The Samurai Effect

Years ago I read the book Shogun, by James Clavell, about the Japanese samurai (professional warriors). A samurai gave total allegiance to his liege lord and would die for him without question. The whole system was filled with honor and loyalty and was very beautiful in that respect.

While reading the book, I started treating my boss like my liege lord. What a difference it made! My attitude toward my boss changed and my boss’s attitude toward me changed dramatically. The working relationship became smoother, more friendly and more efficient. I did everything my boss asked me to do, to the best of my ability and without question. Of course, if my boss asked me to jump off a bridge, I wouldn’t have, but usually bosses don’t ask employees to do anything but their jobs.

I’ve often seen a different kind of attitude in the workplace, however, and I’m sure you’ve seen it too. It can be stated as “I’m not going to kiss anyone’s ass!” This attitude is characterized by arguing with the boss when asked to do something or trying to get away with not doing it very well. These people, even more than the rest of us, don’t like being told what to do, and actively resist it, which forces the boss to bear down to maintain control, turning the working relationship into an unnecessarily antagonistic contest of wills.

I’ve worked with people who got along great with everyone except the boss. And I’ve worked in places where I had a great boss, but my coworkers had a supreme jerk for a boss — and it was the same person. My “samurai” attitude had changed my boss for me.

In a way, your attitude toward a person creates that person. Interact with someone with a chip on your shoulder and the person will usually respond defensively. Approach someone with friendliness and cooperation and the person is likely to respond in kind. We play a part in creating the way someone treats us.

Do you want to stand out? Treat your boss like a liege lord and do what she or he asks you to do — cheerfully, without question, and to the best of your ability — and you will stand out. In your boss’s mind, you will contrast sharply with the people who don’t want to be told what to do. And it’ll be more enjoyable for you to be at work.

Create a boss you enjoy working with. In actual behavior, the difference isn’t much. You won’t be any more tired or worn out by it. But you and your organization will be better off when you adopt a samurai attitude.

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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