SUN TZU's Management Leadership, a weekly column by Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt
IN the modern environment of strong competition, all resources must be optimally utilised, including the lowest, humble ordinary worker. But, the haughty leader who does not respect his workers could fail to attend to some critical areas of preparation of his men, as described below (Sun Tzu 9:29-37):
Lack of preparation of supplies:
When soldiers lean on their weapons, they are weakened by hunger.
When those sent to draw water rush to drink first, the troops are suffering from water shortage.
Men pushed to their limits:
When the enemy sees an advantage but makes no effort to seize it, his army is exhausted.
When birds gather around the camp, it is empty. Clamouring at night indicate nervousness.
Disorder in camp means the general has lost his authority.
When the flags and banners are shifted about, rebellion is at hand. If the officers are angry, the men are tired.
When the army feed grain to their horses, slaughter the cattle for food, do not hang up their cooking pots properly, showing they not return to their shelters, they are desperate enough to fight to the death.
Indiscipline and unhappiness caused by leaders:
Troops whispering amongst themselves in small groups indicate dissatisfaction among his men.
Too frequent rewards show enemy is end of resources.
Too frequent punishments show him to be in dire distress.
When officers at first treat their men harshly and later fear them, the limit of indiscipline is reached.
Such negligence of essential areas of preparation are due to the leader being aloof and seldom go into the field to mix with the men. He does not think that his men deserve or are worthy of any more attention.
This leader is ignorant of both the nature of the terrain as well as the conditions of his men. He is almost like the absent boss of the organisation not bothered about his men.
Sun Tzu points out that discontent among the men is often the fault of the leader, not the men:
If in training troops commands are consistent, soldiers will be disciplined. If not, soldiers will be disobedient. (Sun Tzu 9:44)
This training has to be carefully planned based on proper identification of the goals the men have to achieve, the terrain of the goals, and their capabilities to achieve the goals. All missing gaps must be identified and preparations and training made to fill them. Proper incentives have to be given. When things are above board, the men will not be discontented.
Bosses should not take their men for granted but must particularly work on his relationship with them. Otherwise, their workers on their own would talk bad about their bosses.
Secure first the loyalty of your troops before punishing them or they will not be submissive. When they are loyal and if punishment is not enforced, they will be useless.
Hence, treat your men kindly but keep strict control over them to ensure victory.
If in training troops, commands are consistent, soldiers will be disciplined. If not, soldiers will be disobedient.
If a general shows confidence in his men and insists on being obeyed, he enjoys good relationship between him and his men. (Sun Tzu 9:42-45)
There must always be loyalty between the leader and his men, and among the men. Wu Chi, the famous Warring Kingdoms Era strategist general who never lost a single battle, used to dress in the same coarse linen as his men and squat with his men to eat the same coarse food.
One day he came on a soldier with a deadly smelling wound festering in his leg. The general at once cut the wound and sucked out the filthy pus. The mother of the soldier wept. The others said the mother should be happy that the general had attended to her son. The old lady cried out even more and said that this was how the boy’s father died. The old father had been loyal to the general and gave his life in the battlefield. Now that the general had done this, the son would also be loyal to the general and would also die in the same way for his general.
Loyalty will motivate people to work harder to boost the productivity of their organisation.
So, among the things not to be neglected in the preparation of the men is their loyalty! But this kind of loyalty has to be earned.