SUN TZU’s LEADERSHIP PRINCIPLES


Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline. Reliance
on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness.
Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive
discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.

— Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu’s Art of War originally was intended to be read as a work of military strategy and philosophy.
Yet even today, more than 2,000 years later, Sun Tzu’s description of the traits that characterize a successful leader is valid in any arena—war, politics, business, and any endeavor that requires the ability to inspire and mobilize the efforts of a group in the service of a common goal.

What kind of person is the theoretical ideal leader?

The ideal leader has the intelligence to understand the subtleties and complexity of the leadership
role: It is not sufficient to bear the title and hold the authority of a leader to function as one. The very
concept of leadership is subjective, which is why so many different varieties and degrees of leadership are
evident in society and in business. The perfect leader understands what it means to lead, and to be led.
The ideal leader is aware of the mutual responsibility of the leader and the led: Each relies on and supports the other.

A leader without a sense of humanity is only a leader by virtue of superior power, while a great leader inspires more by force of character and principle than by fear and intimidation.

The ideal leader is also someone who can be trusted. The essence of trust and trustworthiness is the necessity of interdependence. If a leader loses the confidence of those who follow, they will cease to
follow; if a leader fails to trust the skills of those who follow, the result will be disaster. No one can lead
alone; the concept is absurd.

A successful leader is courageous, and not simply in the physical sense. Many decisions must be made
in solitude, even when the leader has numerous counselors. The perfect leader is one who willingly takes on the responsibility for advancing or retreating, and accepts the consequences. If the leader is not seen
to have the courage required to act on behalf of all, the leader will lose the confidence of the group, and
ultimately the position of leadership itself.

Finally, the perfect leader must impose discipline, in the classic sense of teaching followers the correct
path. Discipline is not simply exercising control and punishing those who fail to obey instructions.
Discipline is guidance, structure, training; without it, no one can lead effectively.

Sun Tzu pointed out that each of the qualities he mentions as essential for leadership can lead to excess and abuse. It is only by balancing the proportions of these qualities that the leader can attain
maximum effectiveness.

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