Leadership is as Simple as 123 according to CEO Handbook

Sima Guang, a famous Chinese Historian and a former Primer of the Zong Dynasty, gave as two sets of three key principles, one on personal development and the other on running successful organization. This wisdom is distilled from the study of the rise and fall of nations and leaders in China from 403 BC to 959AD. It was written as a guide for the King to rule the country well.

The famous history book written by Sima Guang is The Zizhi Tongjian 资治通鉴, literally in English is, “Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance“, or in my translation, “The CEO Handbook”, since it was writtent as lessons for the rulers. It is published in 1084, in the form of a chronicle. In 1065 CE, Emperor Yingzong of Song ordered Sima Guang (1019–1086) to lead with other scholars for the compilation of a universal history of China. The task took 19 years to be completed. It records Chinese history from 403 BCE to 959 CE, covering 16 dynasties and spanning across almost 1,400 years, and contains 294 volumes and about 3 million Chinese characters. Sima Guang gave his evaluation for the reasons for success or failures throughout the chronicles. Most kings through the Chinese dynasties had recommend the study of the book. Even Chairman Mao of China has recommended it as well.

Sima Guang listed 3 key qualities for being a leader and another 3 principles for ruling the country. Here is the mind-map that explains what these mean:

Character Development:

Character Development has 3 key qualities:

  1. Benevolence,
  2. Discernment &
  3. Decisiveness/Forcefulness.
  • Benevolence is not raising children with indulgence. It is improving the politics, promoting education, raising all things, caring for people. This is the meaning of benevolence of a People’s King.
  • Discernment is not critical and extensive fault finding. It is about knowing righteousness, understanding of security and danger, discernment of wise and fool, differentiating right and wrong.
  • Decisiveness is not ruthlessness and brutality. It is deciding and sticking, without any doubt, to the principle(Dao) such that it cannot be tempted by evil, changed by flattery.
Hence,
  • Benevolence without discernment is like having fertile field and yet not ploughing them.
  • Discernment without decisiveness is like seeing the weeds among the wheats and yet not removing them.
  • Dicisiveness without love is like only wanting to harvest(cutting out)  without planting.
  • Having all three leads to a strong nation. Less one leads to decline. Less two leads to danger. Less three leads to death.
  • Since the beginning of man, there is nothing before nor has changed.
  • Quotes
    • 得财失行,吾所不取。——《资治通鉴•陈纪》
      Gain wealth to loose one conduct is not want I choose.
    • 能择善者而从之,美自归己。——《资治通鉴•宋纪》。
      Choose to follow and do the good and kind things will bring beauty back to self.
    • 仁者不以盛衰改节,义者不以存亡易心。——《资治通鉴•魏志》。
      The kind does not change with riches or poverty,
      The righteous does not change for life or death.

Managing the Country – The Three Principles


Governing has 3 Principles:
1. Assignment
2. Rewards
3. Punishment

  1. Assignment: Matching People to Job ie 知人善任 Know People & Assign Them Rightly
    1. The abilities of people differs. Different jobs have their specialization.
    2. During the ancient times of Yao and Xun, the capable people stayed in their specialty and changed not.
    3. If assign them here and there, change their jobs, then cannot reach excellence.
    4. Hence, leader with integrity can gain the best of the world and deploy them according to their strengths.
    5. Assess capabilities then Assign
  2. Rewards for Performance
    1. Heavily rewards those with accomplishments。
    2. Those that did well, rapidly reward them and don’t change their job.
  3. Punish in time. Severely punish those with wrong doings.
    1. This is like controlling the horses of a wagon, direction & speed.
    2. Demote or replace the under performers by able ones.
    3. Those with faults then punish or kill without mercy.
    4. If goodness is not rewarded and evil is not punished, the good ones will be lazy and the evil ones diligent.
Putting Things in Context:
Running a business or governing a country takes more than just leadership qualities and management skills. One must watch and make sense of the external environments, the non-controllable, the influence-able and controllable factors in the them. Sun Zi’s Art of War gives a more comprehensive framework for understanding, adapting and exploiting the external environment. But basically, life is about changes and good life is about knowing how to adapt and make good use of the changes. The best on this is the Book of Change, the root of all Chinese Philosophies, including Art of War. Here is a mind-map that put the study of Sinology in proper context:

