5 Feb 2015 | News

6 Lessons I Learned From a 2000 Year Old Army General

I first came to read the book The Art of War when I was a young manager (about 23 almost 24) when I was promoted into the role to manage a team with staff a fair bit older and more experienced than I.

With a full ego of confidence I thought I already had all the answers!

However, a couple of weeks in it was clear to me that there were other skills I needed to learn that I had not been taught at university and had only had experience from the other side (being managed poorly).

I spoke with a mentor of mine at the time and I was asking all the wrong questions! They ended up cutting me off mid-sentence and saying just one phrase “The Art of War”.

At the time I was aware of the text but had only ever read quotes individually and out of context with the rest of the book. What I read had a resounding effect on how I have worked ever since, perhaps no bigger lesson that I learned was the six calamities that an army (team) is exposed to from faults for which the general (manager) is responsible.


Flight, impotence, decay, ruin, chaos and rout.

  1. Flight will occur within your team when it is clear that there is an overzealous leader pitting the team up against all odds. As a young manager and wanting to impress, I was certainly going down the path of being an overzealous leader. I was promising large results that even with the team behind them 100% they were not achievable in the timeframe set. If I was left own my own devices my team surely would have left!
  2. Impotence is when you have strong staff and weak leadership. Without having the skills to deal with staff there is always the possibility that the leader will be lead down the path that the staff want to take. This may or may not be the correct path but a strong leader will see that this does not happen hap hazardously.
  3. Decay is having a strong leader however having an under resourced team will eventually see the teams morale and enthusiasm dwindle over time (this can be very short as I had just found out).
  4. Collapse is what I was on the verge of! This is when key people have not bought into the mission (or in my case my promotion) and as such rebel! This in itself can lead to an unworkable environment and nothing happens within a team whilst there is infighting which has been shown time and time again across sporting, political and work environments. This was something that I could see happening right before me and thought that I was powerless to change.
  5. Chaos when the leader simply does not explain the mission/task at hand clearly enough. This can be because the leader may not have the strength/ skills to explain in detail the requirements or many other reasons. Either way if instructions are not clear then chaos is sure to follow. Of late with two young children I try to remind myself of this all the time to ensure that anything I am asking my son (who is only 3) is clearly understood or chaos is certainly not far away. Well in that example with kids chaos usually pops it head in now and again no matter what but that is a different discussion!!
  6. Rout is what will happen when as the leader you make the wrong decision! This is usually quickly scrapped by the team members and goes hand in hand with some of the above!


So whilst remaining strong but not being overzealous, I explained what needed to be done and how we were going to do it and was successful in getting the resources I needed while ensuring all of the key people were on board with me. So with a bit more wisdom in my I set off on my new adventure, all the while thinking to myself did I just get this info from a 2000 year old army general??? It truly is amazing the places and people we learn from!

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