When it comes to understanding the qualities that a great leader should possess in order to accomplish his or her goals, I’ve found many leadership lessons in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. 

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, philosopher, and military strategist. His book “The Art of War” has been inspiring leaders from various industries and professions – not just in the military – for generations. His wisdom has inspired many to think critically about their own leadership skills, and how they may help or hinder their chances at their desired outcome.

As someone who has worked closely with CEOs and other C-Suites leaders at the executive level, there are constant opportunities to learn from the world around us about leadership and leading teams. The best leaders study many in order to better themselves.

I believe that the Five Qualities of a Leader and supporting principles outlined by this ancient thinker offer timeless examples of leadership. With that in mind, I’d like to share some of my favorite examples with you:

Art of War Lesson 1: Be a Disciplined Leader

In war, a general’s ability to enforce discipline whenever it is necessary can be the deciding factor between winning and losing a battle. The most successful leaders are those who can be disciplined and enforce what needs to be done in order to ensure success.

Applied to a modern business context, this can be interpreted as having high standards for oneself and for our colleagues and team members.

Failure to maintain and meet those high standards through personal and professional discipline may result in the modern business equivalent of losing a battle: failure to grow an organization, meet KPIs, and in some cases even to manage effectively.

By defining the roles and expectations for everyone associated with yourself or with your organization, and by being disciplined to work to meet your goals, you can ensure success, whether that’s on the battlefield or in the boardroom.

Art of War Lesson 2: Focus On Your Management Skills

As a general, Sun Tzu was charged with leading armies of thousands of soldiers. This meant that managing the soldiers who fought alongside him and ensuring that they had confidence in their leader was just as critical to victory as the strategy they would follow in order to achieve that outcome.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu wrote “Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization.”

Modern leaders can draw wisdom from this statement by considering how they lead their teams, and by ensuring that they put equal effort into managing teams as they are to meeting measurable KPIs such as quarterly growth goals.

Additionally, Sun Tzu suggests that regardless of the size of the team you manage, the key to success is to focus on the quality of your management techniques, rather than simply focusing on the quantity of the output.

Art of War Lesson 3: Be Aware of Your Weaknesses and Strengths

The greatest leaders are those who are aware of both their strengths and weaknesses. They know how to compensate for areas where they struggle by developing them and leaning on the areas where they feel the strongest and most competent.

For example, if you want to be a great leader, follow in the footsteps of leaders you admire and regularly self-assess your leadership capabilities.

The Art of War states: “He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.” Modern leaders can interpret to mean that by knowing ourselves we can better identify the areas that hold us, and our organizations, back from true success.

Art of War Lesson 4: Be Wise and Strategic

Action is useless without the wisdom required to make sound decisions, both in military strategy and in business. When we consider the role of a leader in the modern business landscape it’s obvious that taking the time to educate ourselves, develop our skills, and take the time to regularly reflect on our abilities is essential to developing the wisdom necessary to make sound and strategic business decisions.

Sun Tzu wrote: “Hence in the wise leader’s plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.”

By developing your critical thinking skills and continually working to improve your competence as a leader, you can become wise enough not only to navigate professional challenges; but also to identify potential issues before they arise and take action before they become an impediment to organizational success.

Art of War Lesson 5: Always Maintain Your Trust and Humanity

One of the core qualities associated with effective leadership is ensuring that your team members and colleagues trust you to lead them in the right direction, and this requires acting benevolently and by inspiring confidence through personal action.

Sun Tzu wrote: “When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.”

Leaders must trust others in order to gain the confidence of those working with them, and display humanity by being open and transparent. Sharing personal challenges and being honest when we falter are signs of true leadership, as they make us accessible and ensure that we not only treat our teams with humanity, but that we inspire trust through vulnerability and humanity ourselves.

Implementing these principles may pose a challenge at first, even to the most seasoned leadership. I believe that by thinking critically about our actions we can improve ourselves and increase the ROI of our output at the same time. I invite you to take a moment to Take.Action.Now by assessing your professional strengths and weaknesses.

For more information on how the East Tenth Group team and I can assist you with your leadership development, visit our services page, subscribe to our newsletter, and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.