo Yamamoto, dating from the
early 1700s. It is a far more useful and engaging book than
the pompous and over-rated The Art of War, and counts
as one of the great volumes of shared wisdom. In fact, it
starts my list of The Five Greatest Advice Books of All Time,
appearing as number five.
One section of Bushido will feel familiar to the
Western reader - a description of the four types of employees,
or in this case, Samurai. Although Yamamoto did not employ
the "four quadrants" that are Value Meal Number One to business
consultants in modern America, the types handily fit the grooves
of modern thought: On both the hortizontal and vertical axis
are DULL and ALERT, which gives us four types. Quoting Yamamoto…
- "ALERT-ALERT are those who are very quick on the uptake
when they are told to do something. They arrange affairs
and carry out duties in a fine manner. They are so good
that they are few in number.
- "DULL-ALERT are those people who fail to clearly understand
at first what their duty is. But, in finally putting their
duty into practice, they perform splendidly and with no
- "ALERT-DULL are those who, when told to do something,
accept very graciously and willingly, but they take a long
time to fulfill the task.
- "The rest are DULL-Dull. They are in the majority."
Ah, yes, even with the marvelous samurai training and traditions,
there's the familiar odd math of categorizing people: the
majority are below average; the other half are "if onlys";
and maybe two percent are in the top ten percent.
However, Bushido offers us something unfamiliar by
way of a solution. In a little section called "How to Attract
Talented People," the Wise Master declares, "Irrespective
of any matter, things gather around the one who loves them.
If you love flowers, every variety of flower will begin to
gather about you, even though you have not had a single seed
until that time. In due course, there will grow a flower of
the rarest kind. Likewise, if you love people, the result
will be the same." Here we have the samurai, known for fierce
fighting and noble dying, appreciating the great magnetic
field of love. New Age, no? Three hundred years aged new.
Having been a student of gifted bosses for over a decade
now, I can assure you that "Bushido" had it right. The best
bosses are those who love great work, who light up when they
see it. The best employees want to show off, to be appreciated,
to bring their victories to a worthy recipient. If you want
to be surrounded by star performers, you have to be a great
audience, a lover of talent.
Further, in this the Age of Executive Trump-ing, we are led
to believe that self-promotion and self-indulgence are the
means and ends of a career. In the Eastern tradition we get
something more seemly:
"[The highest level of mastery] is the level of the trackless
road. You can never see the end of your mastery. Then you
truly realize how lacking you are. You have only to go ahead
with your intention of mastery in mind. You go forward with
pride and without humility." Yamamoto goes on to write, "Your
life is something you build every day. You must convince yourself
that you have surpassed yesterday. And tomorrow you must feel
that you have surpassed today. In this way there is no end
Traveling the trackless road, with neither pride nor humility
for companionship -- there is a challenge worthy of a master.
It is the mastery of self. The road is trackless because you
are always moving on, going to where you haven't been, guided
only by the stars of the great masters before you and the
love and respect of the talented people attracted to traveling
beside those who are determined never to arrive.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
"The Five Greatest Advice Books of All Time" Series
- Letters From A Stoic
- Climbing the Blue Mountain
- The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson
- How to Win Friends and Influence
- Bushido: The Way of the Samurai
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