A Lesson on Hiring from a Samurai Warrior

On the last day of a business practices exchange mission to China and Japan, I came across a small book:The Real Art of Japanese Management. After three weeks of comparing Oriental and American management methods, I was amused to be buying this book on the way home, rather than before embarking on the adventure.

When reading it while flying over the Pacific I discovered I had bought the book by its subtitle. The actual book title is: The Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy. The author: Miyamoto Musashi, the renowned swordsman and teacher of martial arts. The year the book was published: 1643. By the time we set down in Los Angeles, it was clear to me that our hosts in Japan had all been applying the lessons of the Bushido in the course of our sessions with them.

Although four centuries separate Musashi from today’s world of management, the samurai warrior’s insights and advice remain current. In fact, I keep this book on my desk, picking it up at spare moments, reading a page or so at a time. The lessons I learn remain fresh with each reading. 
Let’s examine one particular quote from Musashi’s book:

“When we look at the world, we see various arts offered for sale. Men think of themselves as commodities for sale. There is a trend for men to invent various tools and to sell those rather than their faculties. This thinking is like separating the seed from a flower and valuing the seed less than the flower….This way of thinking (also) causes them to color their technique and ‘show it off’.”

How might this lesson apply today regarding executive search and selection?

There is ample evidence of executives who see themselves as a commodity for sale, more highly valuing their credentials and work experiences than they do their unique faculties…valuing their tools more than their talents. These executives seek to “show off” their achievements and career history, despite the clear reality that this information provides only a little knowledge. Little do they know that there is great strength to be gained from examining their distinctive attributes and talents.

When executives sell their past work experiences as a commodity, they relegate themselves to being sized up against many others with similar backgrounds. This leaves them vulnerable to being cut out of a pool of candidates for the smallest of variances. As a result, selection and often compensation, is determined by the size of the pool, not by the significant individual differences of those in the pool.

Consider instead the wise executives who regularly reflect and examine their unique individual talents…those faculties that set them apart from the rest. They position themselves, not for their tools, but rather, for their exceptional human differences.

And how do you, the hiring executive, choose your management “warriors”? When moving through your executive selection process, do you give more weight to candidates with the flowering credentials or to those who articulate seeds of talent? Candidates possessing only a little self-knowledge may look good at first, but die on the vine when hired.