Saturday, April 7, 2018

Reflections on Sun Tzu's insightful quote about knowing yourself and your enemy

A fan of my book Blindsided--Recognizing and Dealing with Passive-Aggressive Leadership in the Workplace sent me this Sun Tzu quote that he thought I would appreciate, and I do.

"Know yourself and know your enemy.
You will be safe in every battle.
You may know yourself but not know the enemy.
You will then lose one battle for every one you win.
You may not know yourself or the enemy.
You will then lose every battle".

It is one of those little nuggets of wisdom that resonate and stay with you (I am reminded of Randall Terry's quote "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me"). We are required to learn from our mistakes in this life and to protect ourselves by knowing ourselves. But we must also know our enemies if we are to protect ourselves in battle. In this context I am reminded of the quote "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer", often attributed to Sun Tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli or Petrarch. It sounds like something Sun Tzu would say, especially in connection with the above-mentioned quote.

I am learning to keep calm in the face of danger, in the face of those who would wish to knock me down and to prevent me from achieving my goals. I am learning to strategize and to maneuver my way around them at work. They will not stop me any longer. They did earlier, at a time when I respected their viewpoints or took advice from them. But I was not treated well by some of these people, a few of whom sat in leadership positions. I now understand the tactics others use to prevent you from making headway, to defeat you, to disorient you, to demotivate you, and to destroy you. They no longer work on me. Firstly, I am no longer fooled into thinking that all people wish me well. They don't. They may smile and appear friendly, but I have learned to identify the snakes. Secondly, I know myself so much better now; I know my limitations, but I also know that I have a steely resolve that manifests itself as a protective wall. You will meet that wall at some point if you try to stop me from achieving a well thought-out goal. I will look right at you and right through you while you are talking, and it may appear as though I am listening intently to you, but my mind is miles away from what you are saying. Those are the tactics that work for me now. Once you have learned to know the snakes and how they behave, you appreciate your true friends so much more. They are the ones who have your back, who are there for you, who care about you, and who love you. Never confuse work life with personal life; never assume that colleagues are like close friends. Some of them may become good friends, and that is a good thing, but some may not and one should not expect that. One must watch out for those colleagues who are overtly negative or demotivating when they converse with you. One must curtail the egotists who only want to talk about themselves, or who only come into your office to complain; they are the ones who have no time for you when you need advice or help from them. One must also watch out for the gossipers and the time-wasters, as well as the procrastinators (I could write an entire post about procrastinators, and I will very shortly). Their motivations are questionable. They may be leaders or peers; it doesn't matter. They must not be allowed to lead you astray, to push you off course, to demotivate you, to destroy you. Your task in this life is to know yourself and to know them well enough to prevent them from doing that.  

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