May 28, 2012

A Lesson We Can Learn from “The Art of War”

The book “The Art of War” has been discussed many times in relation to business.  In fact, many companies require that their executives read it and the many books and articles that surround it.  I want to draw specific attention to the seven areas that Sun Tzu says he can look at and foretell the winner of a war and how those can be applied to today’s business world.

1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Morale Law?

This has reference to the harmony that exists between the leadership and the followers.  It not only considers whether everybody is “pulling on the same rope”, “in the same canoe”, etc., but the trust factor, too.  Stephen M.R. Covey discusses the duality of trust in his book The Speed of Trust.  He says that there is the trust that we most commonly think about, trusting the motives and intentions of others.  Then, there is the other trust factor; trusting that someone is competent.  Competent to do their job, competent to do whatever they have promised.  So, as you think about that, as a leader, do the people that you lead feel that you’re imbued with Moral Law?  Do they trust you on both counts; that you have the right intentions and that you’re competent to do your job?  In order to find out, I recommend that you do a 360 assessment with follow-up coaching.  By having the humility to have the assessment done and to listen to the feedback, you will position your company better to win.

2) Which of the two generals has the most ability?

Talents, skills and abilities are evergreen.  Once a person believes they have “arrived”, they are destined to become obsolete and failure.  When Sun Tzu states that one of the components to winning is to have the most ability, it makes sense that leaders of today make a list of their abilities and set up a way to determine just how sharp those abilities are.  With technology doubling every 18 months, it takes a strategic leader to ensure that they possess not only the right abilities for their business to win, but also the most up-to-date abilities.

3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth

Here, Heaven signifies the natural forces.  Earth signifies danger and security, life and death.  You might have read my blogs on Leading into the Unknown which discussed what it takes to be a leader in the midst of constant change.  Constant change is what Heaven and Earth are all about.  When a leader can harness the power of change, create the change in an industry, or strategically be ahead of the curve when change happens, then that leader has the advantage.

4) On which side discipline is rigorously enforced?

I believe that discipline today can’t be just externally enforced.  When given the mixture of the right leadership with the the right amounts of autonomy, valued contribution, a feeling of significance, stability, variety, connection, and opportunities for growth come together, then there is a competitive force that almost impossible to defeat.  At that intersection of all those points lies a discipline that Sun Tzu would envy.  At that intersection is where a company no longer has to ask for their people to work hard, because their people will give, not just their hands and back, but their hearts and their minds.

5) Which army is stronger?

Again, what I stated in point #4 is true here, too.

6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

Operating with the stance that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is the precursor to failure.  Today’s success is tomorrow’s failure.  Ongoing training and development of a company’s personnel, in the right areas, is what will bring success today and in the future.  Having a great, not good, performance management software system will provide huge value to a company that has strategic plans for growth in the future.  It will assist the company in creating a Balanced Scorecard and ensure the longevity of the organization.  Without a great plan in place for the ongoing training and development of all of the organization’s personnel, it will lose the battle and lose the war.

7) In which army is there more constancy of both in reward and punishment?

Clear-cut values, mission, and vision statements tells everyone inside and outside the company what is expected and what isn’t tolerated.  These must be communicated from the top-down and reinforced at every level of leadership.  Public recognition of attending to the values, mission and vision should be given regularly and, when someone violates those, the “punishment”, as set out in the company’s Employee Handbook and other HR-related materials must be enforced, no matter at what level the person resides.

So, it’s no surprise that Sun Tzu said he could tell which army was going to win based on these seven criteria.  You can easily tell whether a company is going to “win” using the same.

Creating forward motion,

Edward Lewellen

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