The crisis mentality

  • Business
  • Thursday, 04 Sep 2003

Sun Tzu's Management Leadership with Dr Ong Hean-Tatt

INTOLERANCE creates a lack of cohesion among staff and is a natural ingredient for an economic crisis. It is axiomatic that the divided organisation is headed for disaster. It is sometimes puzzling how leaders, actively fostering division in their organisations to strengthen their own positions, could ignore the saying: United we stand, divided we fall. 

Eventually, the division causes deterioration in the organisation and this reflects on the incompetence of the leader. After one clique vanquishes another, sub-cliques grow from within the same clique to contend against each other, and the strife continues.  

The cliques do not know how to persuade the others; hence they just cannot tolerate each other. It is the heritage of the “must win over others” attitude. Attention has been distracted by and energy has been wasted in the divisive struggles and the organisation will have no effective direction and must enter into one form of crisis or another. 

As so much effort is placed on political manoeuvring, there is less emphasis on technical capabilities and seeking capable officers, and the organisation is in danger of having its technical capability reduced. This danger is compounded by the attempts of clique leaders to put their own men into positions of power. Officers will find they survive not due to their technical expertise but how they could please the men in power. 

The efficient worker will find himself further demoralised by the divisive blame-throwing antics and tantrums of leaders: 

It is your fault. 

You are a blockhead! (or similar labels like numbskull, etc.) 

(use of four-letter words or racial labels) 

Even simple instructions you all do not know how to follow. 

What did you do wrong? 

You men have no initiative! 

You are not doing your work properly. 

You are useless! 

I have to do everything! 

You are not supportive. 

You are not doing your share of the work. 

In a crisis, many firms are often not loyal to their staff and do not care for them. These firms do this because in the first place there is no loyalty lost between the staff. Thus, many firms lay off staff during downturns, perhaps promising to take them back during upturns.  

But the retrenched staff will feel bitter. They would either find alternative jobs and not return or if they returned they would be subdued. The remedy is to try to keep them and get them to sacrifice during the downturn. If reasonable, the staff will certainly accept sacrifices; like pay cuts, etc. But leaders must also show they are sacrificing; otherwise the men will dislike the hypocrisy. 

The divisive lack of cohesion will lead to both poor planning and implementation. Sun Tzu recognises that in a desperate situation, the unity or cohesion of the men requires urgent attention: 

Following principles are to be implemented by invading force: The deeper in the enemy’s territory, the more united should be the soldiers and the enemy cannot overcome them. Make forays in the fertile countryside to get enough food for our army. Pay attention to the wellbeing of your men; do not unnecessarily exhaust them. Concentrate the energy and conserve their strength. Keep them on the move and devise unfathomable plans. (Sun Tzu 11:20-22) 

Put your soldiers in positions where there is no escape and even when facing death, they will not run. Faced by death, what is there that cannot be achieved? Officers and men will do their best. Soldiers in a desperate situation lose their sense of fear; without a refuge, they shall stand firm. Deep within enemy territory they put on a stubborn front. Without an alternative, they will fight hard. Thus, “without supervision, they will be alert, and without being asked, they will obey, without orders they could be trusted. (Sun Tzu 11.23-25) 

Sun Tzu points out that the leader must pay more attention to the welfare of his men. This will enable the leader not to waste any more energy but be focused on directing the men into moves that will bear fruit. When the men see the leader rallying around and making effort to give direction to the organisation, the men will chip in and help the organisation get out of the crisis. Direction is restored and everything will turn out okay. 

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