While I am sure that he was, as many leaders tend to be, very self confident and at least a touch self-centered, I am equally sure he didn't envision his treatise becoming a best-seller for business leaders a couple of millennia hence.
The Art of War is widely quoted and cited on a range of business topics, from general management to sales to human resources, and has become synonymous with the melding of strategic and tactical thinking. One of the most famous lines speaks directly to that: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
But Sun-Tzu also believed that engaging in war was a fool's choice, "Anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy's threat become real." He also said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but know not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know not the enemy or yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
In other words, get to know yourself and the battle is won.
Last week I listed five steps to achieve greater focus for yourself and your organization which I have learned from working with successful business owners and CEOs. In more depth, they are:
- Start Where You Are: When you start out, you are the company; however, that phase cannot last long if you want to grow. Are you glib and extroverted? Demanding and driven to succeed? Detail oriented? Adverse to selling? While introspection is hard for some, knowing who you are, what motivates you and coming to grips with your strengths and weaknesses is key to creating an effective organization and operation that complements you. Without this self-knowledge, you greatly diminish your ability to grow.
- Have a Clear Vision: Why are you in business? What do you want from your business? Are you building a business to support a lifestyle or build a legacy? Do you have an exit strategy? These are basic questions that provide a reference point from which to guide your decisions. Unfortunately, many times they go unasked, as well as unanswered.
- Set Fewer Goals: If you search the term "work on your business, not in it" you will get 4.65 million results in about 1/3rd of a second via Google. You are obviously not alone: there are a lot of overburdened business owners out there. The key is to focus on those things which you can control. Start by setting fewer goals and establishing both a clearly-defined path to success and a system of measurement and accountability.
- Kill Complexity: Can your conversations and collateral materials be fodder for a game of buzzword bingo? Business owners are always looking for the next big idea, but in that pursuit many also overreach, adding layers of complexity when simplicity is what sells. More often than not, the result of this overreach is more enervating than energizing. Simplify. Your customers and employees will thank you.
- Coach and teach: Don't do; delegate. There are many reasons why business owners do not delegate, many of which emanate from fears about loss of control. As Michael Gerber wrote in The E-Myth Revisited, there is a vast difference between delegation and abdication. Moving from doer to manager is the first phase in the evolution of a successful business owner; becoming a manager of managers is the second, and the mastery of that is the definition of a successful CEO.
Next week, we will delve into the five elements for better managing the execution of these strategies.