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Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

Productivity and “The Art of War”: Applying Sun Tzu’s Teachings to Business

    Sun Tzu’s seminal work “The Art of War” has been referenced for millennia by historians, military tacticians, and world leaders. In fact, the book is still recommended reading for the US Marine Corps. With such timeless advice, I found myself asking one simple question: How can we apply Sun Tzu’s principles of warfare to our modern goals for productivity?

    1. Personal Accountability

    Sun Tzu said: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”

    The Bottom Line: If you communicate ineffectively, then any problems caused by unclear communication are your fault. Make sure that every email and conversation you have is clear and distinct.

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    The important corollary to this aphorism is important to keep in mind as well: “But if his orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” If other people are hampering your productivity, take decisive action.

    2. Keeping Your Cool

    Sun Tzu said: “Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:–this is the art of retaining self-possession.”

    The Bottom Line: The fastest way to lose productivity is to lose your cool. Take a deep breath, and think before acting rashly. If you can keep your wits about you in the midst of a crisis, it will serve you well.

    An important quote that relates to this concept is: “Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home.” Staying productive and staying professional are one in the same. Never lose your cool with co-workers or bosses. At least, not where it can get back to them.

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    3. Be Prepared

    Sun Tzu said: “The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

    The Bottom Line: Do everything in your power to be prepared, because it’s only a matter of time until something goes wrong. If you have daily deadlines, work two days ahead to give yourself a buffer. Take initiative to track trends in your division, so that when your boss asks you to compile a report, the work is already done. Think of all the possible complications that you might have to contend with, and work out a plan to be ready for when the inevitable happens.

    4. Do Work to Get Work

    Sun Tzu said: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

    The Bottom Line: The boss needs volunteers to stay late and work on a project? Do it. Your company needs a speaker to represent them at a conference? Do it. The more experience you gain, the better your resume will look, and the higher the quality of your contacts will be. Just be careful of spreading yourself too thin.

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    5. Grow Your Social Network

    Sun Tzu said: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”

    The Bottom Line: Stay in touch with former co-workers, colleagues, and yes, even bosses. You never know when a former business contact may recommend you for a new position. But it’s not enough to just stay in touch. You need to have a plan for how you can leverage your connections.

    Note: This quote, while attributed to Sun Tzu, is likely apocryphal. Nonetheless, it is good advice.

    6. Be Selfless

    Sun Tzu said: “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

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    The Bottom Line: No one likes a manipulative ladder-climber. Just do what is best for the company, and ultimately, you’ll be doing what’s best for you, too. Stay humble, even after winning awards and accolades, and you’ll make more friends (read: allies.)

    7. Play to Your Strengths

    Sun Tzu said: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

    The Bottom Line: If you always play to your personal strengths, and understand any potential problems that could cause a decline in your productivity, you will always be successful in your industry. Stay abreast of industry trends, and always keep honing your skill set.

    Conclusion

    Sun Tzu may have been the master of wartime strategies, but his advice still resonates with us today because it can be so readily applied to politics, business, and our personal lives. Follow his precepts, and everything will go your way.

    Resources and Further Reading

    http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html
    http://www.history-of-china.com/three-kingdoms/sun-tzu.htm
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War (Contains original Chinese and variant translations.)
    http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=104545&v=history

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    Tucker Cummings

    Writer and social media professional sharing productivity tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on October 14, 2020

    Delegation of Authority: The Complete Guide for Effective Leaders

    Delegation of Authority: The Complete Guide for Effective Leaders

    Do you absolutely hate failing? You’re in luck because, today, you’ll learn the art of how to tackle failure in your work life. The magic trick is called delegation of authority.

    Failure is often a result of excess burden. When you take on more than you can handle, you are unable to perform well, even if you have the expertise to do it perfectly. It’s demotivating, a waste of time, and extremely annoying.

    Let’s take a deep look into the delegation of authority to figure out how to make the most of it.

    What Does It Mean to Delegate Authority?

    Delegating authority is neither magic nor rocket science. It is exactly what it means: division of workload and distribution of power.

    Now, this is where most superiors get worried. They misunderstand the idea and believe that distribution will take away their authority.

    However, the division and distribution of authority are like giving the entire team autonomy over their own job, but their control is limited to just that.

    The superior still has supremacy over all the employees.

    Authority delegation minimizes the workload of the superior. This work is broken down into smaller tasks and spread out into a team so that every member works simultaneously to finish the project in a shorter time.

    3 Elements of Delegating Authority

    The delegation of authority has three elements:

    1. Assigning Responsibility

    This is the first step in the process. A person who is in charge, such as a manager or a team leader, assigns other team members certain tasks that have to be completed in a given period. Of course, this is only possible if the superior has more control and authority in the work environment than the subordinates.

    2. Granting Authority

    The next step is to give the subordinates enough authority and responsibility for them to complete the task and act independently.

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    So, let’s say you are a supervisor who allocated one person in your team to do a certain task. This assignment will be useless to you if the subordinate has to come to you every step of the way to get permission and signatures required to fulfill the allocated job.

    Unless you’re giving authority, you aren’t delegating. Instead, you’re only assigning a task, and that won’t bring you any benefits.

