Sample Essay on The Art of War

No greater war leader and strategist have outlived Chinese military general, Sun Tzu. This is clearly depicted from his philosophy on the qualities of a great leader. For at least two decades, Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War’ has offered essential advice to leaders regarding the battlefield tactics, management of troops, and terrain, and application of cunning and deception tactics. Other than being a Chinese culture, these tactics have been employed by the Western for their struggle and success in business as well as in relationships. The study focuses on the qualities a good military leader should have, using the examples of commanders from the ancient world as illustrations. The study besides discusses the most successful general in history from personal opinion. All illustrations and answers are derived from the writings of Sun Tzu and other ancient writers.

Qualities of a good military leader

Sun Tzu comes out as the greatest general of all time. As a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu lived during the Spring and Autumn years of the ancient China. Besides portraying great features of a successful military, Sun Tzu is credited as the author of the novel, ‘The Art of War’, which has greatly inspired great men not only in the military but also in business expeditions. Besides the legacy, Sun Tzu is revered as a legendary historical figure in China and in the Culture of Asia. In Minford (19), five elements, which are highly crucial in the success of any organization in competitive circumstances, are defined. These elements comprise of an understanding of climate, ground, methods, culture, and leader. The first four surround the situations and the subjects whereas the fifth define the commander. Sun Tzu goes on to identify the five features of a leader in the first paragraph of chapter one. He affirms that a military leader is a smart, trustworthy, caring, brave, and strict person (Minford 22). Sun Tzu felt the intelligence is paramount for any military leader for the development of other skills such as the analytical abilities. A military leader should be in a position to read and understand the terrain he is to use in the event of war. This understanding offers the best opportunities, enables the leader to understand the competitor, and apply a suitable technique in gaining an advantage. In Minford (48), Sun Tzu asserts that “Know yourself and know your enemy. You will be safe in every battle.” Intelligence is a trait that is commonly stressed even in the modern military leadership.

although it has often been quoted that, “warfare is one thing. It is the art of deception” (Minford 52), Sun Tzu values trustworthiness as an essential character for an effective leader. Deception in the Chinese dialect is translated as secrecy. He states that a follower should never fear dishonesty (Minford 131). The kind of trustworthiness that is defined in the passage is perceived the opposite of the neuroticism with an advanced trait of agreeableness. The feature indicates effective transformational leadership, which further defines surrounding values as trustworthiness. From the practical application, the combination of a vibrant personality and noteworthy value is almost unbeatable, as subjects will follow the leader wherever he is found. The author affirms this reality by articulating that a person can lead people to their death only if the leader earns their trust first and have his subjects share his visions.

Hannibal was an audacious military commander who was wealthy in military tactics and strategies. His ingenious tactics and courage made him attempt to cross Alps mountain with 50,000 infantries, 9,000 cavalries, and 37 elephants, an attempt that deemed impossible at that time. It was during the 2nd Punic war that Hannibal’s brilliant military tactics became conspicuous. He fought Rome using his great military strategies and bravery. Alexander the Great is another military genius who showed his prowess by assassinating all the enemies of his father and expanding his territory from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River in India. Alexander the Great was a great philosopher who understood the essence of building a lasting empire. He was able to bring down great empires without much difficultly and within a couple of years. In all his battles, he became a winner by leading from the front all before he attained age 33. He is therefore known to have conquered the known world and undertaking ventures that were deemed impossible (Military History Para 7). These leaders, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Sun Tzu were among the biggest inspirational leaders of the ancient world.

In caring as a personal trait in leadership, Sun Tzu recommends that the leaders must care for the soldiers and be willing to preserve the troops by treating them as individual biological children. He goes on to affirm that leaders should take care of their subjects and avoid overtaxing them. This is a form of a transformational leadership quality that manifests to creations of a vision. The advanced version of this trait is extraversion where modern research bears it out. Traits especially relevant for effectiveness in military leadership entails high energy and stress tolerance, self-confidence, internal locus of control, individual integrity, emotional development, and orientation in high achievement. The absence of adequate warmth is a determinant of whether these other features are a liability instead of being an asset for leadership effectiveness.

