Strategic Growth Secrets from Ancient Samurai

What do the Ancient Samurai have to do with business?
At first, you might not see much of a connection.
But in reality, the similarities between the sword and the boardroom are uncanny. 

When I wrote “The Code of the Executive” my intentions were for an historical academic contribution to the work I was doing at Johns Hopkins. The ancient manuscript enabled deep insights into the traditions and rituals that made the samurai one of the longest-running, most honorable organizations in history. 

But something unexpected happened. 

Companies applying the same principles also achieved similar higher performance results. They executed strategy with more speed, and produce higher alignment in their cultures. 

Samurai-like executive teams operating with honor, integrity, and bravery out perform other team structures. Their practices for subjugating the ego unleashes more powerful actions, decisions, and execution speed. And these behaviors are invaluable for increased growth and profitability. 

The problem is MBA programs and internal management training programs fail to provide methods to subdue the ego. But from applying these methods in organizations in multiple industries we’ve found that executive teams emerge consistently stronger.

And companies possessing teams like this outmaneuver even much larger competitors. 

Accelerating strategic growth with ancient, timeless principles principles is a useful option for many leaders. 


Self-Inflicted Wounds to Profits - Part 1: Tactical Seduction

Before speaking at a conference in Miami, I slipped in early to hear Tom Peters talk. Always entertaining. Surprisingly he described the 10% success rate of strategy planning (that’s right, only 10%) as “wildly inflated”.

More surprising is that after this data was published the experts didn’t rush in, find the source of the problem, and fix it. Instead, they withdrew, denied, avoided, fantasized, or blamed the client for the high failure rates.


Well, that’s a good question. First, let’s look at the first clue.

After doing autopsies on a number of companies struggling with the failure rates of their strategic planning, we uncovered a shocking insight:

Most Strategic Plans Aren’t Strategic.


When you open up you strategic planning documents chances are we won’t see a strategic plan. Instead we’ll only see tactics and analysis.

The problem is that many confuse strategic planning with analysis. But it’s not.

Kenichi Ohmae said it best: True strategy lies beyond analysis, it lies in the domain of intuition.

We teach analysis in business schools, and consultants promote it, but they never touch intuition.

And that’s the problem.

The strategic planning failure rates leave you in a tough spot.

One reason for such failure is you hire Strategic Planning Imposters.

These imposters aren’t doing it on purpose. They think they are strategic planning facilitators, and they might be, there are good ones out there.

But the imposters are easily exposed. Can they reference the top strategic texts from the past 2,500 years? Have they taught strategy at the graduate level? Have they published in strategic journals?

If not, then you smell an imposter.

Imposters give good meeting but bad strategy.

That’s why it’s hard to do strategy with industry experts. They only know what is already known. You’re job is to out-intuit the experts

Next time you have a strategic planning session, select your facilitators carefully. For a Facilitator Selection Tool, click here

Self-Inflicted Wounds to Profits - Part 2: Strategic Execution Sabotage

Ever see one of those pirate movies where they engage the enemy on the high seas, cannons aflame, smoke and thunder all around, and explosion tearing in the ships’ hulls? Of course you have. Now, have you ever seen one of those episodes where the captain runs below deck to start cleaning the cannons, organizing the ammunition, swabbing the deck?

Me neither.
Unless we’re looking at you.

Forgive me for being so blunt, but after training 1,000’s of CEOs annually, and working with dozens of corporations internally, a very common pattern we expose is how the CEO and their executives are opening 80 to 100% of their time below deck.

Yes, we call it “getting sucked into operations.”

One of the things we seek to detect in Distraction From Operations: The beast of operations sucks in many executives, most admitting that they spend 80 to 100% there. The reaction to tactical urgencies never gives strategy a chance. The struggle to focus executives on strategy is nothing new. A 700-year-old samurai manuscript, published in the book The Code of the Executive, suggests businesses have had this problem for a very long time. The focus on the immediate eats the possibility of the future. The fix? Stop Getting Sucked Into Operations! Weak teams suck their leaders into operational urgencies. No team can implement a strategic plan without strength and unity. Start monitoring where management is spending its time.

No Compelling Saga:

For thousands of years the masses were aligned to focused execution with a story of passion and focus. But many executives are taught to avoid the drama, not use it. This is why the many are outrun by the few. Passion is profit. So, make sure you craft a Compelling Saga: Has the winning strategy been captured in a language that inspires passion for a strategic result?

  1. Confusing Strategy with Tactics: Does your plan show how to out-intuit the moves of your enemy? Does it clearly indicate how you will win?

  2. Limited scope: Missed M&A opportunities. 


Execution Agility: Executives must do their utmost to understand the complexities necessary to implement strategy successfully. This requires leadership, intuition, focus, and drive. Mistakes here include:

  1. No Course-Correction: Many see strategy as a plan, not a way of thinking and moving. No plan survives its impact with reality, so adjustments and adaptations are critical as the real world emerges. Formal planning is only a small part of the journey. Execution without adaptation is a recipe for failure.

  2. Weak Leadership: A weak management team handicaps strategic execution tremendously. They not only are unable to contribute to a strategic discussion, they are unable to make the critical decisions and take the new actions necessary for implementation. In an accountability-vacuum everyone wonders why nothing is getting done. This is typically due to a lack of bravery and an overabundance of arrogance. Address the by evaluating and reinforcing your leadership. Build a strong team and maintain their strategic focus. Ineffectual leaders breed weak teams. Cowardice, arrogance, and inexperience should be avoided.

  3. Poor Capital alignment: Do you have the capital strategy to implement this strategy

  4. Slow Adaptation: Have you incorporated course-correction into your execution framework?

  5. Missing Recon: How can you adapt if you don’t have a recon campaign to detect market and enemy changes?