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Book Review: The Law of Success- Napoleon Hill



Orne Publishing LLC 2010

Almost everyone interested in personal development has read or at least heard about Napoleon Hill’s great classic, Think and Grow Rich.  It’s arguably the most influential personal development book of the 20th century.

What few people realize is that this little book is just a diluted, much shorter version of a far more amazing original.  And now, for the first time in generations, you can actually get your hands on that original version!

The Law of Success– the unabridged, undiluted result of Hill’s research with many of the most extraordinary personalities of his time, from Rockefeller to the Roosevelts to Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell – is finally available again in its original form.

In case you don’t know the story, Hill, working under the patronage of Andrew Carnegie,  harvested from this remarkable group their secrets of personal success.  The principles he found were remarkably consistent.  And yet, when he sent copies of this work to the subjects of his research, they demanded he water it down for public consumption.  What this edition provides is the 1925 original.  Its life lessons are still as powerful today as they were then.

Here are a few of the success principles you will find in this book:

  1. Napoleon Hill’s self-confidence formula stipulates, “I will engage in no transaction that does not benefit all whom it affects,” “I will induce others to serve me because I will first serve them,” and, “I will eliminate hatred, envy, jealousy, selfishness and cynicism by developing love for all humanity, because I know that a negative attitude toward others can never bring me success.”
  2. There are two kinds of “people of action,” what Hill calls caretakers and promoters. To find a role in line with your talents, it is important to know which you are. “One of the outstanding tragedies of the world,” he writes, “is the fact that most people never engage in the work for which they are best fitted by nature.”
  3. Desire is the foundation of self-control. Self-control, or control of the thoughts one accepts, is the foundation of success.
  4. Concentration- “the ability to control your attention and focus it on a given problem until you have solved it”- is propelled by desire to attain our definite purpose and is necessary to achieve it.
  5. A definite purpose is what we will accept as the measure of a successful life- accept nothing less.
  6. “No man can attain success in its highest form without the aid of earnest prayer.”
  7. What Napoleon Hill calls the power of auto-suggestion but which we can more simply call the power of belief gives us the ability to reorganise our thoughts on the basis of whatever beliefs we adopt, and in so doing to attract those of like mind and ultimately, to make our beliefs physical reality.
  8. The results of optimism and persistence are infinitely superior to the results of pessimism. “Skepticism is the deadly enemy of progress and self-development.”

Also found in this book, a plan to end war and the power of laughter and song in clearing negative emotions- no, seriously!

Napoleon Hill had a sign in his office with the motto, “Day by day in every way I am becoming more successful.”  A skeptic asked him if he ‘really believed that stuff,’ to which he replied, “Of course not.  All it ever did for me was to help me get out of the coal mines, where I started as a labourer, and find a place in the world in which I am serving upwards of 100,000 in whose minds I am planting the same positive thought that this sign brings out.”

Hill’s Preface quotes one of the economics professors who reviewed the book, saying, “It is a tragedy that ever boy and girl who enters high school is not efficiently drilled on the fifteen major parts of your Reading Course on The Law of Success.  It is regrettable that the great university with which I am connected, and every other university, does not include your course as part of its curriculum.”  That pretty much says it all.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

The Lure of Perfection

Is there anything more intoxicating than the lure of perfection?  Not if you’re a perfectionist.  Perfectionism can be at once a powerful creative force, and a tremendous psychological trap for those caught in its grasp.  Learning to embrace the power of perfectionism without becoming trapped in it can be a tremendous challenge.


The Perfectionist Advantage


Perfectionists are life’s natural editors.  We look at the world around us and think, “How could this be better?  How has this gotten worse?  Was that the best decision in the circumstances?  Surely there’s a way to do this better.”  On and on and on.  Whether it’s geopolitics or sports or architecture or chess or writing or flower arranging, we’re always on the lookout for perfection, for finding the perfect idea, perfectly executed at the perfect time in the perfect way.  Our search for perfection never ends.

But what is perfection?  The hidden majesty of perfectionism is that it is not, in the end, about setting up a mental construct of what should be and then measuring reality against it.  That certainly happens, and it is one of the traps of perfectionism.  But on the other side of the coin, perfectionism is an observational, instinctive process.  We can look at a style of art or architecture we’ve never seen before, an idea or a process we’ve never thought of before in an area we may never have studied, and still recognise its perfection.  We don’t measure perfection in the first instance, then, by external ideas, but by an internal ideal. 