    Also, granting authority puts the subordinate in charge. This person is now responsible for doing what they’re assigned, however they like. It’s up to them how they tackle obstacles. All that you as the supervisor should be concerned about are the final results.

    3. Maintaining Accountability

    There’s always a risk that some team members may not act responsibly, especially when they have been given authority over the assigned task. This is why you have to make every employee or team member accountable through some rules and regulations.

    The superior must always have the right to ask the responsible person about their task[1]. Creating an accountability culture in a company is important, and accountability goes upwards in the hierarchy of a work environment. Never offer any leniency in this regard if you want to ensure quality outputs.

    This step of giving and receiving feedback helps improve the future work ethic immensely.[2]

    Effective delegation of authority

      Why Is It Important to Delegate Authority?

      Many times, superiors take on all the duties because they have a hard time trusting someone else to do the job as well as they would do themselves.

      That’s a valid concern, and it may keep you from getting the most out of authority delegation.

      But, with this risk comes a long list of benefits. It is actually important to delegate authority for the betterment of your organization and team.

      Superiors Can Perform Better

      The most important benefit of delegating authority is that the manager divides authority and gets the time to do their actual job.

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      As a supervisor, your first duty is to maintain the flow of your team. With your workload minimized and more time at hand, you can pay attention to the minor details.

      It gives supervisors the time to look at the more important stuff. Simultaneously, they get a chance to test which team members are most efficient. In case of any problem, the delegator has enough room in their schedule to sit down to figure out a solution.

      All in all, it leads to a more efficient performance from the supervisor’s side.

      Subordinates Learn With the Flow

      With a degree of authority in their hands, the subordinates begin to feel useful and important. This feeling is the most important route to improvement.

      As your subordinates work independently, they not only improve their existing skills, but they also perform better. Since they are ones in control, they are the only ones accountable for everything they put on the table. This sense of responsibility provides the mandatory boost of motivation[3].

      Moreover, with the delegation of authority, the superiors and subordinates work on the same level to a certain extent. This allows the team members to learn from their supervisors while also polishing their knowledge practically.

      Leads to Better Relationships

      If you’re in charge of any team, work as a manager, or own an organization that you run, you already know why employee-employer relationships are vital.

      The same applies to every workgroup.

      So, even if you’re just one small group of 5 people in a multinational organization, the rules are coherent.

      By letting go of some responsibilities and giving individuals a chance to grow, you’re spreading positive work vibes. It all works in a cycle where you give the team some authority, they feel important and outperform, your trust in them strengthens, and you continue to delegate authority moving forward.

      5 Tips to Delegate Authority Effectively

      There is a whole mechanism that supports the delegation of authority.

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      If done right, this concept has numerous advantages. However, the key is that it’s done right.

      1. Choose the Best Person

      It’s not easy to trust another person to do something that you would have preferred to do yourself. That is why it is crucial that you only delegate a task to someone that you have full faith in.

      The easiest way to do this is to pre-asses every team member’s skills and qualities. In your mind, have a clear idea of who does what best. So, if there is one particular individual who excels at technology, you will know where to go every time there’s a job related to that skill.

      Once you’re satisfied with who is in control, more than half of the issue is resolved and things will most likely go smoothly.

      2. Offer Enough Autonomy

      One huge mistake you may make is to break down tasks too much.

      Let’s say your team of 10 people has to arrange an office party for 100 people. You have to manage the location, decorations, food, and furniture.

      You can either assign 4 individuals each of the 4 main jobs, or you can divide each component further into small tasks.

      In the case of the latter, tasks will overlap, things will get confusing, and none of your team members will have full control over their assigned task.

      This generally leads to a final result that is extremely non-coherent.

      3. Clear Communication

      A major aspect of delegation is the availability of clear instructions. From details of the task to deadlines, the person who has to fulfill the job should be clear on every single detail.

      Unless they know what’s expected from them, they will never be able to satisfy the delegator.

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      You can learn more about effective communication in this article.

      4. Avoid Unnecessary Pressure

      Yes, diamonds only form after the charcoal is put under immense pressure. But, honestly, you don’t need to implement that strategy in your work environment when implementing delegation of authority.

      Offer plenty of time and flexibility for each individual to be able to offer their best performance.

      Some people may work better under pressure. In that case, let the individual make that decision for themselves.

      5. Offer a Helping Hand

      Just because you’ve given someone else the task and power does not mean you have to back off completely.

      In fact, you should try to be a part of the process, but only from outside a defined boundary. This is something you’ll have to figure out practically as per the needs of your work environment. However, it will ultimately lead to you being a more respected leader:

      The important point is that if someone is facing an issue with the delegated task, do not refuse to help. Offer advice and support readily so that your team can learn from you. It will end up benefiting your organization.

      Final Thoughts

      Conclusively, it is safe to say that the delegation of authority is a very helpful technique to adopt in workplaces. It allows for a positive working environment as well as fruitful results.

      It’s something that all leaders should implement to achieve a time-efficient and productive workspace!

      More on the Importance of Delegation

      Featured photo credit: Dylan Gillis via unsplash.com

      Reference

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