You may not realise it, but every day you enter the office you step into a minefield of personal politics at a company facing fierce competitors.
In Robert Greene’s “The 33 Strategies of War,” the renowned author analyses the tactics of history’s greatest military leaders and presents their strategies in a way that professionals can use. These time-tested techniques can prove useful if you’re a professional looking to rise up the corporate ladder, a manager looking to get the best from your team, or an entrepreneur looking to break into an industry.
We’ve summarized Greene’s 33 war strategies below:
Alexander the Great as depicted in the ancient “Alexander Mosaic.”
Before you can defeat your enemy, you need to gain control over yourself.
1. Declare war on your enemies.
On the path to success, many people will hide their true intentions and pretend to be on your side. Determine who and what you stand against or compete with and use them to motivate you.
2. Do not fight the last war.
Learn from failures, but do not let them weigh you down; cherish your victories, but do not let them make you complacent.
3. Amidst the turmoil of events, do not lose your presence of mind.
Unexpected challenges and setbacks will tempt you to respond with anger or anxiety, which will only create more difficulties for yourself. Learn to refrain from imposing your emotions onto reality and see things objectively so that you can react with a calm mind.
4. Create a sense of urgency and desperation.
Even if you are optimistic, aspirational, and self-confident, you will never become successful if you do not have something compelling you to action. Create deadlines for concrete goals to push yourself forward.
“La Bataille du Pont d’Arcole” depicts Napoleon leading his troops in a 1796 battle during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Organizational (Team) Warfare
Your best ideas will never amount to anything if you cannot lead a team to help make them a reality.
5. Avoid the snares of groupthink.
Your team will not follow you if you make your collective mission centered on yourself, but it is also dangerous to give in to chaotic collective decision making. Warrant respect by enforcing your commands, but also reward your team for their victories.
6. Segment your forces.
Avoid micromanaging, which can frustrate your team members and slow everyone down. Instead, create independent groups that can accomplish tasks on their own.
7. Transform your war into a crusade.
The way to keep people motivated is to align their personal interests with those of the group. Determine a worthy cause that everyone will want to fight for.
A close-up of the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue in Mongolia.
It is important to know which battles are worth fighting, and which ones are worth avoiding or retreating from. Then you will be ready for any necessary counterattack once your enemy has exhausted itself.
8. Pick your battles carefully.
You will not always have the time, energy, or resources to take your competition head on. It’s necessary to keep the long term in mind.
9. Turn the tables.
Sometimes it is best to let your opponents make the first move. Wait for them to make a poor decision out of impatience and then move in to bring them down.
10. Create a threatening presence.
Keep opponents from engaging you directly by avoiding as many battles as possible, but being impressive in the battles you do fight.
11. Trade space for time.
If an aggressor attacks you in a fit of rashness, it may be best to refuse to fight, even if they cause damage. This refusal will infuriate them and cause them to make mistakes.
“Washington Crossing the Delaware” depicts George Washington and his troops on their way to the Battle of Trenton in 1776.
There are other times when, after careful planning, it is best to surprise and overwhelm your enemy.
12. Lose battles but win the war.
People will inevitably get the best of you at times. Keep a cool head and stay focused on large, long-term goals and let your opponents enjoy small victories.
13. Know your enemy.
Pay less attention to the entire team of your competition and instead study its leader. Avoid projecting your beliefs onto that person, instead observing how he or she thinks and behaves.
14. Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness.
Take the time to prepare a thorough offensive, and then catch your opponent off guard. Strike again before they have a chance to react.
15. Control the dynamic.
The best way to manipulate your opponents’ emotions is to define the nature of your relationship. If they are especially arrogant, give them the impression that they are the one in control.
16. Hit them where it hurts.
Every successful person or entity has a source of power, whether it’s money, popularity, or a winning strategy. Find a way to undermine your opponents’ livelihood and strike them with all you’ve got.
17. Defeat them in detail.
When someone or something imposing is taken as a whole, fear and uncertainty can set in. Instead, break down your challenger or challenge into smaller, more easily defeated parts.
18. Expose and attack your opponent’s soft flank.
Distract your competition’s attention by attacking them from the front, and then take them on where they’re weakest.
19. Envelop the enemy.
When you are ready to take down an opponent, keep pressure on them from all sides so that they are forced to focus their attention on you as they grow increasingly worried.
20. Manoeuvre them into weakness.
Create a dilemma for your enemy, in which the only way they can respond to your move is with a decision that will hurt them in some way.
21. Negotiate while advancing.
Never forget that in a negotiation, the other side is trying to take as much as possible from you that they could not get from direct confrontation. Before and during negotiations, keep your agenda moving forward so that your opponent plays on your terms.
22. Know how to end things.
When you engage in battle, you are putting your reputation at stake. Never put yourself in a situation that you cannot remove yourself from, and when victorious, don’t belittle your opponent to the point that you create a bitter enemy that could strike back in the future.
A statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori in Japan.
Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare
You will need to use unorthodox strategies to take down a formidable foe. You may even resort to slippery and devious tactics to gain the upper hand.
23. Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction.
Create a trap for your opponents by playing to their expectations, causing them to lower their guard as they fool themselves.
24. Take the line of least expectation.
Doing something extraordinary against an enemy will only have an effect if they took you to be unassuming and ordinary.
25. Occupy the moral high ground.
You can weaken your opponents’ support base by making them appear sinister, even if they are not. Tie your goals to worthy causes so that the public will want to further your agenda.
26. Deny them targets.
Keep the competition from engaging you with all their might by staying innovative and unpredictable, which will keep them afraid and frustrated.
27. Seem to work for the interests of others while furthering your own.
Develop a network of alliances in which you treat your allies well, but slyly keep them in a subordinate position.
28. Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves.
When you are dealing with someone who you know is quietly scheming to destroy you, refrain from attacking them. Rather, share with them just enough information that plants a seed of doubt and insecurity and watch them self-destruct.
29. Take small bites.
If you reveal the totality of your grand ambitions, people will come to resent you. Rise through the corporate hierarchy or business world steadily but without fanfare.
30. Penetrate their minds.
If you want to influence people, it is best to avoid being preachy or overly personal, and instead saying things in a way that gets people to reach your conclusion on their own.
31. Destroy from within.
If you are going up against an opponent that you would never be able to defeat by engaging directly, it may be worth befriending them as a first move. Then recruit their power players to your side, or find ways to sow dissent.
32. Dominate while seeming to submit.
You will not be able to get people to do their best work for you through aggression. Smile and be pleasant as you get them to do your bidding.
33. Sow uncertainty and panic through acts of terror.
The best way to approach a battle with a giant opponent is to dramatize a move in such a way that it terrifies the opposition, convincing them that you are much stronger than you actually are.
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