But why do we expect perfection in an imperfect world?  Perfectionism at its best can perhaps be described as a measure of faith in human transcendence of our own limitations, in our ability as a species to create pure beauty.  Perfectionists see their role as driving society toward that ideal.


The Perfectionism Trap


That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  So what’s the problem?  The problem is that we don’t know where to stop.  We transition from recognising and celebrating perfection when we encounter it and encouraging ourselves and others to keep striving, to a state in which we do start to measure everything by our own mental constructs of what perfection would look like.  Any task we begin is blighted immediately by the daunting standards we impose on ourselves.  We can demoralise ourselves so badly that we can’t even take the first step.

In business, in relationships, in social interaction, in education and in many other areas of life, we can paralyse ourselves with our own expectations.  It’s no surprise that social anxiety correlates highly with perfectionism.  For a perfectionist with high ideals of smooth social interaction, there is intense pressure not to make mistakes, to keep cool, to avoid embarrassment- so much pressure that inevitably, we end up creating the very situations we want to avoid.  That crushing experience of failing to meet our own expectations only adds more stress to future social situations, and the negative reinforcement snowballs. 

A similar trap befalls many perfectionists during the course of their education- they place so much pressure on themselves to perfect every assignment that the quality of their work, not to mention their quality of life, suffers. 

When perfectionists embark on new projects, if we don’t lose our momentum completely on account of our high expectations, we start looking for the perfect way, the perfect time, the perfect sequence to set about building what we have envisioned.  Perfectionists, ironically, turn into expert procrastinators.

If we look at what’s happened from the point of view of the creative process, we can see how big a detour perfectionism has led us on.  Ideally, the interval from inspiration to action should be as short as possible.  This helps us build momentum, energy, enthusiasm, and generates fresh inspirations during the process.  In other words, we should start consolidating and organising only after we’ve created.  Anyone who’s ever been a writer knows that you have to let the inspiration flow first and only then bring order to what you’ve written.  So it is with almost all creative processes.

In its extreme forms, perfectionism becomes not only an impasse for ourselves, but intolerable to those around us, when we fixate upon a particular criterion of perfection which may or may not have anything to do with the central purpose of the endeavour, or when we get so bogged down in nitpicking minutiae that we lose sight of the bigger picture.




The only way out for a perfectionist is through.  Perfectionists may find themselves obsessing over the perfect solutions to a given set of problems, the perfect way for something to be, whatever their field of focus may be.  They imagine a world in which everything was as perfect as they would want.  But the more they think about that imagined world and the more energy they put into it, the more they come to realise that it’s futile- not only that such a world could not exist, but that it shouldn’t.  Ultimately, the creative cycle would have to be completely interrupted to achieve such perfection.

Take the particular kind of perfectionist who lives for the rules and wants everyone to follow the rules, all the time, because the rules are the rules.  Let that kind of person envision their utopia in detail, fantasising about it over a long period of time.  Eventually, if they have even the slightest degree of inner honesty, they will realise that only a police state on a hideous scale could ever realise their dream.  From this realisation, they can go back and reflect that many of the freedoms and protections they now enjoy in modern society exist only because people dared to break bad rules, dared to make trouble.  From there, their focus can change from the letter of the rules to allowing for the human element, which they must now admit is a necessary input to the system.  Rather than trying to enforce the rules, they can try to get buy-in (known in political science as social legitimacy) for those rules that really do serve a defensible purpose.

Still, reasoning your way out can only get you so far.  The next challenge is to embrace spontaneous creativity and action, to live in the moment, and to experience the thrill of riding that wave of spontaneity.  The only way to escape the addictions of perfectionism is to want what’s on the other side more, and to give yourself that experience as often as possible.  Get to the point where you are simply creating, without regard for or time to reflect on mistakes, and seek out experiences that give you that sensation.

As you make this shift, there is another important detail: you must discipline yourself to leave things as they are the moment they’re acceptable.  If you can’t define “acceptable,” break down how many minutes in a day or week a task should take you.  Find out how much other people spend on the tasks in question.  If you spend eight hours on a blog post where another blogger who puts out lots of original content only spends two or three, you can start timing yourself to keep yourself to schedule.  Just get it out there, and use the rest of your time for other priorities.  This is where, ironically, scheduling can help you get perfectionism under control. 

