Sun Tzu

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Synthesis Paper #3: Sun Tzu Jessica R. Dreistadt LEAD 710 Historical Perspectives of Organizational Leadership Eastern University October 8, 2010



In The Art of War, Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu presents a treatise to explicate the strategic decisions and stances that a warrior and her or his followers must embrace in order to be triumphant. Leaders, according to Sun Tzu, must be virtuous, forward thinking, and vigilant. Sun Tzu discusses the dynamics of an effective relationship between leader and follower and this aspect of The Art of War is primarily written through a human resources frame. True to its holistic nature, The Art of War can also be understood through the structural, political, and symbolic frames. Sun Tzu described something quite similar to the team leadership approach to encourage conformity, compliance, and courageous action with the goal of defeating the enemy. In addition, some aspects of trait theory and authentic leadership are evident. The Art of War can help modern organizational leaders realize the importance of proactively developing strategies in response to circumstances, anticipate threats to internal and external security and prosperity, and develop a strong countenance based on virtue and reflexivity. Application of Bolman and Deal Bolman and Deal point out that globalization requires a “growing dependence on welltrained, loyal human capital” (2008, 132). Territorial expansion in ancient China, according to Sun Tzu, also required this human resource. He describes how to use social psychology to improve followers' tenacity and results. Many of Sun Tzu's strategies would be frowned upon in American culture today, perhaps even in some areas of the military. For example, if most organizational leaders intentionally put her or his subordinate “into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight,” a lawsuit would surely ensue (Stevenson, 1994, XI: 23). Nonetheless, The Art of War provides an example of how leaders can motivate staff to act in a way that is in

SYNTHESIS PAPER #3: SUN TZU concordance with the organization's goals. Although he uses the human resources frame to describe the relationship between leader and follower, Sun Tzu uses the structural frame to


describe interactions between competing groups. His use of the structural frame is most evident in his assumption that strategies should change based on the situation, not the individual characteristics of the people who are involved. Application of Northouse According to Northouse, the goal of the leader in team leadership is, “to monitor the team and then take whatever action is necessary to ensure team effectiveness” (2009, 243). Task, relational, and environmental actions can be managed to enhance outcomes. Though Sun Tzu does not elaborate on all of the subareas identified in our text, The Art of War does touch on each of these three main areas. For example, Book III (13-15) describes three ways that rulers can co-opt the success of her or his army; these seem to correspond nicely to the three leadership actions described in Hill's Model (Northouse, 244). Sun Tzu believes that deception is necessary; yet, he also describes authentic leadership, stating that leaders ought to be sincere and straightforward. He does not adequately describe how a leader can at once be sincere and deceptive; perhaps this is a false dichotomy. It is also possible that be believes leaders must be true to themselves and to their countries, but not necessarily to their followers and enemies in order to be effective. The first book of the Art of War lists several traits required of a warrior: “wisdom, sincerely (sic), benevolence, courage and strictness” (Stevenson, Book I:9). In quite a short text, Sun Tzu touches upon an array of leadership theories. Conclusion The Art of War is relevant to a modern discussion of organizational leadership.

SYNTHESIS PAPER #3: SUN TZU Competition among individual actors, organizations, and political entities is unfortunately a


persistent threat to survival. Resources are perceived to be scare and society compels us to acquire more and more physical, human, and intellectual capital, access to markets, and revenues. The Art of War offers several key ideas that counterbalance this incessant yearning. First, it is centered on virtuosity. Second, it recognizes that winning without conflict conserves resources. Third, it encourages leaders to be proactive and strategic. Finally, The Art of War offers simple tactical maneuvers that can be applied to modern intra- and inter-organizational settings.

SYNTHESIS PAPER #3: SUN TZU References Bolman, L. G. and T. E. Deal (2008). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. 4th edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Northouse, P.G. (2009). Leadership: Theory and practice. 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Stevenson, Daniel C. (1994). The art of war by Sun Tzu. Retrieved from


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