“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”  – Sun Tzu

The Art of War is a book which demonstrates how to win without conflict. This book became a reality when Sun Tzu was asked by the king of Wu, Ho Lu, to compose a work encapsulating his warrior wisdom.

Sun Tzu lived 2,500 years ago, in Northern China. He is believed to have been a brilliant military strategist in the warring states period, and his famous book “The Art of War” recorded his ideas on military tactics and winning battles.

Tom Butler – Bowdon (B.B ), draws out lessons for managers and business leaders, and highlights the power of Sun Tzu’s thinking in everyday life.

B.B. refers:”The impact of “The Art of War” on warfare in China could be compared to that of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” on politics in Europe and the West”.

Sun Tzu, illustrates that with enough intelligence and planning, it is possible to conquer with a minimum of force and little destruction.

Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights”  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

B.B. refers to the text as an ancient and “sometimes enigmatic which works best when we let it seep into our consciousness over several readings”.

Sun Tzu identified “five indispensable matters that had to inform a leaders decisions: The Way, Heaven, Earth, Leader, and Law”.

How can we apply them into our own context, and what do these actually mean ? These five factors belongs to the way of the wise leader.

The Way, in Sun Tzu’s army, refers to the extent to purpose, and here the leader and the soldiers are tightly bound to the same goals. The Way involves the five virtues of humanity, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and faith, and all these are related to the individual. Persons who have developed themselves over many years is “all of a piece” and galvanized by clear goals.

Sun Tzu’s next virtue, Heaven and Earth, explained as the conditions within which a general wages war. B.B. refers: “In a modern context, this can be interpreted as heightened, present – moment awareness of the social, political and economic environment in which one lives and works”. This kind of awareness allows people to make the most of the opportunities, avoid dangers, and develop intuition about what is to come.

In Sun  Tzu’s mind a leader has a combination of “hard” and “soft” attributes where he specifically refers to sincerity, wisdom, benevolence, courage and strictness. All these qualities, are signs of a great general, who is deeply humane and means business. B.B. refers: “An organization, similarly, must be seen to be tightly focused on its mission, and yet always be acting ethically”.

The last of Sun Tzu’s terms, Law, refers to “the ordering and partition of the troops”. B. B. explain: “For ourselves, we can take it to mean having one’s house in order and establishing priorities”. In organizations, Law may relate to hiring the right people with the right skills.

About these five factors of action, Sun Tzu says, “to know them is to conquer, to know them not is to be defeated”. He also say: “The skilful leader is steadfast in the Way; upholds the Law and thereby controls the issue”.

Dale Carnegie has written the book: “The 5 Essential People Skills”. He refers: “if do you find yourself in conflict, think of how small children behave when they’re arguing in the sandbox and don’t act like that. Don’t call people names. Don’t point fingers. Don’t try to point yourself as completely blameless at the expense of the other party”. This is not the right way to solve a conflict and it only increase self – justification and defensiveness by the other side. The author say it’s better to talk about your own behavior rather than anyone else’s.

In Sun Tzu’s mind, there are great costs and evils of war and particularly the long ones. His greatest praise goes to the general who’s able to avert battle and can “subdue the enemy without fighting. However, if preventing conflict is not possible, the next greatest skill is to “take the whole”, or achieve victory with the minimum loss to life and property”.

Sun Tzu’s philosophy can be implemented in todays organizations, but you have to see his strategies with new eyes.

The Art of War illustrates the importance of personal character and knowledge as keys to success. “In Chinese philosophy, leadership is character, developed over time, naturally become leaders” According self – knowledge and field knowledge, Sun Tzu observes: “He who knows both sides has nothing to fear in a hundred fights”. B.B. refer: “We all know people who seem to know everything about their subject or profession or business, yet do not advance because of personal flaws or, worse; “lack of awareness of them”. Among the “dangerous faults” of a general, Sun Tzu lists: “impetuosity or recklessness, which leads to capture; quick temper, easily provoked by insults; and rigid propriety or sense of honor, in which the threat of shame leads to bad decisions”. We need to add to our knowledge to do well in any area, and need to be aware of daily changes and developments, if you want to “know the terrain”.

Leading people requires wisdom, and knowledge. Sun Tzu: ” The wise leader is able to see the whole of a situation and read the way things are moving”.

“War should not be undertaken because the lord is in a moment of passion. The general must not fight because there is anger in his heart”. Sun Tzu.

Carnegie say: ” Basic knowledge and practice of etiquette is a valuable advantage, because in a lot of situations, a second chance may not be practical or even possible”. Leaders who cares about their colleagues act thoughtfully to the people around them, regardless of the situation. Carnegie: “Consider other people’s feelings and stick to your convictions as diplomatically as possible. Address conflict as situation – related, rather than person – related”.

Butler – Bowdon has taken us through a wise journey of the mind of Sun Tzu and his “The Art of War”.

Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire”  Carnegie.

Inger Lise E. Greger, MSc. Change Management 

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