A samurai is silhouetted against a rising sun.
© adrenalinapura - Fotolia.com, Inazo Nitobe: “Memories for 80 years, Bakumatsu, Meiji, Taisho”

I graduated Harvard Business School in 1991, long before the 2001 collapse of Enron or the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Unsurprisingly, my education dictated that skills and academic knowledge are far greater assets than values, vision, or a personal mission.

Time proved that Harvard’s priorities were upside down.

I’ve been in business for over 30 years, and in my experience “intangibles” like character, philosophy and entrepreneurial spirit are always more important than “tangibles” like skill-sets and knowledge. When I set up my business school in Japan in 1992, I made a course designed to help students think deeply about their own values and identify their personal mission. The course—despite being called Entrepreneurial Leadership—features only a single business leader: Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989), visionary founder of electronics giant Panasonic.

You’ve got to admit that many of the most inspiring examples of leadership come from outside the business world. Consider the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who managed to bring all the men on his 1914 expedition safely home despite losing his ship, drifting on ice floes for months, and traveling hundreds of miles through stormy seas in a lifeboat. These are unforgettable lessons about leadership in crisis.

Or consider the life of Nelson Mandela, specifically the story of how he helped raise a sense of national unity in post-apartheid South Africa by getting everyone, regardless of color, to support the country’s all-white team when South Africa was host of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. His story is a great way to learn about leadership in a time of change.

In addition to these great men, the course also takes time to explore the Japanese spirit as it applies to values, philosophy, and so on. Here, the key text is Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido, the Soul of Japan, published in 1905. For Inazo, Bushido came from four main sources: Buddhism (teaching “calm trust in fate”); Shintoism (teaching loyalty, patriotism, and self-knowledge); Confucianism (teaching respect for hierarchy); and the philosophy of Wan Yan Ming (teaching the idea that thought and action should be consistent).

The result, he claimed, was a people with six “pervading characteristics”: a sense of justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity and self-control. Samurai education was primarily about “building character”: money is not a good of itself; all of us have obligations to things other than ourselves.

One way that GLOBIS helps MBA students define their personal mission and values is through teaching the concept of kokorozashi. In Japanese, the character is a combination of samurai (士) and heart (心). Kokorozashi (志) means “ambition,” but in the Bushido sense of “personal vision.”

This notion of taking a more high-minded, unselfish approach is something our international MBA students truly enjoy. See what Jose Miguel Herrera, a Mexican student who graduated in 2013, had to say when I asked him what the kokorozashi concept had done for him.

“I originally associated an MBA with climbing the corporate ladder or becoming a successful entrepreneur. In both cases, the goal was to become wealthy, achieve financial freedom, and create a personal legacy. Learning about kokorozashi helped me redefine the concept of an MBA. It’s not just about accessing tools and networks to define a strategy for financial success. It’s about defining a bigger purpose for all your goals and ambitions.

“The kokorozashi concept helped me rediscover my personal core values. It reminded me that financial freedom is only the first step. Great ambitions require great inspirations and a personal mission. A personal mission is not just about what we get, but also about how we give back. It is about how to be successful enough to create real, positive change in society.”

I am proud that we’ve had this pillar in place ever since our MBA course started.

Tremendous energy will arise from within if you know what your personal vision in life is. If you are pursuing kokorozashi, you will find the energy to overcome any hardship you may encounter.

This is the energy that drives me to make GLOBIS the No.1 business school in Asia. It’s also what pushed our alumni and students to act during the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan in 2011. Our alumni are all living their own lives, not other peoples’ lives.

“Nothing is more loathsome to the samurai than underhand dealings or crooked undertakings,” wrote Inazo.

What would the motto of the modern samurai be, then?

Our educational principle is set up to develop visionary leaders who create and innovate societies. Bushido and kokorozahi may sound like strange things to put at the core of an MBA program, but leadership is all about vision, mission, values, character, and spirit.

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