THE DOJO SYSTEM VERSUS THE CORPORATION SYSTEM By Hiroaki Izumi
Put simply, traditional corporations operate on a system of authority, while traditional dojos operate on a system of responsibility. Some may think that this difference is not very important or that to state such a difference is a contradiction of the concepts of authority and responsibility. One must remember that how people behave in organizations is not dictated strictly by the hierarchy of the organization, but also by their attitudes toward power, politics, their jobs, and the people around them. I guess I should start at the beginning and lay some foundation by describing first, a system of authority, then a system of responsibility.
A CORPORATION AS A SYSTEM OF AUTHORITY
When we talk of a corporate organization, we often think in terms of an organizational chart which shows who has authority over whom. The board of directors has authority over the president, who has authority over the vice-presidents, who have authority over the directors of various operations, and so on. In terms of traditional Weberian theory, a person fills a position which has certain corresponding authority. The authority, and thus power, given to that person comes with the territory.
Along with that authority and power comes some responsibility for using that authority and power in a manner suitable for the goals of the organization. In management circles, we say that people are empowered to carry out certain tasks by virtue of their position. As you notice, in that statement, there was no mention of responsibilities. Responsibilities in this venue are an afterthought. In fact, responsibilities are discussed mostly in terms of the responsibilities that lower ranked workers have to the corporation, or that management has to the board of directors, and that the board of directors has to the shareholders. Little mention is made of the responsibilities that people higher in the hierarchy have towards those lower in rank — only the power and authority they have over them.
In recent years, strategic management theory has begun to address the issue of responsibility of management to various stakeholders in the corporation. This means that management must handle the corporation such that the needs of groups like shareholders, suppliers, clients, and workers (all stakeholders in the corporation) are taken care of. Labor legislation, another field of management, has emphasized the responsibility that corporations have towards their workers. Also environmental legislation has forced corporations to take some responsibility for their activities which affect the land, sea, and air of our earth. Some companies have taken this to heart and have begun a new trend towards “responsible management” of corporations. Such “advanced” companies are finding that there are dividends to being responsible.*
I think the days of the corporation as a system of authority are numbered. The public is getting tired of people and corporations who hold unlimited power and yet have no sense of responsibility for their actions except when they are sued. The world is getting to be so crowded and events occurring so fast that it has become a delicate balancing act just to stay alive. When a person or corporation refuses to take responsibility for their actions, they become like a whirlwind in a paper factory, upsetting the smooth operations and creating a disaster.
THE DOJO SYSTEM OF RESPONSIBILITY
Traditional dojos, on the other hand, have always operated on a system of responsibilities. The hierarchy describes not the authority that a higher rank has over the lower ranks, but the responsibilities that the higher rank has for teaching and looking after the lower ranks. In return, the lower ranks have certain corresponding responsibilities for learning, practicing, and looking after the needs of the higher ranks. The Sensei provides the Sempai with technical learning suitable to that person’s level of knowledge as well as knowledge on how to be a good Sensei by allowing them to practice teaching under the Sensei’s guidance. In return, the Sempai must look after the learning of the dojo members, make sure that the students pay attention to the Sensei in the correct manner, and teach some of the classes for the Sensei Similarly, other higher ranks must look after the learning and health of those below them while paying attention to their own studies with the Sempai This cascade of responsibility flows downward, like many things, until the newest person in the dojo is reached. The only responsibility that person has in the dojo is to those above and to his or her own person — to practice diligently and correctly.
Authority, in this system, is not something that is provided with a specific rank. It is something that is won by each individual with the respect that others give that person because they have carried out of their responsibilities well. It is a meritocracy based on knowledge transferal and the carrying out of responsibilities rather than a Weberian bureaucracy based on knowledge held and the authority of position.
This system is much more in line with the proper concept of authority. Modern management theory holds that authority cannot be taken — it must be given by those over whom an individual has authority. If a lower rank feels that the higher rank has no authority over them, then the higher rank has no authority, even though they may have the power to beat the lower rank into the mats. The lower rank can ignore any commands given to them by the higher rank until that higher rank uses his or her powers to enforce the commands.
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