Sun Tzu: A Visionary Leader Essay

2266 words - 9 pages

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” (BAM, 2010, p.20) These words were first written down over 2,400 years ago by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu in his famous military strategy treatise known today as The Art of War. These words, in fact the entire book, are just as valid today as they were during Sun Tzu’s lifetime. He was one of the first truly visionary and ethical military leaders in the world. Despite the fact that there is not much known about Sun Tzu today other than his writings, in this essay, I intend to extract his essence from his treatise to prove he was a visionary leader. I will then continue to prove he was also an ethical leader. Finally, I will finish by detailing how his seminal work has inspired me to self-reflect on how I can be a better visionary and ethical leader in the 21st Century Air Force. So, what exactly is a ‘visionary’ leader?
Sun Tzu was the epitome of a visionary leader. The Air Force Senior Non-commissioned Officer Academy (SNCOA) Strategic Planning Student Guide defines ‘vision’ as “a statement of an ideal state of being or existence in the future that is inspiring and empowering.” (LM06, 2013, p7) The SNCOA further identifies a ‘visionary leader’ as one who has a vision and uses aspects of transformational leadership, team building, change management, and diversity to empower subordinates to help realize the leader’s vision. Sun Tzu’s main vision and reason for writing his book was to quickly win a war and subdue the enemy, without fighting if possible (BAM, 2010, p18). Sun Tzu used all of these visionary leadership tools as is evident in his treatise; but for this essay, the focus will be on the principles of transformational leadership and change management. How exactly did Sun Tzu use transformational leadership over 2,000 years before the Western world was able to identify these behaviors?
For those familiar with the transformational leadership principles of individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence (CF02, 2012, p22), it is apparent when reading The Art of War that Sun Tzu used and advocated these principles to develop his soldiers to gain military advantage. While there is no specific mention of intellectual stimulation in The Art of War, one can argue the simple fact of his writing the book is tantamount to this transformational leadership principle. The first of these principles outlined by Sun Tzu, individualized consideration, is basically where a leader develops his/her subordinates and supports their needs as individuals, not just a group of subordinates (CF02, 2012, p22). The clearest example of this principle is contained in chapter ten in which it is written, “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death” (BAM, 2010, p40). There are...

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