nexus point | Leadership Development ~ Talent Management ~ Realising Potential

Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War”

Sun-Tzu was a general in the Chinese army sometime between 700-200B.C.  His book ‘The Art of War’ has been highly influential throughout history, and is recognised as a prime example of Taoist strategy.  It has a strong relevance and level of usage in both the political and business worlds of the present day; strongly emphasising the cultivating and honouring of relationships, and the use of diplomacy and conservatism.  While it was indeed developed as a guide to waging war, the principles are readily recognisable as applying directly to almost any leadership and management role.

I have taken some excerpts from a translation of the text and presented them below along with some thoughts on their applicability.  Echoes of these points will be recognised by anyone who has studied, or has some experience of both management and leadership.

In ‘The Art of War’, Sun-Tzu states, “longevity of rule requires strategy”.  For any organisation to last, there must be a carefully thought-out plan.  This will be one of the first tasks of the coach; to work with the client on a viable, sustainable plan.  “Uniting the masses is critical, as is using the right tools and using them well”.  Having key people – staff, team leaders, associates – on side with the plan is necessary.  People will not be pushed into action, instead find a way to draw them forth into action.  “When issues arise, address them from multiple angles – in seeing differently, one will act differently.”  Again, one of the key functions of the coach is to provide ways of viewing a situation from many angles; shedding light on other possible solutions.  “Remove internal opposition.”  Deal with objections, and get the issues complete.  Do not step over this, as they will fester, given time.  “Focus on providing the basic requirements to staff, otherwise they will not perform.”  Make sure your policies and conditions are fair and equitable, and applied as such.  Without this being in place, the capacity of the organisation will be eroded.

Do not become complacent; situations change – you will need to restructure!”  Expect that for whatever you put in place, it is inevitable that it will need to be re-developed at some point.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that once a problem is solved, the area no longer requires attention.  Once again, it is pointed out that ongoing change is required.  “Look for the best leverage point.”   Consider your actions, and locate them for the best possible outcome.  This includes when you locate them in time!  “In the face of opposition, first attack the opposition’s plans, then their alliances.”  You will most likely have to deal with objectors at some stage.  Find out what their objections are, and who else has that same objection.  Handle the objections, and do all of this without fighting.  If you can diffuse the reasons for the objections, this will assist you in dissolving the coalitions that may form in opposition to your plans.  “Consider that being unconquerable lies with yourself; being conquerable lies with the enemy!” (Note – the ‘enemy’ can be a circumstance or a thought, not just an opposing person.)  Attitude is everything.  That is one of the things a coach will work on with you.  Unless you are certain of your intention, and act from the viewpoint of succeeding, you have relatively little chance of producing the result you said you are committed to!

He says to “assay the lie of the land” – get the facts, then in light of that, plan the course of action.  Again – among the early critical steps of any coaching program is to get the facts.  Only with those in hand can an accurate and appropriate course of action be taken.  “One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered.  One who does not know his enemy but knows himself will sometimes win.  One who knows neither his enemy nor himself will be defeated every time.” …if that ain’t the truth!

He says, “be tranquil, upright and self-disciplined.”  Again, the coach will be working with you on your attitude and demeanour.  One access to this is through being clear on and dealing with the facts, being clear on your intention, and actually being in action.  “Be innovative; the use of unorthodox strategies leads to victory.”  Creativity is often the key to success.  After all, doing the same thing over and over will keep presenting you with the same result!   “Bring certainty to your actions – it is contagious!”  If you are going to be effective in your leadership, at you must at least be certain about where you are leading to!  If you need to change course, then do so, but at least be certain!  It will engender certainty among your staff, and that can only make a difference!

Be consistent in your policies and their application; and you will have a natural relationship with people.”  Be fair and equitable with your staff.  You will find it is extraordinary how this can diffuse subtle levels of dissent or dissatisfaction amongst your staff, particularly when they have been accustomed to unfair treatment in the past.  “Commit to your actions – and make sure they are well thought out in the first place.”  Again, you will find that staff respect, and will more readily align with plans that they can see are well grounded in what works, and are clear on the intention of the action.

If you know the plans of feudal lords, you can forge alliances.”  If you know what people want, you can create partnerships with them; weaving what motivates and drives them in with what you are creating and the direction you are taking the organisation.  Lastly, but not least, “bestow rewards that are not required by law.”  Easily over-looked, but it is extraordinary what difference acknowledging someone’s contribution can make, particularly if that acknowledgement is not strictly required!

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