Cohesion of staff requires skills

  • Business
  • Thursday, 11 Sep 2003

Sun Tzu's Management Leadership. A weekly column by Dr Ong Hean Tatt.

ONCE an organisation enters into a crisis, it is difficult for it to survive. Owing to the many ingrained defects, a crisis usually inevitably leads to defeat and destruction. Thus, the major advice about dealing with a crisis is to prevent it. 

How does one prevent such a crisis? By learning the nine sequences or grounds a crisis develops from: 

·Poor planning: 

1) When a lord fights in his own territory, he is on dispersive ground. 

2) When he penetrates slightly into hostile territory, he is on frontier ground. Sun Tzu 11:2-3 

·Poor assessment of terrain: 

3) Ground whose possession gives advantage to any warring party is key ground. 

4) Ground that is accessible by both sides is open ground. 

5) Ground that is key (route) for three States and whoever is first in occupying controls most of All-Under-Heaven is intersecting ground. 

6) When an army has advanced deep into the enemy's territory, leaving many enemy cities and towns behind, it is vital ground. Sun Tzu 11:4-7 

·Poor leadership 

7) Mountains, forests, precipitous lands, swamps, or any place that is dangerous to march, they are difficult ground. 

8) Ground that is reached through narrow access and tortuous exit, whereby a smaller enemy force can crush a larger one, is enclosed ground. 

9) Ground in which only an immediate desperate fight may offer survival is death ground. Sun Tzu 11:8-10 

The crisis, while reflecting poor leadership, always originates with poor planning. It is when the situation gets out of hand and becomes critical that the people realise they have a poor leadership that had been leading them all along: from the beginning in poor planning to the end in poor leadership. 

They woke up to find a leadership, which never really understood nor cared for the people. That is, the poor planning is often associated with poor assessment of the human resource situation. 

The above also shows that intolerance is caused by leaders with poor wisdom. If there is constant strife, division and in-fighting among the men, it means that the leaders are not wise and just do not know what is going on, hence their inability to foster harmony in the organisation. 

As these unwise leaders are often jealous of capable leaders, they often show their intolerance by finding excuses to get rid of the capable leaders, leaving the organisation dangerously in the hands of the incapable. These poor leaders are unable to maximise the use of human resources for the organisation. 

The nine grounds above correspond to the implementation or use of the nine tricks outlined below in Sun Tzu 11:11-14 (and also Sun Tzu 1:19-24).  

The correspondence is indicated by terms in bold italics within square brackets below. It indicates that to prevent a crisis from developing, strategic tricks must be resorted to: 

11. On dispersive ground, do not fight [pretend 1:19]; on frontier ground do not halt [harass 1:23]; on frontier ground do not halt [harass 1:23]. On key ground, do not attack [avoid and dilly-dally 1:21] 

12. On open ground, do not block enemy [not expected 1:24]. On intersecting ground, ally with neighbouring states [divide 1:23] 

13. Plunder in vital grounds [baits 1:20]. On difficult ground, keep moving [irritate 1:22]. 

14. On hemmed-in ground, use strategies [deception cunning 1:18]; in death ground, fight [prepare against, undermine 1:21]. Sun Tzu 11:11-14 

You will note well that the strategies Sun Tzu recommends involve influencing human behaviour. Thus, lack of understanding of human behaviour will lead to lack of strategic thinking, and these are sure ingredients for intolerance leading to crisis. 

Many leaders come up from the ranks, often for showing valour or working hard, or even through connections. But leaders have to be systematic, and should not disregard the need for systematic thinking. They should especially base their strategic thinking on the experience they had in working with people. 

Poor strategists are bad leaders who are often irritated with wise advice. They can become intolerant leaders who will cause disunity and lack of capability in the organisation, which is then doomed for a crisis. 

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