Women in Power Series: Leadership Advice from Musashi and Marie Kondo’s Words of Gratitude

Vanessa Yanez, World Wide Head of Print Communications at HP gets her inspiration from a 16th-century swordsman and philosopher.

Before Netflix brought us Marie Kondo for better living, Japan gave us Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi born in 1584 in Japan is one of the most famous swordsman, a dedicated Buddhist monk and author that the country ever produced but in the West, he is mostly known for being a genius strategist whose teaching career leaders have turned to. As part of our Women in Power Series, The Scope Weekly had a conversation with Vanessa Yanez, World Wide Head of Print Communications at HP about what she has learned from this martial arts master, writer, and war strategist.

Musashi, who was as much a philosopher as he was a warrior, intended that the teachings in his book would not only apply to warriors, but also to artists, business leaders, and bureaucrats. His advice on strategy and personal development are studied by business leaders around the world. His book The Book of Five Rings has been used for centuries by Japanese businessmen and considered by many of Silicon Valley’s warriors of today’s wired world.

Following is Vanessa Yanez’s take on his teachings.

See what the competition doesn’t see and use it!

Musashi’s approach to strategy is best represented in the story of his most famous del. His opponent Ganryu was an expert with the sword, but Musashi made a studied his opponent’s psychology before their fight. He realized that Ganryu was quick to anger and was prideful to the point of vanity, and too attached to the strict application of the ancient tradition.  Aiming to throw him off balance, Musashi arrived late at the duel and fought with a wooden pole, the kind used for teaching a novice, instead of a sword, as if he were not taking the fight and his opponent seriously. As expected by Musashi, Ganryu lost his temper and with it, his finesse.  Musashi easily defeated him because while Ganryu was solely focused on the match, Musashi thought about the man he was preparing to compete against. Combining dueling skill and psychology observation, Musashi developed a particular style as a strategist. Modern business leaders can learn from this approach. Study your competition and use it to your advantage. I ’ve also applied this strategy when attempting to teach team members new skills by looking at what seems to make each tick. We don’t all learn the same way; some of us are visual, while others learn by doing.

Make sure you can tell gain from loss

In his teachings, Musashi stressed that it was essential to be able to tell the difference between profit and loss. Sometimes it’s not evident which one is what. Something that looks like a good deal can end up being a money pit or a waste of energy, while the opposite also rings true. As a business leader at HP, I’ve learned to distinguish between a genuine gain and loss by expending my definition of both concepts. I don’t just attach a monetary value when evaluating gain and loss. I look at the human experience, did we learn something new? Has the team grown closer? Did we overcome an obstacle? These things matter as much than monetary gain and loss.

Never stop learning

Musashi believed that the way to become a masterful strategist was to learn as much as possible about a wide array of topics in multiple fields, in other words, to never stop learning. It ties to see what the competition does not see in itself and truly recognize gain from a loss. As Musashi wrote, “Know the ways of all professions.”

Do nothing which is of no use

Musashi believed that every action you take should be purposeful and I think that approach is one that prevents wasting resources.  I find that a good business leader should think carefully before every action, and only make a move once a clear benefit is established. Of course, it doesn’t mean to avoid taking risks, but even the risk-taking ought to be one with purpose and meaning.  There is no guarantee in business as in life.

The takeaway

Musashi understood that his best weapon and what gave him the most significant advantage over the competition and as a leader was his mind, not his physical prowess, youth or training. With a sharp, attentive, educated mind, he went undefeated through dozens of duels, and while I’m not about to take anybody to the mat, I have observed that a good business leader who cultivates her mind, practice mindfulness and restraint,  observe her surroundings, get to know her team and competition, reaches the summit of success and takes along her team.

Back to Kondo, decluttering and gratitude.

Musashi and Marie Kondo have more in common than a birthplace, just seven days before Musashi died in 1645, he published his final book,  Dokkōdō (The Path of Aloneness), in which he chronicled giving away his possessions in preparation for death, the ultimate declutter, while also giving thanks to his favorite disciple.

As Kondo’s father told People magazine when he was asked about his daughter’s success, “When you receive recognition from others for what you’ve accomplished, it is a reflection not only of your efforts but also those of the people who have supported you along the way.”

To find out more about Vanessa Yanez’s thoughts on leadership, follow her on LinkedIn.


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