Understanding How the Art of War and Business Intersect

When it comes to leadership, some of the best tips are those that have stood the test of time. One such source of advice on tactical business planning is The Art of War, attributed to the Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu. Although it was written around the 5th century BC, this ancient approach to warfare has much to teach us about modern business strategy.

A slide shows this quote. "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting"

How Can The Art of War Be Applied to Business Management?

The Art of War is a guide to winning military conflicts. Surprisingly, much of the advice contained within is less about fighting and more about strategy. Sun Tzu wrote about leading armies, gathering intel, and preparing for anything.

So, what is the connection between The Art of War and business? Sun Tzu’s guidelines for winning wars can also apply to winning in business. Here are five Sun Tzu leadership quotes that can give you a fresh perspective on your business strategy.

  • “An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”

When it comes to your competition, target their weaknesses instead of their strengths. Instead of asserting dominance over similar offerings, find out what your competitors could do better and excel at that.

  • “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Knowing your competitors is essential, but it’s equally important to truly understand your business. Sometimes, our passion for products or services can blind us to our weak spots. We can’t succeed in tactical business planning until we understand where we fall short.

  • Do not repeat the tactics that have won you one victory; let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”

Business, like war, is ever-changing. When you have a win, don’t grow complacent. New technologies and ideas will always come along to rock the boat. Tactical business planning requires constant adaptation.

  • “We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.”

Before directing your team, you need to understand the playing field. Too often, business leaders must understand the intricacies to learn more about each department or position. This can lead to strategic missteps and disgruntled employees, who usually know their jobs better than you do. If you could hire trusted experts, you can learn from them.

  • “When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.”

An organization is only as strong as its leader. No business can truly thrive in chaos. You need to develop your discipline, management, and communication skills to be the general your army deserves.

Do you want to improve your tactical business planning? As a coach, I’ve written plenty of articles about how to win in business over the years. Click here to have my weekly blog posts on leadership and management delivered straight to your inbox.

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Dave Schoenbeck
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