20 Sun Tzu Quotes That Apply To Business

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” contains some valuable information that can be applied to the business world today. In many cases, business is much like war. There is a need to employ strategies that lead to the ultimate success of a business. There are many enemies out there that represent failure. Some of them include competitors who can steal your business, workers in the organization that can sabotage success, obstacles to overcome, and more. When you compare them with adversaries locked into a battle for the ultimate victory, it’s not difficult to apply many of Sun Tzu’s famous quotes to applications that are useful in the business world. Here are the best 20 that we identified as being relevant to modern business.

20. “A leader leads by example, not by force.”

The best way to lead your team to success is to set the example. It’s better to have a workforce that admires the leadership and has the motivation to do their best to become successful. Using force can create resentment among workers, and it can also interfere with productivity. Resentments can also develop when you’re not willing to work as hard as the people who work for you.

19. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Every business needs to have a strategic plan. The vision and mission need to be clearly outlined and shared with everyone in the company. Under this plan, have clear goals and guidelines for the tactics that the company supports to reach the established goals.

18. “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

It’s far better to emerge as a company that provides precisely what the clients want. This is better than going to war with the competition through slur campaigns or negative remarks about them. Simply advertise what you do well, do it better than your competitors, and keep your customers happy. You won’t need to fight for business if you do things right, to begin with.

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

It’s always better to enter into a competition with your game plan in place. Set your business up in a superior positioning, even if it takes a while. Don’t wage a war if you’re not in a position to do so. This requires planning and hard work to achieve the necessary benchmarks of success. If you have a solid foundation beneath you, the battle won’t be as difficult to win. Going to war before achieving victory can set you up for failure. Victory is having your processes in place and being successful in everything you do related to the business.

16. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

There are two necessary things when going to battle in business. You must first know yourself including strengths weaknesses, and you must also know the competition. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Know what you are capable of and what you need to strengthen, then do it. Know the competition and where you can gain a competitive edge, and do so. It’s always best to know your potential and to know what you’re up against before entering into a battle.

15. “He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”

This is a quote that has inspired the concept of achieving buy-in. It’s vital to ensure that everyone that works for a company understands why you’re in business, your mission and goals, and how you work together as a team to achieve a common goal. A team that is on the same page becomes an army and a force to be reckoned with. A group that is divided will lose productivity and could suck the life out of a business, so it’s ideal to work together as a motivated group that understands the big picture and how they fit into the overall scheme.

14. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”

There are times when it is unwise to engage in a battle in the business world. You can’t do everything and there may be times when it is not possible to be the very best at what you do. Entrepreneurs must know how to prioritize and build a business from the ground up. We don’t start at the top because it is a process that includes planning, learning, and adapting as we go. Know how to delegate, then leave ego and emotions at the back door because it doesn’t belong in a successful business environment. If there is an ego let it be a team ego and not individual. Focus on the tasks that bring in the highest value rewards and leave the petty fighting out of the equation.

13. The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought”

Leadership must make their plans behind closed doors. While it is always a good idea to solicit the input of others when making plans, ultimately it is up to leaders to put together a winning strategy for a business that will lead to the success of the company. Make a plan for everything that you do and make sure it is based on sound business principles instead of a hunch.

12. “The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

This quote is true in business. Leaders who fail to create sound strategies for moving forward set everyone involved up for failure. In addition to making plans, there must also be contingency or back up plans because things can and do go wrong in business. Never fly by the seat of your pants and always have a solid plan for everything that relates to the business.

11. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

Companies that find a track to success soon discover that once you’re on a roll if you continue with sound business practices, things continue to get better. Take advantage of opportunities and more will arise naturally because of a good decision that is made. It’s a matter of cause and effect and success usually breeds more success down the line.

10. “Sometimes we need to lose the small battles in order to win the war.”

When you’re in a leadership position, it’s important to understand that you’re going to lose some of the smaller battles that you face day to day. Don’t waste your time on the small things you can’t win. Instead, go for the things that matter and focus your attention on these. Use your time and finances to focus on the things that will make the biggest impact on the success of your business and know when to walk away from a small battle, even if it means taking a minor defeat. It can pay off bigger in the long run.

9. “If you are far from the enemy, make him believe you are near.”

If you’re embroiled in a battle in business, the best way to get to an enemy is to make him think you’re near. While this is a bit deceptive, it keeps the enemy on guard and distracted in looking for signs of your presence. You may be out doing things to enhance your own business while the competition is worried about what you’re up to next.

8. “Secret operations are essential in war; upon them, the army relies to make its every move.”

You can’t always share the plans that you’re making with everyone on the team. Leaders must also deal with sensitive politics and matters that the rest of the group is better off not knowing. This doesn’t mean that you’re being deceptive because you’re not required to tell everything that you know. So long as everyone gets all the information they need to do their jobs, that is what counts. Some larger companies pull together special committees to deal with sensitive issues within the company to come up with a plan for improvements. This is a good example of how this quote is put into action.

7. “It is the rule in war, if ten times the enemy’s strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, be able to divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them.”

Know your position when you’re engaging in battle. This will help you to take the most appropriate actions. If you’re stronger than the competition, use your numbers to advantage and don’t incur any unnecessary casualties along with way. If you must, attack, if not, don’t. If you’re at a disadvantage then either avoid or evade them. Some fights are not worth engaging in when you’re not in a position to win.

6. “The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities. It is best to win without fighting.”

If you can avoid a nasty battle, this is the best course of action to take. Sometimes issues can be resolved in business before the situation comes to a head or turns ugly. If a situation can be resolved before it becomes a fight, this is preferable. Avoiding hostilities creates a happier environment that is more conducive to a productive workplace.

5. “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

When you treat people with the respect that they deserve, most will honor this will a return of the favor. We all need to feel important and as a leader, when you acknowledge the value and importance of each worker, they will follow you into the battle and go the distance to help you accomplish the goals of the business. This quote points to the importance of letting people know they are valued, and for building loyalty through a genuine connection with them.

4. The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”

You can have the best plan in place and you can follow an excellent strategy, but you can blow everything if your timing is off. It’s important to know when it is time to execute each part of a plan for the best possible outcomes. Consider each step in your strategic plan. You need to know when to move because jumping the gun or delaying too long could lessen the impact of your hard work.

3. “A Clever General avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods.”

In business, it’s important to be able to assess the climate. You need to take a lot of things into consideration before you speak or act. You have to think before you act and successful leaders know this and become familiar with how to assess moods. If you’re in competition and the stakes are high you are at an advantage if you move when you are at a peak and the adversary is at a low point.

2. “Disciplined and calm, he awaits the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy: -this is the art of retaining self-possession.”

Leaders must be in control of themselves at all times. It’s important to stay cool, calm and collected. Formulate a plan and put it in action when you are in full control of the self and when you are at a strategic advantage.

1. “He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

You must have a sound business plan in place if you want to succeed. In addition to this, it’s wise to proceed when you have the approval of your superiors. If you’re a leader and you have skilled workers in charge of handling operations, don’t interfere with them or micromanage them. Give them clear instructions and then get out of their way without interfering unless they ask for or need your input. Show a little trust when you see they’re getting the job done.


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