Sun Tzu — The art of connecting with your team

I have always been a fan of Sun Tzu and his famous concepts that have stood the test of time. I recently read Sun Tzu and the Art of Business By: Mark McNeilly. (link to book). Thanks, CK for the recommendation. The book focuses on 6 principles that are translated and applied to a business context. As I was reading it I translated the business context into a people manager perspective.

The three principles I wanted to focus on relating to being a good leader as well as giving your team an advantage in your organisation.

“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.” Sun Tzu

One. Use speed and preparation to swiftly overcome the competition. Your competition might not be a person or a team. It might be changing approval windows or organisational obstacles. I like to work fast to get things done, so this principle resonated with me.

You should look and recognise the trends in your organisation. Whether it is headcount approvals being put on hold at a certain time of year. Or a sales team member knocking at the 11th hour to ask for some slides. It could be a process slowing down some of your goals or approvals.

Speed and preparation are the key ingredient to get your team in prime position. I try and keep up with my interviewing and have warm recruits. So, when the headcount approvals are open I am the first there to ensure my team gets the people it needs.

The sales team are optimised to find the smoothest and quickest way to a sale. So, my team beforehand keep our go to market slides up to date and ready to go. This will help keep the work flowing to my team, which means we can be more selective in the deals we want to compete for. Not being on the back foot ensures we have challenging and exciting projects through the door.

Keep your processes lean and optimised by continual improvement. Do not wait till others have to raise problems with working with your team for you to make adjustments. Reducing the steps/hurdles for someone to gain access to your team’s skills will benefit your team.

Thinking ahead and being prepared will help you adapt to situations. This will give your team an advantage in your organisation every time.

“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril” Sun Tzu

Two. Use foreknowledge to maximise the power of business intelligence. This means you need to spend time understanding your organisation. Understanding how it ticks. Which processes exist and why they exist.

Do you know the requirements to get things approved and what the unwritten rules of this process are? The best way to start learning this is to ask the question “If I need to get X approved. What would I need to do?”. The information you are looking to assess is if it is a one-way street or actually a complex city grid. Afterwards, you might even think … ‘So that is how Jess is getting everything approved’. Getting to know the details and the exceptions will mean you will get fewer rejections. Which in turn will benefit your team?

The best person to ask these questions to is the person behind the rules. They will give you the insight on how and why the process was created which will help you work with the system to get more approvals.

Increasing your approval rate will improve team morale and performance. It will also give them an improved sense of purpose in their role.

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.” Sun Tzu

Three. Develop your character as a leader to maximise the potential of your employees.As a leader, your words and actions are being observed. What you say, how you say it, how you are acting. Our subconscious notices the subtle and not so subtle cues and processes them in the background. It could be as obvious as telling your team not work too late. Then pinging them every second night at 9.30pm with a question. Or as subtle as always being chattier to one team member and not another.

To help I try and keep my key values in front of mind. These are my guiding principles. Without them, it is easy to be inconsistent with my decisions and behaviour. Your teams will notice the differences in your behaviour like a ‘spot the difference’ game. Over time the inconsistency will erode trust in your character.

The next one is about ensuring you follow through on what you say. If you tell your team you are going to follow something up. Then you have to ensure you do it. They want to feel represented and that you value them. Just like they are supporting you on the many things you ask of them. Not following through will lead them to not bring up issues to you. Over time this closes the relationship which is not beneficial for anyone. When you are following through ensuring you keep them in the loop and communicate your progress or obstacles.

The last one is to ensure you motivate emotionally and not only materially. You would be surprised how far encouragement and recognition can go. Connecting with your team member and making them feel good is more rewarding than just a pay rise. Just ask anyone that has rejected a counteroffer after they have resigned. There will always be another company trying to offer your team more money. If they feel valued the lure of a bigger package will not seem so big.