ON MANAGEMENT: Care about your team, but also be tough
There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
recklessness, which leads to destruction;
cowardice, which leads to capture;
a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
a delicacy of honor, which is sensitive to shame;
over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.
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.
If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.
When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.
ON MANAGEMENT: Hire great people, because weak, frustrated subordinates will cripple you.
When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination. When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers too weak, the result is collapse.
When the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, and on meeting the enemy give battle on their own account from a feeling of resentment, before the commander-in-chief can tell whether or not he is in a position to fight, the result is ruin.
ON TACTICS: Exploit your enemy's weaknesses, avoid his strengths
If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.
So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
ON TACTICS: Plan ahead -- don't make it up as you go
Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.
Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.
The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch'ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.
We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country – its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.
Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
INFORMATION IS KING: Don't go into battle without knowing what you're up against
What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.
Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men. [i.e., spies.]
Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.
They [spies] cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness.
Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.
Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business.
When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout.
He who knows things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.
Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.
HOW TO LOSE: Tell your people to do something they can't; promote incapable people; or work your team to death
There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune on his army:
By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldiers' minds.
By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and use combined energy
When he uses combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped to go rolling down.
Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
The good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.