In the above mind-map, we can see that “The CEO Handbook” is just part of a larger framework, covering only the ‘People’ factor. There are other factors listed by the Art of War. On the left side, we see the origin of Chinese Philosophies, the Book of Change, also known as I-Ching.
Please see:
Lim Liat (c) 21 Jan 2015

Who has the Best Mission statement?

A mission statement must be inspiring to begin with. It should be shown and not just tell. It is best internalized and entrenched. It is shown in the products and services offered. Hence, customers can tell you what your real mission is, Apple is one that achieve the highest standard in inspiration and showing of their mission. We can also learn mucth from the Apple’s mission too,

Inspiring.
A mission statement is about the purpose of your existence. It is your identity and the value that you provide to a particular group of people. It gives meaning. It should be inspiring. It differs from Vision statements. Mission is about why whereas Vision is about what at some future point in time. Vision explains what your mission looks like to internal and external people. Values are your key believes that shape your decisions and behaviors; those important qualities and moral standards that define who your are. Getting back to mission, a mission statement must also be inspiring.

Recently, Li Ka Shing, Asian richest man, was reported in ZaoBao of 8 Oct 2014 (Chinese Newspaper in Singapore) that he liked a particular quote in the book “Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The quote is:

  • If you want to build a ship, don’t just drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead inspire them to yearn to set sail for the endless sea.
He further said that if the society can be inspired to set sail for sea, then an Asian Silicon Valley will appear. Hence, we can see the importance of the inspiration in a mission statement. It is of course very sad to see most companies, even the large listed companies, have mission statements that are vanilla statements of what they do. They are just making a living rather than impacting the world.

In Sun Zi’s Art of War, the first of the five factors for winning war is 道 Dao, the mission and values of the people. Sun Zi explained Dao as the one that unite the top and the bottom so that they can bravely live or die together. Unity is one of the 5 keys for winning that he emphasized again in the later chapters of his book.

Show, Don’t just tell.
If you try to look for Apple’s mission statement, you will not be able to find it even in their website or their publicatioins. However, I believe, Apple’s Mission is personalized and personified in Steve Jobs. “Making a dent in the universe” is one of his famous quote. He had over the years, created the unique Apple culture that reflected its mission. Steve Jobs believed in showing rather telling. This is in fact a great teaching of Lao Zi. In Dao De Jing chapter, we find the following statement:

  • 是 以 圣 人 处 无 为 之 事  行 不 言 之 教.
    Therefore, the saints do things that violate not the nature order. They are to teach without words (i.e.  teach by examples. The exhortation is not about not to teach, but to teach rightly, by being the model for others to follow). This teaching without words is repeated in Chapter 43.
The mission is not taught but caught and is shown in the way the staff work and in the products and services that they offer.
Nevertheless, Apple did begin with a mission statement, in 1980s, as
  • “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

But once the mission is internalized, there is no need to state it explicitly.

Internalized and Entrenched – The Culture
Mission statement must be implemented in the company policies, procedures, practices and systems. Also in the building design, office layout, retail space deco, the vehicles and everything else. It takes time and effort for the staff to internalize the mission and for the mission to be entrenched in all the practices. In the long run, it creates the unique culture that give its the competitive strengths. Technologies can be bought, practices can be copied, but culture cannot be easily copied.

Customers tell you your real mission.
The mission best shown in the products and services that the company offer to its customers. Customers are the ones to tell you accurately and truly about your mission.

