Dale Dauten: Speaker, Author, Innovation Consultant [an error occurred while processing this directive]

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 delay.
  • "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 to mastery."

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

  1. Letters From A Stoic
  2. Climbing the Blue Mountain
  3. The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  5. Bushido: The Way of the Samurai

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