A leader is expected to be courageous in all circumstances. According to Sun Tzu, “military officers that are committed lose their fear.” Great courage is necessary for situations where the government orders the military to fight whereas the intelligence of the military guides him against going into battles that he knows he will automatically loose. The advanced equivalent to this trait is an openness to experience. The feature is highly essential in applying feedback from the junior leaders to enhance their individual performance. Besides this trait, a military leader should be strict. Sun Tzu extols the trait of strictness by encouraging fellow military leaders to be willing to accomplish the unpleasant aspects of their jobs as well as the fun aspects of the job. He extols the leaders to honor their agreements meticulously. People always depend on on the military leaders, thus, if they become unreliable, minimal support can be derived from the subjects. This trait is common to the big five traits of meticulousness and positively correlates with the application of the response to the leaders.

From the statements of Sun Tzu, ambition is the desire to attain physical and noteworthy expeditions. Military leaders are often ambitious; a fact that constantly misguides the troop by acquiring flashy and self-centered goals. Over-ambitiousness in relation to the absence of integrity results to undesirable, conduct. From Sun Tzu’s military perspective, people will focus their efforts on what they want to do rather than what they need to do. They will prefer to operate on why they are doing whatever activity rather than what they need to do. Having an effective leader assists in visualizing the goal. From experience in the military, several aspects guide a leader in laying a vision for the team. Primarily, a leader must understand that everything in the military requires a team effort. Teamwork calls for every member to pull their weight together and avoid dramatic implications. Teamwork demands that the members cooperate with different personalities to build a winning team. The leader must select the right people to join the team to achieve high-quality teamwork since right selection results to winning teams. In guiding the subjects, military leaders are called therefore to be dedicated. Leaders are often pushed to reach the highest points. This calls for such leaders to become involved outside their scope of work. Thirdly, a military leader must be accountable to self, to the team and to his authority. A military leader is intuitively engineered to strive for the best achievements, which demands accountability. The level of leadership accountability that is connected to the military experience enables the leader to preserve the resources and time of the team. Being accountable to the highest standards implies leading by example.

A military leader is called to be system oriented by focusing on a fail-proof system, which is streamlined for efficiencies in the team. In the absence of a system, a leader is called to create one (Minford 67). Personal drive, besides natural determination engineers a leader to exceed beyond past results and focus on attaining higher and more profound results. The positive attitude and energy guide the leader into pushing themselves and their subjects for more adventures. Military leaders often burn with the desire to assist others and leave lasting marks in their communities. Other than attaining military exploits, leaders are called to improve the lives of the followers on a daily basis. From Sun Tzu, “Control yourself to influence others.” His higher purpose inspires the subjects to persevere through various challenges in the military world. Even in the worst of situations, military leaders will place his team before his personal desires. This implies that the needs of the team come first before personal needs of the leader. Strong leadership demands that the leader follows and believes in the common mission lay out so the followers can visualize the results. The author is quite deliberate on separation of ego and emotion during decision-making. Sun Tzu goes on to affirm that “Before doing battle, in the temple, one calculates and will win” – take decisions away from a field of combat.” (Minford 121). Just as in combat, life’s decisions decided under the influence of high emotion are dangerous and require reflection in light of meditative peaceful purpose. Sun Tzu goes on to affirm by stating that the angry will be happy again, while the wrathful will be cheerful again, yet there is no hope of bringing back a destroyed nation.  the author implies that strong emotions will go away but actions will never be undone. Therefore, leaders should not be driven by revenge or even anger.

