Leadership Via the Lakota Path of the Warrior


Lakota Warrior

Izzy Heart Man is a Lakota Indian from the Black Hills of South Dakota. He’s the Medicine Man for his tribe, primarily the spiritual leader and traditional healer. Izzy is a bear of a man, with a deep, mellifluous voice. His confidence, conviction, and bravado emanate.

Years ago, having had the privilege of studying the Lakota Indian Path of the Warrior, it changed my life. I will always be grateful to Izzy. When asked how he had come to be the Medicine Man for his tribe, his reply was brief, “I had to earn it!” Merit/ accomplishment/ respect/ admiration/ and established honor commands status.

All Lakota men are warriors foremost. The essential attributes are the service to the tribe, fearlessness in battle, strategic prowess, fighting skill, honesty, responsibility, wisdom, stature, distinction, and strength.

We can find many useful parallels to connect the essence of modern business culture and this ancient tribal culture. Let’s take a look at each of the earlier mentioned traits and apply them to today’s organizational culture.

Service To The Tribe:

1. Each warrior’s sole purpose is for the betterment of his tribe. In caring for his family, he’s caring for his tribe. In caring for his tribe, he’s caring for himself.

We can translate this ministration into the service to one’s company.  It implies working with a primary purpose; to keep its mission statement in mind, at all times. It’s not about being noticed or personal advancement. This self-serving source of motivation is usually apparent.

2. Here’s a big one! – Never complain about anything to anyone! Don’t even be found saying the all too familiar obsequious and craven phrase, “If I did complain, no one would listen.” Complainers always look weak. It’s because complainers are chicken-hearted.*

I have a friend, B.C., who had survived various mergers and recession layoffs. He not only kept his job throughout all of this but rose through the ranks to becoming Vice-President of Sales of a major tech company. He recently retired with an agreeable package. I asked B.C. what his secret was. He answered,” My secret is simple, “I never complained about anything!”  Also, B.C. would never join the complainers’ conversations, either. I like the Yiddish word for the word “complain”: kvetching.

Learn to politely excuse yourself from being sucked into this vortex of despair. Ask yourself, “Is this the most productive use my time?” Use phrases like,”Please excuse me, I have something that demands attention.” Yeah, my job!

3. It’s never about ME. Share the credit every occasion. If your boss praises you, even in private, mention who was helpful. If there’s a photo-op, ask your associates to join you in the picture.  It’s not about you; it’s about service to your tribe! This magnanimous energy will radiate and permeate. It will make you bigger than yourself.

A petty and vindictive attitude will reap what it sows. Those who have to politic in order to get ahead are just advertising that they don’t believe that they’re talented enough for promotion.

4. Be efficient and conscious of cost-saving. Don’t be a drag on the company’s account. For example; make post-its from scrap paper, turn your lights off when you leave your office. If this were your company, wouldn’t you want your employees thinking this way? Yes, this IS your company, too. How well it performs, is how well you’ll do.

5. If you have some downtime, offer the guy who’s sweating bullets because of an impending deadline, some help. What goes around, comes around.

6. Make yourself indispensable. Volunteer for new trainings, new tasks, or new assignments. I know a woman who was hired as a temp for a major record company because she could type 100 words per minute and answer phones. No one in her office liked dealing with copyright matters. She would always volunteer to handle it. She was hired full-time and eventually became the go-to copyright person. As copyright issues became increasingly important to the company, she eventually became head of the copyright department.

Fearlessness In Battle:

1. In the face of danger, does the warrior show courage or fear? Against overwhelming odds, does he stand firm and fight with bravery and valor, or does he panic and run? Is he honorable in the face of defeat or does he cower?

With a lurking deadline or a formidable obstacle advancing, maintaining your calm and composure is imperative. Not only will this allow your mind to operate properly, but it will allow others to have more faith in you. Calculate the interval required to complete the task if you went solo. If the length of time needed to meet a deadline is unreasonable, then list what you need and request reinforcement.

2. Share the victories, but take responsibility for the group’s failures. Go down with honor. It will become unmistakably clear who the most prominent person is in the group and who is also beyond playing the “blame game.” Never underestimate the perceptiveness of your boss.