What is the Apple mission statement? What words come to your mind when you think about Apple?
Simplicity, Elegance, Beauty, Wow, Eaes of Use, Fashionabe, Stylist and Classy, even Sexy. You are right. Those are the key ingredients of Apple’s mission. The true mission of a company is in its Brand. Brand is not what you claim but what customers say about you from their experience with you over a long period of time. In short

  • Your true mission is not what you say but what customers say!

My mindmap of Apple’s Mission:
Apple’s mission can be found, indirectly, in Youtube videos on “Apple – Design by Apple – Intention” and “Apple Ad – Our Signature”. Apple called their mission statement, intention and signature. Indeed, your signature is your identity which is also your mission.

Notice that the value that customers appreciate is in how they feel about your products and services. It is all about creating a wow experience that get the customers to ask for more!

Lim Liat (c) 8 Oct 14

Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula – Simple yet Comprehensive

The ‘Art of War’ of Sun Zi contains 13 chapters. The challenge is to capture the essence and yet without loosing any key details in as short a form as possible. Here is the Formula that tells you all.

I spent many weeks reflecting on how I can express the content of Sun Zi’s Art of War in as short a form as possible and at the same time not loosing any key details. The short form is good for us to remember, recall and to apply it into the many business decisions that we face.

One Chinese Word – 势 Comparative Power

It can be expressed in one Chinese Word – 势 Comparative Power. To be clearer, Sun Zi teaches us about how to 造势 Create or build Comparative Power and then 取势 ride on the wave of the created power.

‘知彼知己’ ‘Know Others(Competitors) and Know Self’.

The ‘how to’ is expressed in the famous quotation of ‘知彼知己’ ‘Knowing Others(Competitors) and Knowing Self’. This is about building our strengths relative to our competitors or in the modern management term of ‘comparative’ or ‘competitive’ advantage. Sun Zi used a bow and arrow to illustrate power and speed of action. The distance the arrow can reached is dependent on much the bow is bent (potential power or energy that we must build) and how fast the trigger, the arrow is released.

 ‘知天知地‘  Know Heaven (Weather, Season, Timing) and Earth (Terrain, Positioning)

What is frequently omitted is in the second part of ‘知天知地‘ , which is ‘knowing the timing (seasons and wealther) and knowing the terrain (or more precise, the shapes and advantages offered by the terrains such as cliff, narrow passage, water obstacle etc). Sun Zi not only tell us how to build our strength with his five factors of philosophy, timing, terrain, leadership and policies and seven measures which include the strength and skill of staff; he also tell us to make use of, or exploit the potential power from the external environment ot timing and terrains. Making use of the natural tendency offered by Heaven (Timing, Seasons) and Earth (Terrains), will allow us to have power without any of our effort! We just ride the tidal wave. Making use of nayural forces or tendencies is best illustrated with a puzzle. “How do you feed pepper to your cat?”. Hint: The answer is in the natural tendency of the cat.

Out Innovate Them

The last part then is the engagement between us and our competitors. The is for winning is to surprise them or in modern management term, out innovate them! Another way is speed. We can also sieze the initiative by out menuerving the competitors with deception, tempting, threatening, creating chaos, division, angering,  waiting while they labor and spend, attacking their weakness etc.

The Tag Line – Build Ride Innovate

The tagline for Art of War is then about build your comparative advantage over them, ride on the natural trends and out innovate them.

One More Thing – Business is a Love Affair more than War

Sun Zi was taking about war. To apply Sun Zi’s wisdom in today business world, we need to know one key thing – Business is a love affair with us customers first with our competitors being used as reference to evaluate our business value that we bring to our customers. The best way to out do our competitors is actually to focus first on serving and developing relationship with our customers. We keep track on our competitors is only for the purpose for serving and increasing our value to our customers. We make use of what our competitors are doing that we may do add even more value to our customers.

The Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula

To capture all the essential teaching of a subject, it is much clearer and simpler to express it as a fomula as shown below:SunZi Art of War Formula

Hope you can grasp the essential teaching of Sun Zi’s Art of War.

