Sun Zi Art of War-6: Leadership Skills and Creating HPO

I thought I have covered Sun Tzu (Sun Zi) Art of War well with just 5 postings. But I felt I needed to cover one more important area, Leadership Skills or Leadership Principles to bring out the point that the ‘Art of War’ is more than just strategies for war. It is first about the building of High Performance Force or Organization(HPO) if I have not made it clear enough in the first 3 posts.

Leaders hold the greatest responsibility for creating the mission and culture for a High Performance Organization. Hence, let me cover the leadership skills from Sun Zi with the following mind-map:

Five Qualities of a Leader

  1. Wisdom – knowledge, skills, capability, competence
  2. Integrity – walk the talk, deliver promises, trust worthy, ethical.
  3. Compassion – love and care of staff and even of their families.
  4. Bravery – Boldness. Bravery is not recklessness. Bravery is acting on calculated risks.
  5. Strict-Discipline.
    Let me emphasize that the set of values listed above are counter balancing one another (as mentioned in Sun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factor). Compassion must be moderated with strict discipline and vice versa. So it with wisdom and integrity, bravery and wisdom, wisdom with discipline (be flexible when needed) etc. See Complementary Values from Chinese Zodiac Signs for a longer list.

What are Stronger than Number?
To a good leader, strength in number is not something to count on. Big market leading companies are dethroned by start-ups. Here are the Five things that are stronger.

  1. Alignment – shared mission and values provide concentration and focus of laser sharp cutting strength. Read my posts on Corporation Performance Management (CPM). Kaplan & Norton’s Strategic Map Driven Balanced Scorecard method is a great framework to follow to create focused and aligned corporation.
  2. Foreseeing Enemy’s actions or reactions – In the business world, I will translate to mean the ability to understand and foresee the trends in the market, customers preferences, industry, technology, social, environmental, economic and political situations.
  3. Getting Commitment of Staff – Highly engaged and motivated staff are key to corporate growth and performance. Happy employees creates happy customers who in turn rewards the corporation with money and loyalty.
  4. Detailed & Careful Planning with Agility – As covered in previous posts, Sun Zi believed in planning on real data, of weather, terrain, staff and enemy’s intelligence. Sun Zi also teaches about agility and flexibility to adapt and exploit changes.
  5. Humility – Never Under-estimate the Enemy – Our customers and our competitors are no fools. They can tell our ‘lies’ and ‘spins’. With social media, one ‘small’ customers can create great impact. Don’t assume our competitors are dump or dead that will not react or pro-act against us. Continued learning and innovation is the key to long term survival and growth.

Love & Discipline
The strongest motivating force for people is still LOVE – I Care about you. It must be demonstrated and not just spoken of. Yet love is not indulgence. Standards need to set and discipline need to be enforced.

The order is important – love first and then set standard. Discipline without love will produce temporary and on the surface following of commands. Deep down in the heart is the feeling of misused, abused, bitterness, anger and will create sabotaging whenever there is opportunity.

Lead by Example
Leaders must walk their talk. Best form of teaching is not by instruction but by example. This is the teaching of Lao Zi, teaching without talking! see The Tao Bible in One minute and Levels of Leadership – Which Level are Yours?.

Here is the Index of Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

  1. Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One Minute
  2. Sun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factors Well
  3. Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures
  4. Sun Zi Art of War-4: Appraisal & Prediction
  5. Sun Zi Art of War-5: The Principles for Good Strategies
  6. Sun Zi Art of War-6: Leadership Skills and Creating HPO

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Sun Zi Art of War-5: The Principles for Good Strategies

This is the last post in the series of Sun Zi’s Art of War.  We summarize the teaching of Sun Zi’s strategies into the following 8 main principles or guidelines shown in the mind-map:

(Sun Zi in Chapter 1 said the main strategy of war is deception. But in going through the 13 chapters, I felt the starting or basic strategy is actually agility and flexibility in reading and exploiting the variations in time, terrain, and attributes encountered. So I put this mastering variation or change as the first and deception as the 2nd principle).

The Best Strategy is to Win without a Fight
Sun Zi in Chapter 3 ‘Planning to Attack’ says that winning every battle is not the best. The best is to subdue the enemy even without a fight! Every war will result in destruction even for the winning side. He explained further that it is better to take the whole country or the whole army in tact rather than destroy them. Hence, we begin the principles of good strategies with this foundation principle of win without a fight.  Here is the mind-map.



The Other Strategies for War

P1 Mastering Variation
There is no fixed strategy for war. Attack is not always right. Direct approach may be the wrong way. The best strategy is the ability to read the situation encountered, understand the variations and the advantages or disadvantages offered, determine the truth or false of intelligence gathered,  and then come out with the right strategies. This is the very basic teaching of i-Ching which is using unchanging principles to handle the changes encountered and obtaining the desired outcome.  There is so much richness in this principle that we need to expand it in the mind-map below:


P2 Deception – The Basic Strategy
How to deceive the enemy is given in the mind-map below. A typical operator is ‘Invert’ (see the BVITS Innovative Thinking Method for other 10 operators). We have covered in fact the Divide and Combine operators in the P1-Mastering Variations mind-map.