3. Get over your shyness. (See The Dating Quest: Part One.) Develop public speaking skills. Look someone in the eyes when you shake their hand and when you speak with them. Be bold.

4. Embrace new assignments, that may even require new skill sets, with vigor. Remember, it’s about your service. You wouldn’t have been asked to take on further duty or enterprise if the boss didn’t think you could manage it.

Strategic Prowess:

1. How able is the warrior at planning an attack? In the throes of battle, is he; flexible, creative, and quick-witted enough to adapt and adjust strategies midstream, to ensure victory? Learn to think-on-your-feet. Develop spontaneity. (Good topics for future articles.)

General George Washington’s “Crossing of the Delaware,” in 1776, comes to mind. He devised a Christmas Day sneak attack on Hessian forces, posted in Trenton, with the unanticipated deployment of his army (cannons, horses, and 2,400 men) across an icy Delaware River. Due to severe weather, his original plan of attack had to be revised a few times. Washington subsequently orchestrated two more crossings that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.

Commit yourself to taking a moment to understand the problem or assignment at hand and map out the best course of action. If your strategy is not working, then have the flexibility to execute the proper adjustments for success.

Planning is a significant aspect of woodworking. There are usually dozens of ways to approach a build. One has to understand their personal abilities and their tools’ limitations and then formulate a plan of action to build the project. Woodworking is a healthy and challenging hobby for someone who struggles with creativity, flexibility, resourcefulness, and planning.

2. Be the “Idea Man.” It’s what my wife calls me. Yes, she sometimes calls me other things, too. I’m always coming up with ideas for all sorts of inventions, how to make improvements to whatever restaurant that we’re sitting in at the time, how to make product enhancements, etc. It’s practically endless. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep much of this to myself. You can see that this could get annoying.

3. Be the “go-to-guy” whom your boss or coworkers feel comfortable approaching with new ideas. Ask questions. Add to their designs and contribute. Be enthusiastic. Have fun and keep the atmosphere genial and refreshing.

4. Be the “Solutions Guy.” If there’s a difficult or complex problem that no one can figure out, take it back to your office and try to understand what the essence or root of the problem is.  99% of any solution is truly understanding the question. With practice, you will know what I mean.

You can take up some hobbies to help develop this skill, such as; creative writing, music composition, still-life painting, woodworking, chess, etc.

Lakota Warriors

Fighting Skills:

1. Battle and engagement is the life’s work of a Lakota warrior. He studies it and practices it for many years before he is initiated into battle. The skilled fighter relies on his technique, agility, strength, cleverness, coordination, courage, spontaneity, and experience.  He learns to make and use his various weapons with adroit mastery. The successful integration of these qualities will determine the warrior’s efficacy and potential.

How does this translate into your work performance? Are you constantly striving to increase your job skills? Are you taking classes or trainings to improve? How well do you know your tools and the equipment that you work with every day? How well do you understand how your job or role fits into the workings or operation of your company? Do you understand what each department does, how it contributes, and how it integrates?

Remember Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk and Commander Spock? Of course, you do. Either could climb into any crawl space on the Enterprise and perform repairs while the clock counted down towards annihilation. If you’re a pilot, how well do you know your plane? A graphics artist, how well do you grasp your programs and computers?  Are you keeping up with the latest advancements in your field? Are you a stalwart worker, a potent contributor to your firm?

2. Hone your interpersonal skills. Understand what emotional maturity means. What kind of ability do you have in dealing with confrontation and adversity in the workplace? Can you communicate directly and effectively without inducing another to feel criticized or verbally attacked?

Most often, listening can say much more than speaking. Think of the Tai Chi Master; who leaves the attacker with nothing to hit. Consider Mohammed Ali’s “rope-a-dope” style; which had the opponent punch himself into exhaustion. Or, understand the Aikido Master, whose defense techniques render the aggressor’s energies to circle back onto and against his self, so as to be “reconciled with the Universe.”

3.  Learn to be beyond reproach.You’ve heard the expression,”No hook, no handle?” It means that if you don’t give a reason for someone to have a problem with you, then most likely they won’t find one.

