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Sun Tzu's Guide To Developing Strong Leadership Skills

Updated on October 14, 2014
Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu | Source

The Three Kingdoms

(220 - 280 AD)
(220 - 280 AD) | Source

Sun Tzu Documentary

Who Was Sun Tzu?

If you're reading this article I can assume that you are here to learn some basic facts about Sun Tzu and his ideology that has been practiced 'til this day in his 2400 year old book, "Art of War" or "Ping-Fa". If you know about Sun Tzu, then you'll probably skip this; but who knows! You might learn something you didn't know!

Well, for starters, Sun Tzu is renowned for being a military strategist and master general who's ideology gained popularity because of the fact that he never was defeated in battle. His name literally is translated to Grand Master or Master Sun.

The book was used in WWII and many, many, other battles - whether they be battles of politics, sports, business, etc. Pretty much any practice that requires a bit of 'competitive nature', pays homage to Sun Tzu's strategy.

But from where did he come from?
Sun Tzu (birth name Sun Wu) was, according to some records, known as the Shiji or otherwise The Records of the Grand Historians; and this claimed that Sun Tzu lived in an era called, The Period of Autumn and Spring (770 BC - 403 BC) born of the eastern term, Qi or Chi, which would be the equivalent term of the "Holy Spirit" to Catholics. Personally, I'm skeptical as to whether or not Sun Tzu was born of the Qi and then dropped out of the sky onto a hay bale; but scholars also argue that he was a resident of the Wu Empire (229 - 280 AD), born and raised; and that I have an easier time believing since the weapons described in his book match up to that era and so does the situational, political and warring activities going on between the Three Kingdoms. I feel like Sun Tzu being born into an era of politics and war would make more sense, since those situations would most-likely inspire a desire to master strategy in order to prevail victoriously - which he did.

How did Sun Tzu come into focus as a master general?
I'm sure there's many different answers that one could give to this question. My answer would be that Sun Tzu was an expert military strategist and used his knowledge to climb the ranks, impress the right people and gain renown for his excellent ideology. How exactly did Sun Tzu gain the respect of King Ho-lú of Wu and demonstrate his legitimacy? Well, one story goes as told below:

Sun Tzu And The Concubines

King Ho-lú wanted a demonstration of Sun Tzu’s theories in action to see their effectiveness. So the King’s concubines, some 300 women, were summoned and divided into two companies. He placed one of the King’s two favorite concubines in charge of each and gave the women armor and weapons while explaining a set of drills he wished them to perform.

After he had shown them what he wished to be done he then ordered the King’s favorite concubines to lead their companies in performing the maneuvers. This almost predictably led to laughs from the concubines who did not believe him to be serious. They were, after all, not warriors. Sun Tzu then repeated his orders but again the concubines laughed and failed to heed.

This is when he uttered the quote “If the instructions are not clear, if the orders are not obeyed, it is the fault of the general. But if the instructions are clear and the soldiers still do not obey, it is the fault of their officers.”, summoned the executioner and had the King’s favorite concubines beheaded. Perhaps Sun Tzu would have lost his own head as well due to an angry King Ho-lú except for the predictable result that ensued. Sun Tzu brought forth two more concubines, placed one in charge of each company and then he again ordered the drill completed. This time the remaining concubines performed the exercise flawlessly.

Sun Tzu’s orders were clear. The fault was with those that were entrusted to carry out those commands. When that fault was remedied everything worked like it was supposed to.

Heeeeyaaaaa | Source

Okay, so that's a biiiiiit radical....

...and after that Sun Tzu publicly beheaded two of King He-Lu's queens, even after the king pleaded for Sun Tzu not to, he was determined to make an example of anyone who did not follow his orders...

As you can see, Sun Tzu was very serious about his ideology - so much that he would kill to preserve it's legitimacy. Now, I would hope when adapting this ideology to your lifestyle, you don't take it this far; but if you do... I suppose you'll have to face the consequences of that. Anyways, the actions of Sun Tzu impressed King He-Lu and he was immediately promoted to command the armies of the Wu kingdom; and from there he only became more famous...


No, there is no try. There is only DO, or do not.
No, there is no try. There is only DO, or do not.





Get off my lawn...
Get off my lawn...




Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks






Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla | Source

Clever, Creative and Inventive

Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain
Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain | Source

So What Traits Did Sun Tzu Consider to Be Those of a Strong Leader?

