Leadership from The Art of War and Comparison to Real World

Leadership Examples from within The Art of War

  • Know your self/enemy.
  • Consistency.
  • Empowerment.
  • Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
  • A leader leads by example not by force.
  • The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.
  • Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.
  • Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!

Leadership Examples Observed in the RWL Program – Comparison to The Art of War

Preparation-Goal Setting-Teamwork

Geneva Energy Markets works in the commodities market, mainly dealing with oil. Geneva wants to buy oil low and sell it for a higher price. However, every day in the market there are millions of barrels traded and no way to tell at the beginning of the day whether the price for oil will drop, stay the same, or sky rocket. How is Geneva successful in the market if they cannot predict the future? Geneva simply has the mentality that defeat is not an option.

Geneva’s employees go through four basic steps every day in their work setting:

  1. Study and Prepare
  2. Set Short-Term Goals
  3. Execute as a Team
  4. Reflection

Geneva studies the historical pricing of commodities daily looking for similarities in tendencies of trading from years ago and variances in oil productions from across the world. Geneva takes the information from these studies and then sets a short term goal – that goal is typically either to go “short” or “long” (buy or sell) in a particular position, for example, West Texas Intermediate Oil. After the goal is set to go short or long Geneva works as a small very efficient team to accomplish that goal. While each team member for Geneva has a particular area of the market that they cover, they all are versatile enough to swing over to another teammate’s area and lend a hand if the market gets a lot of action in a particular area. Reflection follows after the team executes a short- term goal, which allows Geneva to determine if they are satisfied with their position in the market. More often than not, Geneva finds itself going from reflection immediately into setting another goal which often is in a completely different direction from the last goal, going from buying to selling, Geneva can find itself switching positions multiple amounts of times and setting a multitude of miniature, short-term, goals a day if the market is moving.

While The Art of War was written for armies to understand how to win in war it can be easily compared to Geneva in their typical workday. Sun-Tzu made reference to planning more than 1,100 times throughout The Art of War (jobsskillsandadvice.com). One particular quote from the Art of War is translated as:

“Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and a few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”

Sun-Tzu was very clear when it was time to attack and when it was not time to attack, he even gave scenarios of what to do if the enemy out numbered you or vice versa. Yet, Sun-Tzu is very clear that you need to be realistic about the goals you are setting and when it is time to attack or retreat taking into factors such as the terrain, season and time of day. This piece of Sun Tzu’s writing sum up his thoughts on the matter:

Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.”

This was written with regard to teamwork:

“We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into factions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few.”

Observing the team at Geneva was like seeing the words of Sun Tzu come to life. Big stakes; lots of action; tons of preparation; extreme focus and discipline; quick analysis (or calculations); and passion – In sum: Geneva “had it going on.” This experience was like stepping into a “leadership bubble”, which was extremely educational beyond anything like the classroom could offer.



The empowered atmosphere created by the management atGeneva correlates to additional principles set forth in The Art of War, whereas,

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him…but of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say ‘We did it ourselves.”

At Geneva the employees are the ones in the trenches who are making this small company a global market leader in oil trading. The leader is always present but also empowering.

Telling someone to perform tasks A, B, and C in a particular order to achieve a goal is fine, but it doesn’t typically engage the individual as if you said “Here is A and here is C. This is what we want; can you do it?” Empowerment allows the employee to find their own path to that end instead of laying out every step for them. This is what keeps them engaged, challenged, and continually learning. When an employee has a say in the way they do their job, they feel ownership of the work and are more likely to produce higher quality results because of it. As a leader, you want your employees to want to work hard for you, and empowering them to make decisions is an excellent way to do so.

Geneva Energy Markets, a name that was never heard of ten years ago in the world of oil commodities, empowers their employees. Since its start around a decade ago, Geneva has become a competitor that can stand toe to toe against big names like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley in the oil-trading world. However, unlike those large-scale companies, Geneva does not rely upon its girth or power, but instead on its small close- knit operation that uses speed to its advantage. Where large-scale companies typically have to gain approval for some trades, a process that takes quite some time, Geneva operates quickly. Geneva has five men who make the majority of the trades and they typically do not need to seek approval for a trade. They have been empowered by their operating manager, who has faith in them and provides some parameters, but for the most part, lets them fly. This ability for the traders to move unencumbered allows for an increase in speed and productivity that is unmatched in the market place and helps provide Geneva an edge over larger companies.

Real World Calendar

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About the Program

The Real World Leaders - Real World Students Program is a leadership program created in partnership with the University of Kentucky that enables students to work at different work sites across America and observe a wide variety of leadership skills, traits and characteristics.

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