P3 Key Factors for Attacks
The keys for attack are: The key of a force is speed, attack when he is not ready,
take the unexpected route, attack the defended.

P4 Divide the Enemy
To weaken the enemy, a key operator Divide is used …cause the enemy force to be divided, front from back, small from large, power and weak, top from bottom, so that the enemy cannot combine and cannot be in mutual support of each other.

P5 Combine and Move only when there is an advantage else stop.
This is reminder that no guideline is always right for all situations. Reading the situation and apply the right guideline is the Arts of War.

P6 When we are relative lesser in size Capture the Enemy’s Love(or nightmare)
We don’t always need to rely on bigger forces to win. When we are lesser in number, we can still win the war. We do not attack the enemy at the its strength but focus our forces and attention in attacking the enemy’s love – it could be their King (this is one of the 36 tactics to destroy the thieves capture their chief first), but it could be other things. The things that keep the Enemy sleepless at night.  Find out this key resource or concern of the enemy and possess this key resource.

P7 Use Fire to Attack – Artillery or Air Raids in Modern Times
Don’t just think in 2D flat plain of operation. Think 3D, go by air, go wireless, go remote control. It could be a small impact to create confusion that the enemy will kill each other in panic or run away. In business world, what will be the equivalent of using fire legally?

P8 Espionage
We have stressed much in earlier post that planning must be based on facts and correct intelligence. We can collect intelligence in many ways. Sun Zi proposed five types of spies. We must reward them well, as some may die in the process. In this modern times, there are many equivalent to spies like customers, our sales and service staff, candidates seeking jobs, competitors’ public information, disgruntle staff, etc. etc.
We can also send out false intelligence to misled our enemy.
Here is the mind-map:

Hope you have benefited from reading of this series of posts on Sun Zi’s Art of War and apply them well in your business. Just to emphasize again that Business is a Love-affair rather than just a pure war. To the Sun Zi’s principles, we must map it to today business situations which I have tried to show and we need to add in the Customers factor – loving them (which Sun Zi only covered loving your own work-force. For that, please refer to my I-Ching Series and Ancient Chinese Wisdom).
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Sun Zi Art of War-4: Appraisal & Prediction

We continue from our previous post Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures.

Before we engage in a war, it is better to do a appraisal of the situation and make prediction as to the chance of winning and the associated costs and benefits. The mind-map below show the steps:

W E Deming, the Guru of Quality Control (actually, he is much more than that), says that management is about prediction (theory of knowledge). Management must be able to predict the outcomes accurately and hence showing his understanding of the working of the system. Then, management is also responsible for improving the performance of the system, not by meddling, but by understanding the profound knowledge of system, variation, psychology, and knowledge (ability to predict).
This is exactly what Sun Zi is teaching us – we must be able to predict the outcome before we decide. Prediction of outcome comes from careful analysis of facts from multiple factors and dimensions.
To Fight or NOT – How can You Tell?
Appraisal is done with comparison of relative strength. Recalling it is about knowing the enemy and knowing oneself.
It is also about the interests of the Country and its people and is NOT about the Commander’s ego or self benefits.  History tell a great number of stories of defeats due to Commander’s ego or anger. One of Sun Zi’s strategy is to anger the short temper commander and gain benefits against him. Hence, as a good commander, he must remain calm and objective and always have the interests of the nation at heart.
Appraisal does not end with a decision to fight or not but about improve one’s relative position and advantages.
Sun Zi gives the steps for Appraisal:

  1. It starts with identification of factors of competitions, besides the 5 general factors and 7 measures, we must study into the specifics of this situation. He used the term “Dimension” and I extend it to include the common dimensions of time, space and properties of the present situation.
  2. Once a factor(dimension) is identified, we need to decide a measure of it. Then we can measure its volume, or strength, in terms of how much or how many.
  3. Certain factor is the combination of several sub-factors, then we need to compute the result.
  4. Comparison with the Enemy’s Computed Result will give us the conclusion to be drawn on the next step.
  5. Will we win against the Enemy? I think with should read Sun Zi’s claim of Winning as a probabilistic measure, a measure of confidence level, rather than absolute. There are too much factors of variation to make a deterministic prediction for victory or defeat.

5 Principles of Victory

They are clearly depicted in the mind map below:

Exhortation from the Experts

I wish to quote one of China leading Chinese Classic Guru Zhai Hong Sen on Success & Failure. He said that the reason for failure was not lack of planning but lack of activities before the planning. What does he mean? He means that we need to do a lot of work to list our our assumptions and conduct surveys and experiments to find out. Planning cannot be based on luck, dreams, and unknown. This is exactly what Sun Zi is teaching.  Sun Zi is an advocate of data and intelligence collections before planning or planning must be based on facts. Sun Zi has a Chapter 13 dedicated to Espionage for Intelligence collection.

Successful Entrepreneurs are in fact not risks taker or gamblers as commonly perceived, but are in fact risks minimizer. They identify the key assumptions for their business to be successful first and then conduct survey or experiment to validate the assumptions before taking the plunge.

