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New Art Of War: Three Virtues and Eight Aspects of a Competent Leader

New Art Of War: Three Virtues and Eight Aspects of a Competent Leader

PARK Jae-Hee

Feb. 15, 2008


Hello, I am Jae-Hee Park on The New Art of War.

In general, the influence of a leader runs beyond that of any other member of an organization. From ancient Greek philosopher Plato to today’s Jack Welch, various opinions surround the definition of a prominent leader. Among many oriental books, Great Learning also gives its definition of a promising leader. In this eminent doctrine, first of Four Books chosen by Zhu Xi as an introduction to Confucianism, a leader should nurture three qualities and then cultivate eight strengths in order to guide an organization to success.

In order to grow into a competent leader, a person should be gifted with three qualities:

First, a leader should possess “manifesting virtue.” Second, a leader should not withdraw from “renovating the people.” Third, a leader must “abide by the highest good,” in today’s words, improve the well being of the people.

In sum, a leader should have the ability to distinguish right and wrong, to implement new ideas, and to be able to boost the welfare of the members.

In Confucian philosophy, a leader’s “manifesting virtue” is most prioritized and thus comes before other qualities.

Confucius stated, “A ruler looking to reign through the means of law and regulation only leads the people to be unashamed of their violations. A reign based on morality guides people to know of shame and leads them to understand ethical values. Thus morality is the most essential quality a leader should possess.”

Rather than stifling subordinates with an excessive number of regulations and ordinances, one should lead by example, demonstrating ethics, legitimacy, and a well- rounded life.

Secondly, a leader should have the insight and breadth of character to innovate when necessary.

King Tang, the founder of the ancient Shang Dynasty, carved the following in his bathtub: “Have you truly lived a different day from yesterday? If not, try to renew your day. Always renew your day!”

Trying to improve the organization as well as the leader himself is something leaders should not overlook.

The third quality “abiding by the highest good” has to do with stabilizing people’s living standard. A leader is expected to improve the well being of his people. It is up to the leader to build an organization that is well respected by many people.

Great Learning calls on the leader to possess morality, to be open to reforms, and to improve people’s living standards. With the support of these three basic attributes, the book goes on to state eight ways to drive the organization to success.

First of all, “investigation of things” means to listen to what “on-the-job” people have to say. This very much goes in tandem with the MBWA (management by wandering around) of today.

Secondly, “extend knowledge” refers to making the most of all your knowledge to understand the circumstances. By tapping into one’s experience and knowledge, managing an organization should not be too difficult.

Third, “sincere thought” stands for striving to do one’s work no matter what the circumstances. A leader should always exercise self-control even when alone.

Fourth, “rectified mind” encourages leaders to approach people with a sound and caring mind. Take, for example, these other excerpts from Great Learning: “Without setting your mind to it, you will not be able to see what you see, you will not be able to hear, what you hear and you will not be able to enjoy the taste of what you eat.” Applying these principles would help a leader with a caring and sound mind earn respect from his team.

Fifth, “cultivate oneself” refers to self management. Sixth, “harmonize the household” stresses the need for family management. Seventh, “ruling the state” denotes governing the nation. Lastly, “peace throughout the land” highlights all the above by stating the ultimate purpose.

Tseng-Tzu, a disciple of Confucius, contributed to Great Learning by laying out three qualities and eight acts to show what it means to be a capable leader. He also went on to say, “It is impossible to have a situation wherein the essentials are in disorder, and the externals are well-managed.” His thought was that a leader should have a well-rounded character with a sense of decency in every part of his life.

Leadership should not be a show. Rather than focusing on glittering activities, a salient head should focus on essential and standing matters. Remember, with such vast influence, a leader is expected to be a benchmark for morality, to be prepared for reforms and to boost the well-being of the people in the surrounding.

This has been a lecture on The New Art of War by Jae-Hee Park.

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