If you need a philosophy to justify this, I suggest looking into the concept of pareto.  Rather than maximising a single axis on the graph of life, so to speak, you are aiming for the most efficient solution on all axes- you get your work done at the rate you want, you assign your time efficiently according to your priorities rather than your perfectionist impulse, and you increase your happiness in the process.




Use the experience of creative spontaneity to overcome the roadblocks of perfectionism, and to put that perfectionism back where it belongs- not imagining the way things should be, but imagining what you can do to improve the world, a spur and inspiration to creativity, not a brick wall.

Leading Yourself Into The Situations You Want In Work and Life

Apropos of the Resilient Life Code’s upcoming unit on Self-Leadership, we thought we’d tie Self-Leadership in with two of our recent themes: corporate culture and the Newtonian worldview.  If we attempt to take control of and responsibility for our lives while we still believe that we are victims of a mechanistic world beyond our control, that we are at the mercy of whatever institutional contexts we find ourselves in, we will, inevitably fail.  Here are a couple of approaches that will help you short-circuit this focus on external obstacles and begin to create your own security and your own high-functioning environment from within. 



Stephen Covey recounts the experience of a corporation trying to reform its corporate culture in order to improve the quality of its services.

“They essentially said, Our problem is scarcity.  We have scarcity in the way we admit people into our ranks, scarcity in the way we promote them, scarcity in the way we compensate them, scarcity in the way they’re made partners, scarcity in the way the rewards of partnership are distributed.  No wonder we have such a messed-up culture!  No wonder there’s so much jealousy.  There’s so much feigned, pretended, cosmetic unity, but down deep inside there are forces that are splitting our culture apart – hidden agendas operating everywhere, relationship problems, departments at the throats of other departments.”

Scarcity is far less often a fact than it is an attitude.  As a concrete example, there can seemingly be no greater instance of absolute scarcity than famine.  And yet many of the great famines of history resulted from the underuse of alternative food sources that had fallen out of fashion yet could have survived whatever drought/disease/climactic conditions caused the famine.  The opposite attitude to scarcity is abundance.  Just as the scarcity of famine can be created by people’s attitudes, so abundance is also created by our mindset, specifically, a mindset of stewardship and cooperation.  The “reality” television show Survivor is probably the supreme example of scarcity mindsets in action.  Again and again, effective group action is undermined by the politics resulting from a scarcity mindset.  Yet all of humanity’s achievements depend on group effort.  In order to thrive, Covey maintains, people need trustworthy, coherently-aligned, accountable working environments. 

Why is this a self-leadership issue rather than just a leadership issue?  Not all of us are fortunate enough to work in such environments, and it is a key self-leadership skill to begin to turn that around through our interactions, to create our preferred environment around us by reflecting it in our behaviour.  Scarcity, as an aspect of the Newtonian worldview, focuses on an external problem.  Abundance focuses on an internal solution.  We have to become what we want to see in our environment.  That means we need, among other things:



Trust is the key factor behind the success or failure of any professional group endeavour.  Without trust, as you probably learned working on group assignments in school, it is impossible to do anything efficiently.  Covey roots professional trust in two factors: character and competence.

Character requires, naturally, an integrity based on a deeply-rooted set of principles, honesty and courtesy as we have reiterated so often- but it also requires an abundance mentality- there are always more possibilities, a reservoir of creativity to meet every challenge together, and life is always growing.  Without that abundance mentality, character evaporates, becomes unable to operate.  You can’t keep faith with others if you have no faith in the universe.

Competence includes not only technical competence, but the ability to see the big picture and ability to work well with others.  Competence arises from a positive outlook.  It is the sign of a person on a growth trajectory, of people endeavouring to improve themselves.


Mutually Beneficial Agreements

The logical outcome of personal trustworthiness plus the other trustworthy people it will attract is the ability to form mutually beneficial agreements about tasks you have to perform.  The more you do it, the more effortless it will become and the more efficient the collaboration will be.  But to make this work, you need one more thing:



Scarcity creates competition.  Abundance creates accountability.  First and foremost, that means you have to hold yourself accountable to the terms of the agreements you have made.  The more you do this, the less anyone else will have any need to check up on you, and the more you will encourage personal accountability in your colleagues.  The collective agreement thus becomes a standard against which you can measure your performance, but fundamentally, you are taking responsibility for the quality of your work under a framework of integrity and trust built with others. 