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Sun Zi Art of War-3: Health Check with 7 Measures

What is well known and yet need to be repeated often about management? Measurement. If you don’t have a measure, then you are out of control. You become and get what you measure. Without measure, you don’t know how you are progressing. Without targets, you can’t tell whether you have arrived.  Because measure affects behavior, what and how you measure and what you do with the measured result had great impact on the behavior of people, it could be good or bad. So the measurement system itself need to be reviewed regularly. Here is Sun Zi’s proposed Seven Measures explained in mind-map format:
  1. Top Leadership (The King) commitment to the Mission & Values
    1. Does the top embrace and practice the mission and values and thereby gain the following and commitment of his men, such that the men are willing to die for the cause (Factor 1 of 5 Warfare Factors). (Dao by itself could be translated as whether the Top has character that follows the righteous Ways. But in context, we had use Mission and Values instead.
    2. A lot of top leaders just talk and don’t walk their talk and wonder why people are not following or trusting them.
    3. It is common for consultants to find that their clients staff generally could not tell the mission and values of their companies that are written and published on their website and manual.
    4. How do we measure this? Not by measuring the Top leader’s attributes but by measuring the outcome desired! Hence measures like employee satisfaction, staff turnover rates, ranking in top companies to work for, employees recommending others to join their companies, etc are the better to use.
    5. Personally, I feel that Top Leadership is responsible for the culture of the company. Hence, measures on culture and values are useful too.
  2. Commanders – Capabilities
    1. Sun Zi tell us to measure this but did not give us the specific measures.
    2. Capabilities required may be classified into general soft skill and specific domain skill needed for the jobs. Different strategic jobs need different skill sets, so we must come out with our system of measurements.
  3. Timing & Position
    1. These two factors are rated together.
    2. Again, we must use output and outcome measures. So we could use measures like cycle-times, delays (with respect to plan, with respect to competitors).
    3. Right position and timing should produces good revenues for us and hence such financial measures are useful too. Cost savings or over-runs are useful as well.
  4. Laws (Policies) Implemented?
    1. Implemented can be measured in stages:Drafting, Written, Communicated, Enforced.
    2. We can measure the content (quality and depth of the laws) and also the extend or how widespread in the organization, are they being enforced.
  5. Work-Force Strength
    1. Strength can be measured in Capability Level and Size (no of people).
    2. A good measure is Readiness Measure – the number and type of skills have divided by the number and type of skills required.
    3. Work-force’s productivity is enabled by the productive assets like machines, methods, materials, environment, and measurement(instrumentation) (6M). Hence, I included them here.
  6. Work-Force Training
    1. Are the work-force skills set being continuously improved. Is there a program to ensure this is so. How many and what are the scope of the exercises that are carried out by the men? Exercises are reviewed and improved. Our soldiers do that regularly so what about our employees.
    2. Training need not be formal. It is best to create a Learning Organization for self-learning to ensure the man and the organization learn over time.
  7. Rewards & Punishments
    1. Are there rewards and punishments systems?
    2. Do they support the enforcement of the Laws/Policies or do they go against them?
    3. Are the system clearly understood by the workforce?
    4. Are they fairly and transparently enforced? Do the workforce trust the system? Untrusted incentives system create suspicion, fear and cheating.
    5. Most people are very suspicious of measurement system, especially when they are used for incentive systems. There are proper way to do them.

What are Missing?
What do you think are the Measures that are missing from Sun Zi’s Art of War? Take a look at the Singapore Quality Award System Business Excellence Framework fig 1. It covers Leadership(Driver), System of Planning, Information, Processes, People, Customers, and Outcome of Results, in an environment of Learning & Innovation.

In the mind map I listed down weapons and other assets and customers. Assets could be included in the workforce strength. A key element missing is CUSTOMERS. One can argued that it is included in the Timing and Positioning. That is so because I change terrain to positioning with creates the concept of marketing position with reference to the customers and to the competitors. This missing is because Sun Zi is about Warfare whereas business is a Love-affair with Customers that I stated in the post of this Sun Zi Series.

For the seven measures, six are internal and only one Timing and Positioning is external. In the war, timing is about weather, seasons and positioning is about terrain. In business, we will extend it to mean customers desires/satisfaction, market trends, relative positioning to competitors and the macro factors PESTLE (Politics, Economic, Social, Technology, Environmental and Legal)

Got Strength or NOT?
Our strength or lack of, should be measured in the eyes of the customers, relative to our competitors’. Hence, Sun Zi is emphasizing that we need to know both, our competitors and ourselves in order to ensure success. Knowing oneself alone has a 50% chance of success. Not knowing either is sure to fail.

What is Your Company’s Health?

  1. Can you come out with 7-10 measures for your organization (Remember to include one for CUSTOMERS).
    • For customers, to just measure satisfaction only. Studies show that satisfied customers behavior just like unsatisfied customers; only those are highly satisfied will be loyal. So it is better to measure Net Promoter Score.
  2. What is Your Score? What are the areas of strength and weaknesses?
  3. Pick a key Competitor, do one about him, or better, ask your customers to do one about him.
  4. How do you compare against him?
  5. What actions should you be taking? About your strengths and not just about fixing weaknesses.

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