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Appointing the General

 

Disciplines > WarfareThe Six Secret Teachings > 3.4 Appointing the General

Teaching set  | Observed lessons | Discussion | See also

 

Teaching set

Martial Secret Teachings 3.4 (21)

Observed lessons

  • Make great ceremony of appointing generals, including a formal and powerful commitment by them.
  • Give sage advice to generals to both use and not over-step their power.
  • Good advice includes:
    • Do not think that just because you have a big army it is going to be easy.
    • War is not about heroic death, including that of the general. Death is often just waste.
    • Beware of looking down on your troops. They are men, like you. Treat them with respect.
    • Understand risks carefully, even when they look slight. Misunderstanding risk can easily lead to catastrophe.
  • The general decides how to fight, not the ruler.
  • The general must have credibility at home, though their success must be abroad.

Discussion

Ceremony makes use of ritual to close off the past and set the stage for the future. In particular it builds commitment to certain actions and ways of thinking. In this, by getting the general to swear fealty, the general will be bound internally by the consistency principle, where they try to align their beliefs and actions with their prior words.

The advice given continues to have a sound psychological basis, in particular about ensuring the leader builds loyalty by staying close to his officers and his troops. Loyalty is reciprocal. When the general cares for his soldiers, his soldiers will fight to the bitter end for the general.

There is an ongoing dilemma for managers and their subordinates as well as rulers and generals, where the manager has to let the subordinate do their job, even though the manager may want to direct each step. Micro-management from the ruler or government in wartime is a dangerous thing, as home-based people have neither the experience nor the knowledge to know what is best to do on the ground, at this moment.

See also

Consistency Principle, Elements of Culture

 

Sawyer, R.D. (1993). The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Basic Books

 

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