In high-functioning organisations, systems should be in place to reward outstanding work to reinforce personal accountability and encourage further achievement, but the primary reward for us is that by taking these steps toward self-leadership, we become the kind of people who can create productive, abundance-focused environments wherever we go.  Focus on abundance, as we said, brings an inner solution to the external problems of scarcity.




If sticking to your goals is important, and it is, the other side of that equation is flexibility.  Brian Tracy says “The opposite of flexible thinking is fixed or mechanical thinking.”  The latter is, of course, a hallmark of the Newtonian Worldview.  To be flexible is to be open-minded, to take in new information and differing points of view.  This means listening to what people think even if they don’t agree with you.  It also requires a willingness to admit that you were wrong.  This is excruciating for the ego, as evidenced by the millions if not billions of dollars spent worldwide every year on covering up unpleasant truths.  But ultimately, admitting that you were wrong and changing your approach is far less costly than persisting in a misguided venture. 

State your goal clearly, but be flexible about how to achieve it, and be open to both inner and outer promptings- if you feel good about a particular direction that has just emerged, chances are your intuitive guidance system knows something you don’t.  By being flexible in this way, you can avoid getting stuck in the machinery of set ways of thinking and going down with inflexible organisations.

This is where self-leadership and leadership meet- the two become the same thing.  When we let go of the Newtonian mechanistic universe and its attitude of scarcity and turn toward the quantum universe with its attitude of abundance, we are shifting our focus from the external to the internal, from the problems out there to the solutions we can create within ourselves. 



~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

The Life-Giving Principles of True Leadership

He who knows men is clever; he who knows himself has insight.  He who conquers men has force; he who conquers himself is truly strong.

-Lao Tzu




Are you seeing disastrous “leadership” around you, perhaps at your workplace or in other organizations you belong to, or in society at large?  Today we’re going to talk about WHY that happens and the critical principles of true leadership.  So if you’re looking at a case of incompetent or dishonest leadership and asking yourself that ever-important question (“What SHOULD this situation look like?”), today you’re going to find some help getting the answers you seek.

Are you yourself in a position of leadership?  Careful… don’t be too quick to say no!  As you’ll soon see, we’re all in at least one position of leadership and we need to make damn sure we get it right.  The keys are here…


The Leadership Difference

The manager views people as tools, “human resources,” bits of machinery to be procured according to standardized requirements and fit into an organizational structure.  It doesn’t matter whether the vision into which he tries to fit people is his own or someone else’s- the fact remains that the manager relates to his subordinates defensively, as cogs to be kept spinning and a potential source of problems to be contained.  Especially in the public sector and in high-functioning private-sector organizations, this process of containing employee problems has been developed into a fine art, replete with best practices and proper procedures- all of which is a good thing, as it smoothes the relationship between employer and employee and helps to ensure fairness.

But while leaders would do well to pay attention to best practices, there still remains a leap of consciousness to be made.  The leader first changes him- or herself to change the organization.  Where a new manager comes in with a new agenda, talking about “how things are going to be different now” and telling everyone what they have to do differently, a leader recognizes that for change to be real, it must start at the top.  From this realization, the defensive relationship of the manager to his pesky employees transforms into something very different.  A leader regards people not as interchangeable parts, but as living organisms whose growth will grow the organization.

The objective of a manager is to control and rationalize the people beneath him, to make them less of an obstacle to implementing the models he and the institution have devised.  The objective of a leader is to do everything possible to lead people to substantial achievement and to reward and empower them in order to drive greater achievement. 


Principles of Leadership


1. You create the organization you deserve.  The tone of the organization is set by the leader.  Subordinates are very attuned to the moods, attitudes and thought-patterns of their bosses, and will mirror them back.  From an energetic point of view, we could even call this entrainment- the boss’s energy sets the tone for the organization’s energy.

If the boss is energetic and optimistic, they will be energetic and optimistic.  If the boss is irresolute, they will be cowardly.  If unsure, they will be unsure.  If thoughtful of them, they will be thoughtful of him or her.  If the leader sets an example, her department heads will set examples.  If the leader gives, they will give. If he or she takes firm and considered decisions, so will they.  If a leader creates cliques, cliques will form against him.  If the person at the top micromanages, the entire organization will be choked as though by a suffocating fume as everyone tries to force everyone else to do everything the way they think it should be done.  An angry and frustrated CEO’s emotions will echo and amplify throughout the organization until it becomes a seething and intractable mass.  The successful leader takes full and personal responsibility for these dynamics at all times.

