The Five Destructive Behaviors
That Can Ruin Your Business

By Don Schmincke

For over seven hundred years, samurai warriors sought to discover principles for extraordinary leadership in a highly competitive environment. Today’s business leaders are on a similar quest, seeking the “truths” of leadership that will propel their organizations to the top. But while many modern leadership teachers focus on structure, processes, and procedures, the ancient samurais focused on the inner journey of enlightenment that drove them to achieve. Unfortunately, today’s business schools, consultants, and books fail to venture into the human essence so vital for true leadership.

As a result, many leaders have developed bad habits—or destructive behaviors—that are slowly eroding their companies. While they may think they’re acting like true leaders, they’re really undermining their own leadership efforts and perpetuating the notion of selfishness, arrogance, and greed.

Interestingly, the same destructive behaviors that ruined many samurai careers also ruin the modern executive’s business career. Here are five destructive behaviors to watch out for.

1. Lack of Bravery: While it may be easy to identify someone of integrity simply by their ordinary, everyday conduct, it is not so easy to single out the bold one in stable times. After all, anyone is a good captain in a calm sea. But the brave leader is most valuable in times of corporate crisis or when innovation is essential to keep enemies at bay.

In a business setting, lack of bravery shows itself as being a “yes” person—one who tells others only what they want to hear, or withholds the truth that desperately needs to be told, or fails to confront violations of accountability. Lack of bravery means not taking risks, not pursuing professional development, and not staying true to the company’s principles and values during times of trouble. Leaders who lack bravery also read the latest management books, use the hottest lingo, and think they are experts, but they don’t practice what they preach, and everyone knows it. They boast about their past skills, their self-importance, their connections, and all manner of things that can be neither substantiated nor believed. They cover their cowardice with arrogance, which never fully hides the truth. As a result, they talk about all the great things they could do for the organizations, but they take the company nowhere.

2. Lack of Respect: No matter how brave a leader may be, if he or she is lacking in the correct manners and etiquette with which respect is shown, that person is not a true leader. When dealing with employees, respect is essential for professional and honorable action. An executive must respect employee opinions, feedback, and argument, even if they do not agree with the person’s views.

Employees are the frontline, and their empowerment and performance are directly related to the respect they feel. Good leaders already know this. Poor leaders try to preserve their power and status so that they may achieve their greatness at the expense of the employee. They may even take credit for another’s ideas or achievements. To the poor leader, power over the employee is more important than making the employee powerful. This is the utmost in disrespect. And if this type of executive is not removed from the company, employee morale will quickly plummet, taking the company’s bottom line with it.

3. Lack of Humility: When they do something they perceive as “special,” many people believe some sort of praise or award is in order. When that praise does not come, they believe they’re being overlooked and they complain to anyone who’ll listen about how “taken for granted” they are. This is the error of someone who does not understand what service is.

The samurai warriors were in the field innumerable times in their day and risked their lives freely for their lords and commanders, but they did not talk about their merit or their valiant deeds. Today’s executives, however, can be found merely shuffling about their desks, rubbing the backs of their hands, and fighting battles with three inches of tongue. This is certainly nothing like risking one’s life in war. But in both cases, it is the executives’ duty to serve in just the same spirit of loyalty and humility. And whether what they do is anything special, praiseworthy or not, is for their CEO to judge. It is enough that they resolve to do their duty properly; otherwise they risk displaying an attitude of entitlement.

4. Lack of Consideration: A leader’s job is to support fulfillment and security of all employees. Thus, a true leader will never demand any more than is reasonable, nor will he or she overwhelm employees by requiring long hours simply to make up for the leader’s inefficient planning.

A good leader is always considerate to staff, sympathetic to suppliers, and careful no one gets ruined. And though you may not at once settle the debts you may have incurred in transactions, you certainly must pay something on them from time to time so as not to cause loss and distress. Executives whose duty it is to chastise robbers and thieves must not imitate the ways of these criminals. Without proper consideration of staff and suppliers, the leader incites rebellion.

5. Lack of Honor: There is a saying that officials and white garments are best when new. Though but a joke, it is often true. For a white shirt is very beautiful when new, but after it has been worn for some time the collar and sleeves get soiled and it begins looking very unpleasant. Likewise, when they are fresh and inexperienced, officials are very motivated and pay attention to the slightest detail. They respect the oaths and penalties they take on themselves and fear to transgress accordingly. So they serve without greed or dishonesty and are spoken well of by all their clan.

After officials have been in office a long time, however, they are apt to presume on people’s obedience, develop a big opinion of themselves, and do uncivil things they would never have done previously. This defilement is just like the dirty color of a white garment. The difference, however, is that the dirt of a shirt can be washed away with soap, whereas the stain on a person’s heart gets so ingrained that it can hardly be removed.

The same happens in corporations. And while it is enough to wash a garment every week, an executive’s heart has to be continually cleansed and rinsed. Just as soap and the practice of using it are needed for garments, so are the practices of Bravery, Respect, Humility, and Consideration needed in cleansing the hearts of executives.

Yesterday’s Wisdom Equals Tomorrow’s Success: Apparently, the ancient samurai warriors had it right all along: Lead with bravery, respect, humility, consideration, and honor and you’ll create an organization that thrives. Unfortunately, few of today’s companies list such things in their performance reviews, job descriptions, or cultural value statements. Rather, they rely on the “program du jour” or current “status quo” yet never really make any true progress.

But if you want your organization to be truly successful, you must follow the way of the samurai. Embrace these five traits so you avoid the destructive habits that have ruined companies and careers for centuries. When you do, you’ll achieve the greatest of leadership and enjoy abundant rewards.

Read other articles and learn more about Don Schmincke.

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