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Leadership Advice from Sun Tzu

Sun TzuAlthough uncertainties exist regarding the origins of The Art of War by Sun Tzu, what isn’t up for debate is the profound influence it has had on military campaigns around the world. Regardless of the organization being led, because it’s so widely cited by leaders and because of its influence for more than two millennia many Sun Tzu’s “sayings” merit a leader’s consideration.

At, I consider several contemporary applications of Sun Tzu’s sayings. The following are abbreviated examples:

  • “The art of war is of vital importance to the State.” The art of leadership is of vital importance to all organizations.
  • “Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought.” Exemplary leaders think and do their homework before acting.
  • Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.” When a decision is needed, don’t put off making it.
  • “Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” Learn your competitor’s strategy and develop a strategy and tactics to overcome it.
  • “Now the general is the bulwark of the State.” The leader is the strength of the organization.
  • Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Knowing yourself and knowing your competition are crucial to your success.
  • “One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.” Knowing and doing are different. Both are critical. However, even if one knows, one cannot do if one is not able. Ability matters.
  • “Generally, management of many is the same as management of few.” Effective communication and alignment within the organization are essential.
  • “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight.” Being first to market is far better than being second to market. Innovation and speed matter.
  • “Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.” Assess your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your competitors.
  • “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” Play to your strengths and attack your opponent’s weaknesses is good advice in war, as well as in sports and business.
  • “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Strategies matter more than tactics. Get the strategy right and the tactics will follow.
  • “He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.” Enough said!


To explore Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, see

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