This morning, we had to deal with an overcharge from our cable company. In the past, if I had said to the customer care person, “You overcharged us.” She would have immediately been taken aback because it was abruptly personal. To say, “YOU overcharged us,” was, in fact, a false accusation! SHE never overcharged anyone! But, when I said, “It appears that the computer may have overcharged our card.” She had no defensive feeling or reaction. We all agree that computer programs can make mistakes. Maybe, this has happened to her, also? She became as helpful as possible because she sensed a friendly customer with whom she already had something in common. “We both know that computer programs make errors!” OK, the people that program them make errors.


1.  For a Lakota, dishonesty destroys his spirit. It’s a malignancy that stains his eternal soul. Honesty and integrity go hand in hand. The Google online dictionary defines integrity as,”the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” It takes courage to be honest and truthful, especially with ourselves. Do you have the self-knowledge to accept your shortcomings and lack of particular talents to find a personal style that empowers you to become effective? Can you discover methods within your limitations to attain your goals without having to engage in manipulative duplicity, deception, or political maneuvering?

2. Having strong moral values is significant. Someone who will stand by their principles, even when a particular situation proves that acting from these principles may not be profitable or advantageous, requires resolution and courage. The warrior who manifests this courage accumulates further honor away from the battlefield.

Remember, you are an extension of the “better man” your boss strives to be. It also means doing what you say you are going to do. Your boss has much more experience than you. Don’t insult him by thinking that he won’t eventually see through your dishonesty.  Ask yourself, “Is my dishonesty serving my company or myself?”  Adhere to your deadlines, honor your appointments and always be punctual.

3. At times, honesty may seem to be a poor strategy. The potential consequences could hurt one’s standing or reputation. In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to not eventually be caught for one’s indiscretions.  I like Warren Buffet’s saying,” When the tide goes out, you can see who’s swimming without shorts.”

Honesty always reveals itself as the simple and direct path. If you’re honest at the outset of a dealing or venture, then you have nothing to conceal or cover up. Dignity and integrity build stature and strength. These qualities foster reliability, dependability, trust, and confidence. Your word and reputation appear on your personal balance sheet. It’s what accountants term: goodwill.


1. How fervently a warrior served his tribe and provided for his family was held in the highest regard. In today’s society, we see how persons with families often tend to rise within their organization’s infrastructure. Being responsible for a family usually proves, by default, that one is capable of being responsible for a promoted position. Use your holidays to spend time with loved ones. Just having a family and providing for them is not enough. For example; use sick days to tend to an ill child, if your wife is out of town for work. Be active in your family’s life. Make it a priority.

2. Being responsible for one’s family doesn’t always presuppose being responsible for one’s job. Be accountable for mistakes and don’t make excuses. Always be punctual and follow-up promptly. Leave your “procrastination trickster” at home. (I’ll speak about this later. Get it?) Pay attention to the details of each task with the company’s mission statement in mind. Recheck your work. Meet deadlines. Stay on-topic in meetings. Learn to become articulate, economical, and sagacious when speaking or writing memos and emails.

3. Don’t bring work home and don’t bring home to work. Your wife doesn’t need to hear it. Trust me on this one! Direct your attention to your family, friends, hobbies, and community. It will keep you fresh for work. Remember, your home is the core of your life that helps give you grounding, balance, and support.

Conversely, leave your troubles at home and maintain a professional attitude. Why do actors make such great waitpersons? It’s because they can show up at your table with a professional and friendly face no matter what kind of a day they’re having. Can you do the same? Or, do you walk around the office with the frown of discontent?

4. How active and effective one is in serving their community will often exhibit how one would function as a leader within the organization. Start a company softball team, sponsor a local girls basketball team or local classical ensemble, organize a car wash for a local charity, etc.

5. Show responsibility by living within your means. Don’t wear a Rolex watch (unless it was inherited or a gift) or drive a Maserati if you’re living off of a modest government salary. Don’t mention your nightclub life with Johnny X or your last visit to the Playboy mansion.