Sun Tzu compiled a list of traits that both a strong and weak leader would have - first, I'll go over what he considered to be strong traits:

  • Wisdom
    A strong leader is wise and can see the 'big picture' which gives him or her the advantage he or she needs to be victorious in battle - whether that be a real battle, a political battle, a battle on the football field or on a Monopoly game board.
  • Knowledge
    A strong leader is knowledgeable and has gained his or her knowledge through experience, study and strict observation of that which revolves around them. This way, with help from the wisdom they possess, they can make the right and most practical choice in the proper situation. Knowledge and wisdom in combination prevent a person from, "biting off more than they can chew" which would lead to inevitable defeat.
  • Credibility
    A strong leader doesn't boast about their prowess and ability - they prove it through action. Sun Tzu demonstrated his credibility in the story of the concubines. A true example of how 'actions speak louder than words'.
  • Strictness
    Sun Tzu believed that to be strict, was a way to exercise your authority; but not too strict, otherwise you risk the event of mutiny. Sun Tzu believed that promoting a strict accordance to the rules of engagement (however that may appeal to what you're applying it to) was sure to bring a prosperous outcome. People tend to respect and take a strict person more seriously.
  • Benevolent
    Now Sun Tzu may have seemed radical; but he is very serious about his implementation. That doesn't mean he's a complete asshole since he promoted benevolence in a strong leader. Being kind of course, draws people's respect towards you and keeps morale high.
  • Courage
    As a master strategist, one must have a prerequisite of courage. Without courage you won't have the 'guts' to pull off what seems impossible. Without courage you will second-guess your decisions and this, in certain situations, can lead to demise. Sun Tzu stressed that through courage, wisdom and knowledge, a person will follow the Way effortlessly and without doubt; ultimately leading to supreme success in any endeavor.
  • Skillfully Analytical
    When strategizing, being able to analyze a situation and come to an effective conclusion would take very pristine analytical skills. Sun Tzu stressed the ability to analyze a situation from every angle; and to see the infinite possibilities that would lead to victory. Without keen analytical skill, one isn't always able to see the possibilities that will lead to victory.
  • Humble; Unconcerned with Fame
    Sun Tzu knew that one who seeks prestige has a clouded and distracted mind. The person who wishes to acquire fame is lost from the path of The Way, and their intuition fails them, which leads to mistakes, which leads to defeat. A humble and open-minded approach to strategy, is the best strategy.
  • Fearless of Punishment
    Combined with the leader's courage, he or she is also fearless - this way, the enemy cannot manipulate fears in order to obtain a victory.
  • Places Family and Friends before Self
    This is a tough one. I think what Sun Tzu meant here is that, by being selfless, you will gain strong alliances which will increase the leader's overall strength and influence. With such attributes, one can create an army or coalition, etc.
  • Tranquil
    Sun Tzu stressed the importance of a calm and collected mind while in the midst of danger. Staying calm guarantees a more effective result in one's favor when taking action. A strong leader can manage their emotions effectively.
  • Obscure
    Sun Tzu taught that an obscure leader will be more difficult to read and would prevent cases of mutiny. A person of obscurity has more ability to look as a unique, leader, figure - thus your army or team will look to you as the leader.
  • Assertive
    A good leader refuses to be pushed around; but won't limit the freedoms of others. A good leader respects other people's space, while defending their own and speaking truths.
  • Clever, Creative and Inventive
    A clever, creative and more innovative person is more likely to come up with an original plan or strategy that will impress others and/or lead them to success in their endeavors. In the case of being at war, this is the way in which tactics are created to catch an enemy by surprise by doing something creative and unexpected.



Arrogant and Vanity-Struck

So What Traits Did Sun Tzu Consider to Be Those of a Weak Leader?

  • Fear-Monger
    A weak leader uses fear to control the mass; but this always backfires because people will only be kept down for so long before they retaliate.
  • Not Strict
    A weak leader is not strict, therefore, their cohorts will eventually stray away from their leadership. Sun Tzu knew that a strict implementation of the rules will promote observance by those who follow them.
  • Afraid of Death and/or Failure
    If a leader is afraid of death and or failure, their anxieties that drive these fears can be easily manipulated by a more cunning enemy. If a leader does not have fear, they are mentally impenetrable.
  • Weak Observational Skills
    If observational skills are weak then that opens up a person for an unexpected attack which leads to defeat inevitably. A strict observance of the "big" and "little" pictures of a person's field of competition is vital to an effective and victorious strategy.
  • Arrogance
    Time and time again, arrogance proves to be the downfall of individuals and even entire societies (Rome). An arrogant person is blinded and unable to follow The Way of things. An arrogant person lives in a world of solipsism and they have no grasp on how things really work. This will lead to inevitable defeat.
  • Vanity Struck
    A person who craves attention is not focused on The Way and is prone to make mistakes. A person who exhibits signs of vanity is distracted by the prevalence of their own self-image and ego, instead of accentuating their true, inner being. In a nutshell, they're fake and incapable.

Art of War Audiobook


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    • Kimb8094 profile image

      Ryan 2 years ago from United States

      Thank you! Yea must be hard - especially now days. I'm always up for a challenge though.

    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 3 years ago from Santa Barbara, California

      A well done hub. I read this book a while ago and with this Hub it refreshes my memory plus adds to my knowledge. Although I agree with Sun Tzu on his traits for leaders, who on earth could have all those traits? She would have to be superwoman to have all those traits. Thanks.

    • Kimb8094 profile image

      Ryan 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks Dhimanreena!! I'm pretty new at this so your encouragement does nothing but inspire me!

    • dhimanreena profile image

      Reena Dhiman 3 years ago

      An interesting way to demonstrate different leadership skills !!!! Great hub