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Leader as Strategist: Why’s it so important for an effective leader in the 21st Century?

By Atip Muangsuwan

Leader as Strategist:

Recently, I coached a leader who sought my support on his career advancement. His goal was to progress his career in a different path, in a different organization. Because the reward is so much bigger in terms of financial reward and also so much more influential than his current position, in current organization.

To make a long story short, we discussed about the calculated risks before jumping ship because there’s no turning back once jumping the ship.
He’s very decisive about his decision to move forward with this plan.

During some parts of our conversations, I shared with him some core strategies from Sun Tzu, The Art of War Book. They’re the following 3 core strategies:

1. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Because there’re a number of candidates whom my client had to win over in the “Vision Pitching Round” of all candidates who had entered this fierce competition.

He also had to win the committees’ votes in order to be the chosen leader for this high-ranking job. So, by applying Sun Tzu’s strategy above, he had to learn and get key insights about his competitors as well as the committee members who would vote for the only one winner for this job. And my client also had to know himself meaning… know his own strengths and weaknesses. He had to know his USP (Unique Selling Points) and try to close his gaps or weaknesses for this job requirements.

This is an example of applying just one core strategy from Sun Tzu’s many strategies in The Art of War book. That explains why leaders should become strategists in order to be able to achieve their goals and visions more effectively and efficiently.

2. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

This strategy was also applicable to his case. We discussed about how he could win this job even before entering the vision pitching round. And he got his answers for that.

3. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

This strategy was also applicable to him. We discussed about… besides his competitors (fellow candidates) and the committee members, who and what else could influence the outcome/result of the final votes. And what he could do with that knowledge and insight. He also got the answers for that.

How to become an effective strategist. I’ve distilled so many strategies of Sun Tzu into the following simple framework that you can bring to apply more easily:

  1. Self

You must have self-awareness, have knowledge and insights about yourself. You must study your strengths and weaknesses in depth, etc.

  1. Others

You must have awareness of others. Others may include… your enemy, opponents, rivals, competitors, other candidates, and other key stakeholders, etc. You must have knowledge and insights about them both broadly and in depth. You must study their strengths and weaknesses, and so on and so forth.

  1. Contexts

You must have awareness of the contexts. Contexts may include… circumstances, situations, scenarios, conditions, environments, terrains, battle fields, games, market conditions, economics, geopolitics, ecosystems, etc. You must have knowledge and insights about the contexts. You must study the contexts thoroughly.  

  1. The 3rd Position View

You must have awareness or perspective from the 3rd position. The 3rd position means… You take the third-party position in looking at yourself, your competitor, and contexts with unbiased eyes.

Imagine… you’re on the stadium or amphitheater watching down on the soccer game. You can see two teams playing against each other in the soccer field down there. This basically means you’re taking the third-position view from the stadium. With the third position, you can study both teams (comparable to self and others) and the game (comparable to contexts). When you’re not involved in the game (the 3rd position), you can see everything more vividly, realistically, fairly and understandably. With the 3rd position, you’re way much better in terms of true insights and wisdom of yourself, others and contexts.

You can see that Sun Tzu’s strategies, not only can they be applicable to wars and battle fields, but they can also be applicable to business, life, as well as leadership arena.

If you’re a leader and you wish to become an effective strategist just like Sun Tzu, then let’s talk!