Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

The Character of a Leader: 500 B.C. Style

The book “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu is a classic. It was written sometime during the various wars between Chinese factions that took place in the period from 700 B.C. to 200 B.C.

What’s amazing about reading “The Art of War” is to realize just how relevant it is today.  While much of it is in military language, the principles are clear.  For example, in one section he describes the “command” of a leader.  He says “By command I mean the general’s qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness.”  Those five characteristics are a very good description of what the character of a leader needs to be to gain the respect of his or her people and exhibit worthiness of being followed. In the book, these characteristics are described as follows:

  • Wisdom – “Able to recognize changing circumstances and to act expediently.”
  • Sincerity – “His men will have no doubt of the certainty of rewards and punishments.”
  • Humanity – “He loves mankind, sympathizes with others, and appreciates their industry and toil.”
  • Courage – “He gains victory by seizing opportunity without hesitation.”
  • Strictness – “His troops are disciplined because they are in awe of him and are afraid of punishment.”

The title that Tzu gives such a leader is “The Respected One.”  For any leader, they have to have the overall confidence of their people as they work to determine the correct vision and strategies to win, and then execute those plans.  Without this respect, seldom do you get the buy-in and enthusiasm to achieve those things.  In fact, what usually happens is such a manager atrophies to the point where committees are formed, consensus is used and in general, things bog down.  While everyone seems super busy, nothing seems to get accomplished.

If you are a leader of a group, no matter whether it is four people as an initial management assignment, or as a leader of a huge organization, it is useful to ponder whether or not you are “The Respected One.”   Hopefully the above brief descriptions give you a good sense of the kinds of behaviors that will earn you that coveted title.

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