Lim Liat (c) 26 April 2014

The Highest Form of Leadership – Leaderless

The best form of leadership, for this VUCAD world, one that is adaptive and sustainable over time, is leaderless. But you don’t get that kind of leadership overnight. It can only be built overtime with right people and a simple principle of remaining leaderless. Surprised? Read the details….

Who should Microsoft choose to be the next CEO? Some one that can compete with Google and Apple ? No says Ancient Chinese Wisdom Book I-Ching. An Invisible Leader says Lao Zi. Lou Gerstner who saved and transformed the ailing IBM says, “It is the culture only”. So, pick someone who can build the self-managed leaderless culture.

What is the highest form of leadership? 
According to I-Ching, the Book of Change, it is leaderless.

A key hexagram in leadership in I-Ching is #1 Heaven – The Creative Force. See Learning from “I-Ching” Part 04 1-乾 Heaven – Creative Force. In it, it lists out six stages of growth for a ‘dragon’, representing an able person, from learner,  to executive, to manager, to entrepreneur, to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), to retiring chairman. Then it adds a seven grand summary stage with description of “用九”:见群龙无首,吉。”. Translated as “Use Nine: Seeing a host of dragons without a chief. It is good fortune.” A group of dragons without a chief is a stage of good fortune! In the commentary added by Confucius or his disciples, we find the following:

  • 乾元“用九”,天下治也。Heaven/Creation is great. Use Nine and the world is ruled well.
  • 乾元“用九”,乃见天则。Heaven/Creation is great. Use Nine is the model of the rule of heaven.
So we can see that the best or the good fortune stage of an organization is leaderless.
The good fortune is seen in the following:
  1. a host or a group i.e. an organization or a community
  2. dragons : more accurately, mature dragons that went through the six stages of growth. They are independent persons with good virtue of character and ability.
  3. without a chief: There is no one designated as the chief or commander to direct others around. The people know what to do for the good of the organization. When face a crisis, may be the best person to handle it will take the lead and others will contribute according to their best abilities. When the situation changes, previous leader hand over to the next one who is most able to do the leading.  He that is able takes the lead is the leadership model of the Ancient China before formation of Dynasty when the kingship is handed to the son. Such leadership model ensures the organization always has the best person to run it. It is self-renewal.
Building the High Performance Self-Managed Leaderless Organization
Such a high performing self-managed and self-sustained organization does not come just like that. They must fulfill the 3 criteria listed above, namely, an organization, dragons, without a chief.
  1. Shared Mission & Values: An organization or a grouping of people must have common mission and values as the glue to bring and hold them together.
  2. Dragons – Talents Development. We need to hire and develop the talents and make sure they grow up in character and ability. In I-Ching, we can find the details those qualities and know-hows in the 64 Hexagrams and 386 stage lines of wisdom.
  3. Leaderless – The Best One Lead: The organization needs to have a simple rule on leadership. There is no fixed leader under normal operation. When there is a crisis or a need, then the most able one to address the need take over as the leader. When the issue is solved or resolved, the leader steps down and the group return to leaderless mode.
The important one to note is that such a flexible self-manage organization needs to be built over time. But we now have the guidelines to build such an organization. In the present commercial world, there are more and more organizations adopting such a self-management model. The most popular one is The MorningStar Tomato Company  http://morningstarco.com/index.cgi?Page=Self-Management.
See also Levels of Leadership – Can We Measure Leadership?, where Lao Zi tells us the highest level of leadership is the invisible leader. This also shows Lao Zi’s actionless principle in action. See The Tao Bible in One minute .
If you are still doubtful, consider the purpose of parenting. The job of parents is to develop their children from dependence to independent mature adults. The job of CEO is then about developing their staff to be capable and engaged staff so that they can be independent and yet co-operative staff to achieve the mission of the organization.
Lim Liat (c) 8 Nov 2013