Sabre has used elements from Sun Tzu (and many other famous ancient and modern military leaders) within our military themed corporate team building events for many years.
Is it still relevant to 21st century business leaders though?
Providing that the most relevant aspects are carefully "cherry picked" from his work and applied intelligently, then it certainly can be. To dive into the entire work is for many all too ethereal. Many of the basic priciples are however timeless and apply to any competitive activity.
Sun Tzu said that “most battles are often won before they are fought”. He urged for a relentless pursuit of individual, team and organisational excellence in execution, warning that anything less invites disaster.
To prevail in battle within a competitive environment, “good” is simply not “good enough” and “great” is what you simply must be to come out on top. Speed and quality of execution allows opportunities to be fully exploited before an opponent can do the same.
He based a lot of his insights around 5 simple factors that will strongly influence which army will prevail.
1. The Moral Law (the culture and morale of an army)
Are you building great relationships with your troops, advocates and allies whilst creating an environment that is conducive to excellence, harmony and unity? Are you commanding and directing your efforts with integrity, honour and skill? Which army possesses the strongest culture? People are the secret weapon, and culture is the ammunition!
2. Heaven (things exerting influence that are unexpected or beyond your control)
Are you taking account of unexpected forces beyond your control that could interrupt your plans and do you have well thought out contingencies in place to deal with unexpected threats? Which army can react most quickly to exploit opportunity? Have contingencies been scoped to allow for flexibility?
3. Earth (things you can see, influence and plan for such as terrain or infrastructure)
Have you mastered and understood the things that are actually well within your grasp such as your own team members, weapons and the terrain? Are you able to better understand these with genuine effort and commitment? Have you planned well using all available inputs and feedback? Which army has the better plan? Master the tools of your own trade and plan well!
4. Command (the quality and commitment of the senior and junior leadership)
Are leaders and troops within this army working harmoniously with well planned strategies and tactics that enable common objectives to be approached in a unified way? Can they make good decisions by themselves? Which army has the best leadership? Leading by strength, example and understanding!
5. Doctrine (compliance with sound and well-devised policies and procedures)
Are good systems, policies and training approaches being used in the most efficient, effective and flexible way to ensure that troops and officers are maximizing opportunities with the resources at hand in support of strategic and tactical aims? Which army has the best training and standards? Train Hard – Fight Easy!
Sun Tzu often said that most battles are won before they are fought and that he could easily and accurately predict the outcome of a battle based upon how well these five factors were applied by the respective combatants.
Warfare, like business, is an activity waged within an extremely competitive environment where “good” is often not “good enough” and where you quite simply have to be “great” to triumph!
Two of his most well known quotes…
“Know yourself, know your enemy, and you need never fear the outcome of 100 battles”.
Understand your own strengths and allowable weaknesses to determine the best possible deployment of people and resources. Plan well by understanding the nature of the challenges at hand and then exploit both your own strengths and your opponents weaknesses to achieve your aims.
“To win without fighting is the supreme skill”
Execution with excellence of individual missions as an integral part of a great overall strategy can actually win a battle before it’s fought. Failure to execute with excellence in any part of the total team can result in losing the advantage and then a very hard fight just to keep up.
To help apply some of these timeless factors have a look at Sabre's Military themed team building approaches.