An organization is like a spaghetti noodle.  You have to pull it from the front- you can’t push it from behind.  Whatever you want done, you have to be the first to start.  Everything to do with mindset is key to leadership.  If the leader has an attitude of unrelenting positivity, a can-do attitude and a practical, constructive mind, then the organization will plough through setbacks like a hot knife through butter.


2. Responsibility travels up, credit travels down.  The healthiest corporate cultures are based on this principle, and every successful leader knows it.  When your subordinates have done something well, taken an extra step; they deserve the credit and tangible rewards.  When something goes wrong, you take responsibility.  Be lenient with subordinates and tough on superiors, and teach your subordinates to do the same.

There is nothing more demoralizing than to see upper management raking in the cash when they have steered a company to disaster and mass layoffs, while no one below ever gets a pay raise no matter what they do.  In organizations where this is the case, the resulting dysfunctionality hangs in the air like the stink of a dead woodchuck in the ducting.  A leader must take responsibility openly for his or her own failures and learn from them, or subordinates will not do so.


3. Respect your subordinates and share their conditions.  Any leader who approaches his subordinates as though entitled by his greater experience or achievements to some sort of reverence is setting himself up for failure.  Talk with your people, have lunch with them, stay in touch with their problems and concerns, and especially their goals and personal development.  If they have trouble at home or become ill, make sure you give them time to address it.  If they work late, you work late.  If they take a pay cut, so do you.  Erwin Rommel, the infamous “Desert Fox” of the Second World War, was one of the greatest generals of all time and earned the unrelenting loyalty of his men.  How?  When the going got tough, he refused to eat anything different from what his men had to eat.  He shared their conditions so he would always know how far they could go.  You must first be loyal to your people in order to gain loyalty from them.


4. Your first job is to grow people.  An organization that does not grow people does not grow or diversify.   Get to know your people.  Ask about their hopes, ask about their difficulties.  Find out what they need and give it to them.  Let them make their mistakes and learn their jobs.  Find out what they can and want to contribute and give them that opportunity.  Your people know their jobs, and as Adam Smith says, a person focused on a particular task will have the best ideas about how to make that task more efficient.  Reward them for good ideas.  Celebrate their achievements.  Give them as much responsibility and training as they can handle.  If you aren’t stretching your people’s abilities and giving them opportunities, they will stagnate.  A hinge that is used constantly doesn’t rust shut.

Your subordinates’ suggestions should be the basis for your greatest successes.  If you fear loss of control from this, do not even try to lead.  Retired US Navy Captain Michael Abrashoff, in his book It’s Your Ship: management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, describes how he got command of a ship which was just about on the verge of mutiny because of its previous commander’s poor leadership.  Abrashoff turned this around through a number of means, one of the most important being to reward the crew for good suggestions, a policy which ultimately made the ship the most efficient in the Navy.  Beyond that, he gave them a sense of purpose, of importance and responsibility.

Above all, find your people’s real talents (which are not necessarily the ones the hiring process cares about) and passions, and find a way to help them pursue them.  This is the shortcut to diversification and organizational growth.  If you do this habitually, you will never need to do anything more to motivate them or increase productivity.  Successful leaders look at the people and skills available to them and look for the best ways to utilize them.  The people and their skills should lead structure, not the other way around.  The more flexible you are around the talents your people bring to the table, the more your organization will prosper.


5. If you want trustworthy people, be trustworthy.  This means first of all being trustworthy in relationship to your subordinates.  If the organization cannot trust the sanity, impartiality and consistency of a leader’s reactions, they will not communicate with him, and in not trusting him, they will not support him, and in not supporting him, they will let him fail.  Be straightforward, and they will be straightforward with you.

A leader’s criteria for making key decisions, particularly personnel decisions, must always be openly stated, universally applied and transparent.  A leader may not serve his or her own agendas in dealing with her subordinates.  Rather, the leader must abide by clear and generally understood standards in personnel decisions.  Personnel decisions must be based on the central skills of the job.  Do not ever let personalities lead you to undeservedly favor someone or hold them back.  The leader who treats his organization like a club to be populated with congenial personalities will end up only with a crew of useless sycophants and yes-men.  A successful organization is not an alchemy of personalities, but a check and balance system of differing and talented personalities reinforcing one another’s blind spots and interacting in a courteous and professional manner.