Relentless advertising has conditioned us to hold that our automobiles are extensions and reflections of who we actually are. Although this is quite ridiculous, there’s, unfortunately, some truth to this. One should probably refrain from driving something to work that looks like it could also be a heap of fertilizer or anything that Evel Knievel would sport. Better to drive an older model that you’ve maintained in pristine condition or a smart economical vehicle.

6. Prove that you can get the job done. Have an “I’ve Got This!” attitude. Be the point-man. Lead by example, and again, don’t try to show up your peers. If you are “the cream at the top,” then that will be revealed without requiring your attention.


Wisdom, for the Lakota, is the most cherished and valued attribute. Wikipedia defines wisdom as the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

It’s astonishing how wise we can appear and sometimes eventually become if we just keep our mouths shut. As an exercise; the next time you’re in a casual group conversation, resist the temptation to speak when the first thought comes to mind. Refrain from entering the chat when you would typically share or divulge. Most often, you will see that there was a sagacity in just letting the others talk, talk, talk. Most often, when you eventually speak, they will be more attentive. On this occasion, be sure that what you say is thoughtful, that there’s a connection between your tongue and brain.

Wisdom is obviously not just regurgitating some pop psychology or the latest Dr. Phil cliches. It’s not giving advice to that worry-wart at work. Wisdom is something that just happens when you learn to understand the power of silence; when you learn to listen; when you listen to learn; when you develop patience and cultivate intelligence.

Stature and Distinction:

1. A Lakota warrior will rise above his peers as his distinction and stature become auspicious. Reputation is most often determined by how many has he killed in battle and by how many lives he’s saved. He is then reputed as being brave without objection. He is considered a warrior amongst warriors.

How does one acquire distinction in the workplace? It begins with importance and consequence. Have you made yourself an important contributor to your firm? Have you proven your effectiveness? Are your efforts propitious? How well do you measure with the previously mentioned points in this article?

2. Always conduct your affairs with the attitude that you are working WITH your peers and boss. (Tip: Never call anyone boss!) You won’t achieve status if you view yourself or act, as a subordinate, even if you are. (This statement doesn’t imply to be disrespectful or insubordinate, quite the opposite.)

3. Ask yourself, “If I owned this company, would I want ME to be its representative, it’s face and voice? Do you walk and sit with good posture? To you dress with an attention to detail? How is your public speaking?

Should you join Toastmasters or find a public speaking coach? I know a guy who rose through the ranks of a major defense company; not just on the merits of his engineering skills, but because of his engaging and charismatic public speaking skills.

4. Self-advertising does not attract favorable distinction. Don’t brag about your accomplishments, or what you’ve just purchased or went to vacation. Don’t brag about your kids. (So, they’re a lot smarter than you are or didn’t inherit your big feet.) Let your work performance speak for itself. Believe me, they notice you.


1. When a Lakota speaks of being strong, they’re not just talking about being a mighty fighter. They’re talking about will. It’s also regarding their sense or discipline; both mind and body. The emotional maturity and stamina to accomplish long term goals and the self-control to develop patience and temperance. Possessing strength means to have the determination to proceed forward despite failure upon failure. Strength is recognizing that you may be weak, but you also know that you have the spirit to take one more step…and then, another.

2. The mind can be a tricky thing. It takes strength to stay focused and follow through to the finish. One morning, you may wake up feeling the need to resolve an urgent issue or problem. After arriving at work, you then find yourself doing something else that wasn’t as important as the original objective but still needed to get done. Were you somehow tricked into thinking that this recent endeavor was more important? Usually, the answer is yes! You were tricked by your mind!

Years ago, there was a famous variety show on TV called, “The Ed Sullivan Show.” One of Ed’s regular performers was a comedian named Flip Wilson. In one comedy skit, Flip used the phrase, “The devil made me do it!”  (The Rev’s wife just couldn’t help herself from buying a third new dress in one week.) He poked fun at the fact that sometimes his character just couldn’t control her actions, her mind, or rather, the devil on her shoulder, controlled her! (Unless, that was just her excuse!) The phrase became a household phrase.

