If you were to ask a dozen people to name the best business strategy book ever, there is a high chance that several of them will name “The Art of War.” The Art of War was written by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu more than 2,500 years ago but is heralded by many for its advice on coming up with a winning strategy. With the right strategy an army or business can beat a much larger and more powerful foe. But without the right strategy, they would be crushed easily. So, what lessons can we learn from this book?

Do not rush in to battle

If you ran in to a battle against a foe, but did not know how many men they had, what weapons they had, where they were situated, do you think you would win? Its of course highly unlikely. The successful general is never quick to rush in to fight and instead understands that there are essential rules to a successful strategy. You must know when to fight and when not to fight. You must know how to deal with an enemy that has an army both larger and smaller than your own. You must have your forces all aligned and focused with a single purpose. You will want to catch your opponent when you are prepared, and they are not. You also understand that you cannot be successful if your boss is interfering with your strategy. Only when you are ready and confident of success should you engage in battle.

Its often the leader that causes their own defeat

It is often a leader’s faults that lead to a major defeat. A leader’s ego can get in the way and they will charge in to attack against an army ten times their size. The commanders he put in charge could be too weak and they have no control or authority over the foot soldiers. His soldiers could be too weak, and they allow their leaders to march them to exhaustion. He could have officers under them that refuse to listen to orders and charge off in uncoordinated attacks. The general himself may delay in decisions causing his army to be disorganised and disintegrate. All accountability lies with a leader to ensure that the entire army works as one cohesive unit with the right people in the right roles, with the right temperament doing the right things at the right time. This is the job of the leader. 

Adapt to the situation

A good leader understands that adaption is essential. Orders from the sovereign may need to be disobeyed, a position may not be able to be held, there may be a road that should not be taken. In the middle of battle, variables will always present themselves. A poor leader will stick to the original plan rather than adjust. A good leader will take accountability and adjust accordingly. A general is not just watching what their troops are doing but observing the entire field of play. He is paying attention to birds being startled in the forest off to the side, whether the enemy is slouched over fatigued, or standing upright and strong. Be ready to adapt at all times as circumstances change.

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