The Top Ten Lessons from The Art of War to Battle COVID-19

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was written more than 2,500 years ago. His lessons are still employed by many leaders today. Some historians believe that if the political and military leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries had studied and applied Sun Tzu’s lessons that Vietnam, the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs, and that World Wars I and II may have been avoided. At the very least, these major conflicts would have had significantly different outcomes, whereby millions of young lives would have been saved.

What might the lessons be for coaches, political, business and nonprofit leaders? What might the lessons be related to the deadly Coronavirus pandemic? What are the lessons for parents to lead them towards being Tender Lion Leaders?

What follows is my “Top Ten” list from The Art of War: (The italicized sentences are translations of Sun Tzu. The subtexts are my thoughts.)

  1. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of 100 battles.
    • What must we do to know “the enemy” and ourselves, not just better, but with a deep and mature knowledge?
  2. The true object of war is peace.
    • What can we best do to know the enemy and ourselves to be in such a position of strength that peace is the only option?
  3. The general who wins the battle makes many calculations before the battle is fought.
    • The Coronavirus disaster has me thinking that our national leaders were “flat-footed” when the pandemic was headed this way, as if we stood at a distance without resolve or ability to take swift action. What possibilities exist to create a new situation so we don’t repeat the errors of the past?
  4. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war who can understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
    • What can be done, in advance, to ensure that your team has experienced leaders, scenarios planned and systems in place to respond proactively?
  5. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law and strictly adheres to method and discipline.
    • This is huge, and requires of us (individually, elected and business leaders) to be accountable to moral, ethical, smart and sensitive leadership.
  6. There are six ways of courting defeat: neglect to estimate the enemy’s strength; want of authority; defective training; unjustifiable anger; non-observance of discipline; failure to use the best possible team.
    • There is so much packed into the previous sentence, that I don’t even know where to start with this!
  7. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without feeling disgrace…is the jewel of the kingdom.
    • If the leader is overly motivated by ego…look out! His/her decisions will be influenced only thinking of self, versus decisions for the greater good. This is a recipe for disaster in volatile times.
  8. You will not succeed unless your men have tenacity and unity of purpose, and above all, a spirit of sympathetic cooperation.
    • What can we do to encourage our leaders to pursue this paradigm? What can you do as a leader to instill this spirit in your team?
  9. What enables wise leaders to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Spies are a most important element in a war, because upon them depends the army’s ability to move.
    • What can you do to employ “spies” to gather essential information to make the best decisions?
  10. The motivation and desire to win must be overwhelming. (My translation applied here)

In peace prepare for war, war prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.

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