An example that comes to mind is the guy who wakes up in a panic because his taxes are due the next day. Oh, this was you? After breakfast, he looks out the window and sees his dirty car sitting in the driveway. He’s compelled to wash the car because it’s such a gorgeous day. His neighbor comes over to borrow the hedge trimmers. He gets distracted and they end up chatting for over an hour. He then fixes the basketball net for his daughter, changes the oil, and then runs down to the auto parts store for more car wax. He stops by his buddy’s house to drop off tickets for tomorrow’s Jets game and ends up watching a college football game and having a couple beers. He eventually gets home and suddenly realizes that there’s not enough time to finish the most important task of the day: his taxes! The devil made him do it! It was that little trickster. (C.S. Lewis’s novel, “The Screwtape Letters,” is another entertaining portrayal of the power or rather lack of power we have over our minds. This satire relates lessons from Screwtape’s letters (the devil)  to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt mortals.)

My wife founded a charity and is now its Executive Director.  Since its inception, she has continued to impress me with her strength and energy. She attends to endless daily minutia while exhibiting incredible follow-up skill, all while this charity expands exponentially. She manages a growing staff, deals with a Board of Directors, and is the primary fund-raiser. (She also performs concerts regularly, teaches singing, and is a devoted mom.) She does all of this while being driven by a singular purpose; to serve those people who need it most!  I often tell people, she is truly a natural force to reckon!

3. This boundless energy and passion are a strength that so too few have. Do you have this kind of enthusiasm and focused intensity for your work, or is it “just a job?” If your boss loves chess and is frequently using chess strategy in his analogies. Do you have the drive to study chess strategy, not to “kiss up,” but to better understand the metaphors and analogies that he/she is frequently referencing?

The requirement for acquiring distinction and advancement is to be this kind of force.  Is your motivation, for everything you do at work, with the company’s goals? Is it a passion? Do you even enjoy your job? Is the significance of what you do enough to inspire you and stoke your flame? Does it get you out of bed in the morning? Or, does the nagging snooze button?

These are questions that you need to address if you want to acquire an advantage at work. If you are committed to your vocation enough, then you will seriously look at these points that I’ve brought up and creatively apply them to your particular situation.

Do you know what tempered steel is?   A Samurai sword blade (Katana) requires that the steel be remarkably hard, but not brittle. By repeatedly heating, hammering, and cooling a piece of steel, the swordsmith increases its tensile strength. It will also become more refined.

Samurai Swordsmith

Tempering steel can serve as a useful metaphor for understanding the need to have the patience for promotion. Know that as you gather experience and build your resume, that you are making yourself more and more polished. The longer your tenure, the greater your exposure.

The Law of Diminishing Returns also applies to swordsmithing. There comes a point where too much tempering makes the steel lose its intrinsic flexibility and tensile strength. It becomes brittle, making the steel fragile.  All of the sword maker’s efforts then become futile. If it appears that no matter what you do, your position appears to be at a dead end, then you’re at a career crossroad. You must either decide to stay and work until retirement or seek out a position that interests you more.

Focused effort and determination can temper the steel of our personal fabric and resolve. Too much preparation may also cause us to become rigid and lose spontaneity. Many of us, who are now parents, never felt ready to have children. It just pretty much happens. No matter how prepared we may think that we may be, we never know until the experience presents itself. If we over-temper the steel of our lives and never seize the day, then opportunity may just pass. You’ll never really know if you can do something unless you try.

Use your intelligence for finding new ways to approach your job, to improve your attitude. Leave that old cynical person you might have been moments ago to seek out some adventure in your life. Be excellent! Make some good luck!

*Please, differentiate the typical worthless and passive complaining from a legal complaint; whereby someone is actively pursuing a grievance against a crime, malpractice, or misconduct.

Receive Posts Via Email

For your convenience, you can receive a weekly email that contains the latest posts. Your email will remain private in a mailchimp account. Unsubscribe anytime. Your email will never be shared.


Please consider making a contribution at the bottom of this page to keep this site ad free.

Success! Your Password is: TogetherSinceJoining

James Finn

Author: James Finn

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Please Share This Article