A commander must be absolutely secure in his position, or if he is not, must act exactly as though he were.  To attempt to control communications among staff, to demonstrate inability to tolerate contradiction, to show passive aggression and make decisions based upon perceived personality issues, are all traits associated with insecure commanders and lead to breakdowns of morale and professionalism.

A leader may not under any circumstances denigrate any of his subordinates in front of another subordinate.  Never discuss the relative merits and demerits of your subordinates with anyone.  If possible, train yourself not even to think about these things.  Such opinions easily become self-fulfilling prophecies when you begin reacting differently to different people.  You will inhibit underappreciated subordinates from giving their best and perhaps demonstrating quality you do not see.

The Emperor Taizong, founder of the Tang Dynasty and widely regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, not only required his officials to criticize him honestly, but rewarded them for doing so.

People feel trusted when they are given a responsibility and left to carry it out- a micromanager cannot create an atmosphere of trust.

Be honest with your people.  Simple honesty counts for a great deal.


6. Protect your people.  The job of a leader is to protect and represent his/her people.  There are three basic elements to this: protection from bureaucracy, protection from toxic influences, and protection from bad leaders.

People should always come before institution, unless the institution has principle on its side.  If institutional red tape or administrative nonsense is harming your people, you have a duty to represent their interests.  If, however, one of your subordinates has done something seriously wrong, you must not stop the truth from emerging.  This has been the institutional impulse in abuse cases in both the Canadian RCMP and the US military in recent years, greatly degrading the reputations of both institutions.

A good leader must never hesitate to weed out those who are doing manifest harm, are acting without professional courtesy on a regular basis, will not be educated and make themselves intolerable to their colleagues and subordinates.  If they are willing to learn and change after being confronted, fine.  But to protect them beyond the point where they have proven themselves unteachable is destructive of morale and cohesion.

Astonishingly bad and unprofessional managers survive because neither the institution nor their superiors have taken the necessary corrective measures.  It is essential to the health of every command structure that demotion always be on the table, not on a whim but as the inevitable answer to incompetence and the abuse of power.  Protecting your people means first and above all protecting them from the abuse of power in any form.


7. Teach your people by example to behave honorably, and you will be able to do anything.  A few weeks ago, we talked about principle and how it relates to business.  The first thing to know, then, is why you are in business.  What principles are at stake for you in that business, what values do you take pride in upholding?  If the answer is none, it’s time to think about a new profession.  The most motivated leaders proceed from a positive impact they wish to make on the world.

A leader needs a deep moral center, and must be answerable to it.  No institutionally-given principle can substitute for the inner grounding of comprehensive and constant moral exercise, and no leader can keep herself or her organization grounded without this inner light.

Never promise anyone anything unless as a general and permanent policy.  If you can do something for someone, do it.  If a reward is deserved, give it, though the recipient is your worst enemy.  This will win you the respect of everyone.

Never threaten anyone.  A threat which you may later regret or be unable to carry out shows weakness.  If you see something requiring punishment, punish with a fitting and proportionate punishment, your best friend just as your nemesis, thus showing impartiality.

Reward loudly, thank often, and make a point of looking forward to the person’s next achievement to create a positive attitude moving forward.  Discipline quietly and without undue demonstration.

Treasure your mavericks.  Exceptional people have low tolerances for institutional limitations.

Be without pretension, and prize substance over appearance.  You can have one or the other, in the same sense that a photon may be observed as a wave or a particle but not both.

Cultivate a sense of professionalism and pride in yourself and your people, and especially in dealing with clients.

Empty your sense of self and act as the leader who is responsible for your team, and you will not have to worry about making mistakes.

Prize truth for itself and stand up for your principles.  Doing this consistently will ground and cement your team with purpose in a way you can you can barely imagine.  This is where real loyalty is born.

Never ask a subordinate to do something dishonest- otherwise, the message you send is that dishonesty to get ahead is alright.  Dishonesty will multiply in the organisation, destroying trust, cohesion and morale.  (There are exceptions, usually to avoid harm caused by a stupid rule, but this is something that you both have to understand.)


As you embrace these principles, you will find your leadership style changing.  Managers who bluster or expostulate at length or shout at subordinates where no matter of principle is at stake are weak.  A real leader knows how to inspire obedience and make corrections with a few well-chosen, quiet words and nothing more.

It is absolutely unacceptable for a leader to let his or her decisions be dominated by either fear or anger.  This is the sign of a weak leader, and there is nothing more dangerous, particularly when they start making “tough” decisions.  The art of balance in tough situations is not the province of the tough-minded, but of open and confident minds.

