4 business lessons from Eastern philosophy

April 29, 2016

Once in a while, someone will ask us about the name of our company, LifeDojo, and they’ll want to know: What’s a Dojo, anyway?

“Dojo” is a Japanese term that literally means, “The place of the way.” Typically, it refers to a place or room where Japanese martial arts are practiced – a place of intense focus, mindfulness and learning. In one branch of Eastern Philosophy, the term describes the rooms or halls where monks engage in meditation.

Many of us study all manner of strategies and tactics to support our employees and work culture, but did you know Eastern philosophy has some of the best lessons of all? We can learn a lot from the ancient teachings of South and East Asia about how to build successful relationships and create the strongest possible team at work. Maintaining a solid, supportive environment where employees are excited to do their best starts with good listening, compassionate leadership, freedom to take the initiative, and positivity. Let’s look deeper at these 4 lessons.

1. Always be learning

Eastern philosophy teaches us to embrace the state of being a beginner. It is in this open-minded and curious state that we can absorb the many lessons available to us in our daily lives.

Leadership expert John Izzo (author of the book, “Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything”) conducted a study and found that the top reason employees don’t take more initiative at work is that their leaders fail to get their input before making decisions. 64% of the workers who were polled named this as their biggest problem at work.

Leaders have many opportunities each day to look for ways to collaborate, teach and learn from others, and the best employees really do want a seat at the table. A thoughtful, collaborative approach can lead to a calmer, more pleasant work environment with greater communication. A welcome effect of this curious, rather than competitive, culture is a group of employees with a greater willingness to take creative risks, knowing that their ideas will be heard and appreciated.

2. Compassion is key

A huge component of East Asian philosophy is compassion, and it’s just as important at work as it is in our personal lives. When we cultivate compassion between employees and business associates, we open the door to a wealth of things, like greater employee honesty, creativity and productivity!

How does compassion at work achieve these things? This study indicated that employees who felt more positive were more likely to help each other and provide service to customers on their own.Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. And Harvard Business Reviewhas noted that happier employees have also been shown to form and sustain higher quality relationships, and that in turn boosts workplace productivity.

Workplace friendships, built on a foundation of respect and compassion, enhance a sense of shared commitment and loyalty at work, which benefits everyone at the organization.


3. Too much control is a bad thing

Japanese Zen practices teach that we may experience complete peace by letting things “be.” This is often called the practice of “non-attachment.” By trying to control everything in our lives, we create frustration for ourselves and others, while pushing away the feeling of peace and calm that so many of us hope to find.

At work, the opposite of non-attachment might be micromanagement.  Research shows that micromanagement kills creativity, creates frustration and makes employees unhappy. Some studies (like this one from the University of Pennsylvania) show that micromanagement drives highly educated workers to work less, not more, and feel less inspired in response to the pressure. What would happen if we all practiced a little more “non-attachment” at work this quarter?


4. Optimism gives us an edge

A key aspect of Zen philosophy is a focus on peace, hope and goodwill. One of the greatest teachings of Zen is that suffering only exists to instruct us, and that we can and will overcome it (even if it takes several lives to do it!). A great goal of many Eastern philosophies is to move in the direction of greatest peace and happiness. It’s one of the most optimistic ways of looking at the struggles of life!

Optimism is on a lot of our radars lately since a growing amount of scientific evidence suggests thatoptimistic people tend to live longer and have better physical and mental health than pessimistic people. Did you know that positivity directly affects your bottom line, too?

According to bestselling author and winner of several prestigious teaching awards at Harvard University, Shawn Anchor, happiness fuels success, making our brains more engaged, making us more creative, energetic and resilient. Dana Lightman, Ph.D., founder of POWER Optimism, writes that an optimistic attitude changes how we process information—in ways that can make us smarter.

Put the teachings of the Dojo to work for you

Put these 4 ideas into practice at work, and you may be surprised at how they change the culture of your office or team. It does take time though; as many eastern philosophers say, “A jug fills drop by drop.”

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