Sun Tzu on strategies for effective leadership (part 4)

THIS post, part 4, considers the principles developed by Sun Tzu on strategies for effective leadership. It is the 4th and final part in a series looking at how Sun Tzu’s military precepts provide a timeless guide to modern business leadership. Part one looked at the qualities of successful leaders. Part two considered principles for organising your business affairs. Finally, part three considered the principles for dealing with business rivals.

I have summarised Sun Tzu’s principles into four simple categories:

  1. Qualities of a successful leader;
  2. Organising your business affairs;
  3. Dealing with rivals; and
  4. Strategies for effective leadership.

4. Strategies for effective leadership

4.1 Create a common philosophy

Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com says that “to be truly successful, companies need to have a corporate mission that is bigger than making a profit…By integrating philanthropy into [the] business model … employees feel that they do much more than just work at [the] company.

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

4.2 Foster co-operation

In order to be successful in business it is important to have many experienced employees working together in co-operation.

Adam Smith was the earliest to report the merits of specialization and cooperation some 230 years ago. He compared the output of a Scottish farmer working alone to make pins for his wife with a French pin factory’s daily production. The factory employed experienced specialists, equipped them with the latest tools and organized them to work cooperatively to produce pins. The factory turned out hundreds of times more pins per specialist per day than the farmer working alone. Moreover, the factory-made pins surpassed the farmer’s pins in terms of quality and consistency.

If two armies will help each other in a time of common peril, how much more should two parts of the same army, bound together as they are by every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many a campaign has been ruined through lack of co-operation…

4.3 Maintain good communication

Being well informed is the only way to make good decisions. Make sure that you have access to the latest information on who is doing what in your organization.

…the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare…

4.4 Pick your men carefully

A leader must use the skills of his employees to best advantage by using the right man in the right place.

The skilful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death.

4.5 Control your men with kindness and discipline

If [subordinates] are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, they will be practically useless. If, when [your subordinates] have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. Therefore [subordinates] must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline.

Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to deal with but a single man.

4.6 Set up a dependable systems of reward and punishment

People respond to incentives, this is one of the first lessons learnt in Microeconomics 101. As such, it is important to encourage good behaviour and discourage poor behaviour with an appropriate system of reward and punishment.

…that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy they must have their rewards.

4.7 Do not micro-manage your subordinates

The art of giving orders is not to try to rectify the minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty doubts. Vacillation and fussiness are the surest means of sapping the confidence of a [company].

4.8 Foster a spirit of enterprise

Encourage your employees to be industrious and hard working.

Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.