Charge the Line

The Art of Leadership

By Josh Fowler

Flight, insubordination, collapse, ruin, disorganization, rout. These words have resonated with military strategists for centuries. The wisdom and insight shared in Sun Tzu’s Art of War not only have transcended time in various fields but also have found their way into multiple organizations and professions, especially when it comes to leadership.

Now an army is exposed to six several calamities, not arising from natural causes, but from faults for which the generals responsible. These are: flight, insubordination, collapse, ruin, disorganization, and rout.

1. Other conditions being equal, if one force is hurled against another ten times its size, the result will be the flight of the former.

2. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination.

3. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.

4. When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether he is able to fight, the result is ruin.

5. 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.

6. When a general, unable to estimate the enemy’s strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout.

"These are the six ways of courting defeat, which must be carefully noted by the general who has attained a responsible post.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

So, perhaps now you are the general or you aspire to be, and you have attained a responsible post. Congratulations. Now, pay close attention. From his opening remarks, the calamities Sun Tzu speaks of are not accidents that come with the job. They are the mistakes that are a direct result of the leadership (or lack of) in an organization. In the next installment, we’ll discuss the first calamity, Flight.