A good military leader must know when to move armies through the inhospitable terrain, how to apply and respond to different forms of weapons, and how to resolve conflicts. He affirms that as the leader should focus on the strengths and ameliorate personal weaknesses. These qualities are only possible for a leader to apply if the leader has grasped and understood the rules such as, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” (Minford 129). Leaders must also understand that victory usually follows the army that has better-trained officers and men. A military leader must know its enemies and know him as well. It is essential that such leaders must have an upper hand in negotiations and in trials.

Discipline is one of the key attributes of a successful leader according to Sun Tzu. The discipline involved maintaining the hierarchy within the organization and defining roles, responsibilities of the team, maintain systems, and payment of the customers. He affirms that” I fully believe he was a good solder, but I had him beheaded since he acted without orders. To him discipline was paramount as an officer and more so as a leader. The presence of mind according to this leader was to enable a person stay calm and act sensibly even in crises. This is among the greatest assets leaders are expected to have. Staying calm was a personal discipline as he depicted this mostly in crises. When he was given the mandate of training the king’s concubine for war, he ended up beheading the two most loved concubines. The king was angry with him yet he stayed calm and even responded calmly to the king by reacting that they had refused to take in his commands.

Sun Tzu respected himself and expected fellow military men to exercise self-respects. He states clearly in his novel that if military leaders fail to respect themselves, then men will not respect them and become unresponsive as a result. The subordinates will, in turn, be delighted in undermining the leadership authority and reputation. To earn more respect, Sun Tzu advice his leaders to be honest in all their undertakings and decide well to earn trust and respect from the team members. a trusted leader will influence people to speak their mind freely and openly, which is necessary for quick and effect solving of issues. Making quick decisions is of the great essence of competitive teamwork.

Ensure that the military affairs run smoothly, Sun Tzu wrote down necessary principles that have been useful in present generations. As the leader of a troop, it is paramount to remain independent of the direction of fellow leaders on how to operate the daily affairs of the team. To him, if fighting is the only approach to ensure victory, then leaders should be readily fought even though the higher authority may forbid it. If fighting will result in failure, then the leader should avoid it totally, even if the higher authority is for such. For effective battles, it is necessary to plan, prepare, and to train the subjects. Failure to make early preparations will result to loose of opportunity for taking good advantage of the next opportunity.

On dealing with rivals, Sun Tzu advice fellow military men to employee experts and consultants when operating in a foreign country. pieces of advice offered by local experts enables a leader to take advantage of the local laws and natural advantages. In unfamiliar circumstances, the military should employ consultants with specialized knowledge on the industry and competition. His advice concerning foreign regions is, “Know your [competition], know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster” (Minford 128). Another strategy is to use spies, deception, and bluff, since people who do not apply spying and desirable levels of deception are unsuccessful in their endeavors. In relation to this strategy, it is unwise to release definite publicly business plans. This is because the enemy may prepare against possible attacks in numerous different points. On the contrary, leaders can release confusing and incorrect reports to the public so the competitors may not understand whatever action one is intending to take and hence fail to plan accordingly. According to him, all the military expedition are based on deception; for an enemy with a choleric temper, try to irritate him, forge weakness for the competitor to become arrogant. Sun Tzu goes on to advice leaders never to enter into the alliance with another team unless they understand their design and motivation. To continue irritating an enemy, leaders can try and personally attack them, especially in the events when logical methods might have failed.

While it is beneficial to be independent, Sun Tzu advice military men to foster cooperation with experienced juniors and the rest of the team members. Sun Tzu states that “If two armies will help each other in a time of common peril, how much more should two parts of the same army, bound together as they are by every tie of interest and fellow-feeling. Yet it is notorious that many a campaign has been ruined through lack of co-operation” (Minford 137). For effective cooperation, leaders are advised to be good communicators by being well informed in making good decisions. Having access to the latest information concerning the team members calls for good communications skills among leaders. “the commander whose communications are suddenly threatened finds himself in a false position, and he will be fortunate if he has not to change all his plans, to split up his force into more or less isolated detachments, and to fight with inferior numbers on ground which he has not had time to prepare” (Minford 132).

