Leadership Strategy―To Win a War, You Must Lose a Battle

A look at leadership strategies that can be applied in business and military to lead successfully to achieve desired objectives.

“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

Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu outlined several leadership strategies to win a war. Similarly, ancient Indian philosopher Chanakya (Kautilya) shared several leadership strategies to defeat enemies. He once remarked, “The enemy of your enemy is your friend.” The leadership strategies shared by them are immortal as they can be applied everywhere, including military, business, and politics, depending on the situation and the leadership style of leaders. 

Let’s look at leadership strategies that can be applied in business and military to lead successfully to achieve desired objectives.  


To defeat your enemy, you must first bring his morale down. The people who follow him will start suspecting their leader’s abilities and gradually withdraw their support with a belief that their leader will be defeated. They will think it doesn’t make sense to fight a losing battle. That is why there is a lot of propaganda during war—it aims to demoralize the enemy. Once morale is brought down, half of the battle is won. 

Sun Tzu remarked, “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” Hence, keep your cards close to your chest. Don’t reveal everything to others as it helps others anticipate and counter your strategies. Always keep multiple plans ready to maintain your momentum. If one plan fails, alternative plans must be ready to address the challenges to move the things forward.  Don’t talk too much. Be careful when you speak. Don’t disclose all your secrets to others as you end up worrying and protecting your secrets rather than winning the game.


Divert your enemy’s attention. Externally focus on activities that draw your enemy to the wrong side and internally focus on activities to win your end game. Revise your leadership strategies and styles from time to time with a clear focus. Take feedback from all sources to improve your strategy and decision-making skills. Remember, there is no fixed formula for strategy and decision-making. You must change your strategies depending on the situation and the availability of information.

Sutras for Your Successful Leadership Strategy

“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” ―Sun Tzu    

Here are some sutras to create a successful strategy and blueprint and execute them effectively. 

  • Focus on your strengths and concentrate on the weaknesses of your opponents. Find out the chinks in the armor to eliminate your enemy.
  • Be confident. Avoid over-confidence. Don’t underestimate your enemy. 
  • Learn to lose a battle to win a war. 
  • Don’t cut corners. Emphasize ethics and etiquette. Lead by example and achieve your success with integrity. 
  • Convert your enemy’s offensive posture into a defensive posture strategically. 
  • Look for survival first to prosper later. There is always another day to fight and win. 
  • Build strong alliances based on trust and confidence. 
  • Be slow in building a blueprint for your strategy and be fast in executing your strategy.
  • Consult the specialists in the area to get accurate information and ideas. Remember, nobody is expected to know everything under the sun. 
  • Attack from all sources systematically and strategically. Keep your strategies confidential. If required, adopt an autocratic leadership style to keep things confidential.  
  • If your enemy is very strong, attack him part by part from all sources. Corner him from all sources to checkmate him finally. 
  • Create overconfidence in him to crush him.
  • Remember, brain is always superior to brawn. 
  • Show a way for your enemy to retreat when you attack to eliminate waste and achieve early victory.

“Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where has taken no precautions.” ―Sun Tzu

To win your war, you must utilize strategy, tactics, and propaganda. Be prepared to be surprised and plan to surprise your enemy. Keep your energy and enthusiasm high. Don’t get dejected due to temporary setbacks and failures. If required, take a break for some time to rejuvenate and restart your game to win. Whatever the strategies you adopt, you must ensure you are fighting for truth and justice. Achieve your success with integrity to avoid repenting later internally for the mischief you have done. Adopt soft leadership to achieve your ends. If not, use hard leadership to achieve your ends.

“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   

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.is the father of “Soft Leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an international leadership guru with 37 years of experience and the author of more than 40 books, including “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Ceos-Rao/dp/162865290X). He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to develop 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html). He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe) and was honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Global Gurus (http://globalgurus.org/upcoming-leadership-gurus). He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards in Malaysia and Middle East Business Leaders Summits & Awards in Dubai. He developed teaching tool Meka’s Method; leadership training tool 11E Leadership Grid; and leadership learning tool Soft Leadership Grid. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com. He can be reached at: msrlctrg@gmail.com.


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