What I learned about Leadership from “The Art of War”

Lessons from more than two thousand years old Sun Tzu’s classic book

Shawon Sarowar
6 min readMay 2, 2021

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a book on military strategy written more than two thousand years ago in ancient china. This book is so essential for war as much as business. It’s also more important in politics. Sun Tzu said,

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”

In early at my university, I could hear about Sun Tzu’s The art of war. Then I try to read it. Sun Tzu said never travel far away to attack a walled city. But today only bombs can blow up all the walls. Many readers said that nowadays no one going to start a war with a shield, sword, bow, or arrow. They believe what Sun Tzu said about war no longer applies today. But many people still read this one. In the military, businessmen or strategists are read this book. Why they read it? There is something in it that’s why they read it.

According to the art of war, a great leader must have these qualities,

Discipline: For a leader, discipline is needed everywhere. On a battlefield, without proper discipline, a general can not maintain his soldiers. So, He can not win. Same as personal and professional life. Discipline makes your plan strong. On a battlefield or at your Organization, Discipline always ensures your victory.

Secrecy: A leader must maintain secrecy with his plan. Too little secrecy can leak his plan and for too much secrecy soldiers will be detached.

Management: Sun Tzu said “Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization.” A general always managing his soldier who fights for him. He motivates soldiers to increase their confidence. That helps for victory. A modern leader has great management skills. Management skill makes your work easier.

Lead By Example: A leader leads by example not by force. You have to be there with your soldier. You have to share their hardships to earn respect from them. Today, in the modern world we noticed that the use of force and authoritative approaches are proving to be unsuccessful with the many working people.

Strategic: A leader always be wise and strategic. Without a proper decision or a proper plan, action is useless. In modern business, a leader must be taking his time to educate himself, develop his quality or skills. Quality is always needed in our modern strategic business decision.

Responsibility: As a leader, you have to trust yourself and lead your army in the right direction. A general must confidently assume responsibility for the entire army. You have to trust others to confidently work with them and display humanity.

Now, We discuss briefly,

1. Victory without a battle

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

A great leader tries to avoid a war. War is not profitable for both of them. A great leader always defeated his enemy without fighting. This victory can happen in diplomatic ways. The result of diplomatic failure is war.

The winner’s leader always wins fast. He wins before the war. Then he goes to war. But a defeated leader defeated before the war begins. And he seeks victory on the battlefield.

2. Right time is important for the fight

“The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”

Time is a vital part of a war. Vectorious knows when to start a fight and when to avoid a fight. Plans are useful if it uses at the right time and the right moment. The victory also depends on the terrain of war. The terrain of war means weather, river, or mountain effect on the battle. A general always knows the time when terrain favorable with his soldier. He has better knowledge about the terrain. A great general knows when The terrain is favorable for them to attack. He waits for the right time and then attacks. He always gets the victory.

3. Another term is ‘Deception’

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

You have to always astray your enemy. When you are enough strong to defeat your enemy, try to pretend weakly and when you are weak try to pretend enough strong. That helps you to move your enemy wrong direction. you get more time to ready for the war. Do something as if your enemy thinks you are near at battlefield but actually you are so far away from the battlefield. Same as doing something if they think you are far away from the battlefield but really you are near at the battlefield. You have to create a trap where the enemy entangles them and then destroys them. In world war II, skilled Jarmany attack France inside the Ardennes forest but France expect them to attack after cross Belgium-Nederland.

4. Before the fight you must count the cost of the fight

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

Like a wise general, you have to think about victory with less cost. Every battle bring victory or defeat. If you win you got everything. But if you are defeated you are a dead man. So, before the war, you have to think about everything about this war. How chance of your victory, if it’s less than of your enemy try to avoid war. Every battle brings famine, dearth of food, or dearth of another life-supporting compulsory thing. So, as a discreet general, you have to think about the cost of the war.

5. Better knowledge about yourself and your enemy

“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 a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

A great general knows better himself as well as his enemy. san Tzu said earlier If you want victory you have to know your enemy. san Tzu said about spies. If you want to know your enemy or your enemies thought, use spies. san Tzu describes briefly spies. Spies bring it for you exactly what you want. If you know your enemies thought then you are not going to defeat in the next battle.

6. Attack in a various way

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever been seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”

In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack-the direct and indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.

Attack your enemy in this way which your enemy does not expect you to attack. Sun Tzu said that there are two ways to attack your enemy. but the combination of these two are many, even it can’t countable.

7. Only capable soldiers can bring victory

“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley”

Victory takes place on the side of those whose soldiers are spiritually united. Great leaders have a quality to united them spiritually. He treats them like his own beloved sons. That’s why on the battlefield his soldiers fight until the dead upon to them. We know soldiers are not strong like Achilles. But every great leader knows which group strong on which side. A great leader operates his man so wisely that severally each one whichever but overall they fight so hard in the chain.