A leader must employ his skills in picking the best worker for the best advantage by employing the right men in the right place. Employing wise, brave, and covetous members establishes the merits of the leader and seizes the best advantage for the sake of the team. Subordinates are to be treated with humanity and kept under discipline by iron discipline. If they are punished prior to becoming attached to the leader, they may fail to be submissive and hence practically useless. If the subordinates become so attached to the leader, punishments may not be enforced and still, remain useless. Since people respond to incentives, leaders ought to set up dependable systems of reward and punishment to encourage good behavior and discourage poor behavior among team members.

To appreciate the five-trait model of a leadership, it is necessary to understand the Taoist concept of complimentary opposites. In work, there are two aspects of combined force, the Yin, and the Yang. Of these aspects is inherently neither right nor wrong but both exist in harmony in varied degrees. These forces form part of the shared force of the Tao. Leadership concept and features operate in a similar manner. Emptiness results to fullness as each of the aforementioned strengths in leadership is later defined as weaknesses when they prevail in overabundance.           According to Sun Tzu, the dark side is a reflection of the dying of an opposing general. To such a general, he perceives intelligence as a paralysis and dispersion of individual resources as a form of capture. A caring leader can be influenced by his troops, as seen in the modern period where military leaders lose focus. Sun Tzu, therefore, throws caution on generous leaders who cannot employ their subjects. They love these subjects but fail to command the, thereby creating spoilt children and useless soldiers. Sun Tzu goes on to articulate that in the even when the leader has a delicate sense of honor, he is easily disgraced and aggravated into an unwise competition. Uncontrolled courage gives rise to fearlessness and recklessness, while excess strictness becomes debilitating inflexibility. Through these demonstrations, Sun Tzu highlights the need for leaders to remain adaptive. This is because an opportunity to succeed is evident in perceiving opportunity within the environment. Too rigid leaders, in reality, fail to perceive novel opportunities.

Personal Opinion on the most successful general

Written in a no-nonsense form, the writings fits perfectly into the present cultural obsession with leadership and extols the enlightened people. The title bears the finesse and power that a leader who assumes its practices depicts. Other than just the military, anyone can apply the principles highlighted in the book into their personal lives that reign beyond the battlefield and spawn protégés. Besides its applicability, the book lacks ambiguities or gray areas, an aspect that is centered on the objective of Sun Tzu to succeed in battlefields. The writer is unwavering and blunt, principles that are so necessary for leadership. Sun Tzu goes on to advice leaders on when they can behead disobedient officers and when they can set their enemies on fire. His advices the readers to be watchful of the dust that spurts upward in high straight columns to depict approaching chariots.

The most successful general in the history of the world remains Sun Tzu. Other than being a military general, and an influential strategist, Sun Tzu has persuaded the entire world to take a time to plan, become wiser than the enemies, and strategize before engaging in any war. Rather than engage in every battle, generals should be shrewd to avoid some of the battles. His pieces of advice cuts across the board as they are applicable in diverse fields such as in business, in a military and in general life’s spheres. Although Sun Tzu died many years ago, his loyalty and dedication to his country is still profound and glorious in the eastern and in the western regions too.


Among the greatest military leaders in the ancient history is Sun Tzu of the ancient China. A great strategist, general, and philosopher, Sun Tzu outlived other military generals like Alexander the Great and Hannibal. His compilation of his strategies in the book, ‘The Art of War’ has been useful not only in the battlefields but also in business and in general life. The value of the book spreads wide, from the east to the west. Sun Tzu highlights five crucial elements for competitive circumstances, namely, climate, ground, methods, culture, and leader. In defining a leader, a person must be a smart, trustworthy, caring, brave, and strict person


Works Cited

Military History. Alexander the Great- The Greatest Leader of all Time? 2010. Retrieved on

November 13 2016 from><

Minford John. “The Art of War: The Essential translation of the Classic book of life.” New

York: Penguin Books. 2002.