A leader must not abdicate moral responsibility to rules or orders from higher authority.  You alone are responsible for your team’s actions until the moment you resign.

Leaders must support their subordinates in achievement to the hilt, push them to develop their talents and follow their passions, show them that they can do things they themselves had never dreamed, and make sure that they correct their mistakes.  Every failure is merely an obstacle to be overcome.  To take this attitude, even on a small scale, on a team, with your family and friends, or in business, public administration or politics, will have an immediate and positive impact on the people around you and on your personal resilience.  Measure the leaders you see around you by these criteria, and you will be able to spot real leadership when you see it, and protect yourself from weak leaders and managers.


Embracing the principles of leadership is fundamental to building your personal resilience.  How so?  Why are these principles so important for you if you don’t feel you’re in a position of leadership at the moment?  These principles are vital to your resilience whether or not you’re in an official leadership position right now because true leadership is NOT a position; it’s a state of being.  Every true leader is first and foremost the leader of his or her own life and that is the very foundation of personal resilience.


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Leading From the Front: Six Steps to Effective Leadership from China’s Most Revered Leadership “Guru”

“In stillness be as quiet as a fish in the deep, in action be as swift as an otter.”

–         Zhuge Liang

We’ve all had the experience of bosses, politicians, people in any kind of leadership position who have no idea how to lead.  Chances are, more than a few of us have also been put in such a position and felt unsure of how to approach it.  In the Three Kingdoms Period, one of the most tumultuous eras of Chinese history, an exceptional leader emerged whose writings have helped generations of leaders to find their way. 

Zhuge Liang was a polymath, itinerant scholar, Taoist mystic, strategist, alliance-builder, regent, inventor- the list of the man’s talents seems endless. That they were buttressed by what could be considered a soft touch and the humility of an open mind gives Zhuge Liang a lasting charm that contrasts well with the grasping hard-headedness that has led many military and political strategists to unfortunate fates. And yet, the man was revered as one of the most successful politicians and strategists of the Three Kingdoms Period.

Despite his dazzling “CV”, Zhuge Liang’s advice on leadership is straightforward and translates very well across the centuries.  Whether you’re looking to improve your own leadership skills, to address a particular issue in an organization you’re involved with or simply understand what your boss is doing wrong, The Way of the General is a perfect first stop.  Despite the name, it talks little about warfare, and a great deal about humanity, and for that reason holds a place of honor in Taoist literature.  Here are a few of the key teachings that you can use to lead any organization or project to success today:

  1. Start at the Top.  We’ve all experienced bosses and leaders who will try to solve every problem except the ones they create and who blame everyone else when things go wrong.  In a successful organization, the leader takes responsibility, and management is the first port of call when changes need to be made.  Zhuge Liang writes, “First organize the near at hand, then organize the far removed. First organize the inner, then organize the outer. First organize the basic, then organize the derivative. First organize the strong, then organize the weak. First organize the great, then organize the small. First organize yourself, then organize others.”
  2. Fit the Organization to the People.  This is exactly the opposite of the modern Human Resources approach, which tries to reduce people to interchangeable commodities who fulfill lists of requirements which may or may not have anything to do with the job.  Find out what your people are good at and passionate about, and put them in a position to run with it.  Zhuge Liang suggests organizing an army by the talents of the soldiers rather than by a preconceived structure, forming elite units for melee combat, charges, speed, horse archery, marksmanship and so on, thus giving everyone scope to use their strengths in battle. Zhuge Liang also provides guidelines for finding able leaders at various levels.
  3. Loyalty Starts at the Top.  This one seems almost strange today, when we almost without exception expect our leaders to be looking out for number one and any show of sympathy with the people to be little more than convention. Zhuge Liang writes, “Give security to those in danger; gladden those in fear. If people oppose you, take what they say to heart; if people have grudges, let them express themselves,”  “Restrain the strong, sustain the weak,” and, “Good generals of ancient times took care of their people as one might take care of a beloved child. When there was difficulty they would face it first themselves, and when something was achieved they would defer to others. They would tearfully console the wounded and sorrowfully mourn the dead. They would sacrifice themselves to feed the hungry and remove their own garments to clothe the cold. They honored the wise and provided for their living; they rewarded and encouraged the brave. If generals can be like this, they can take over anywhere they go.”  Remember, this man was one of the most successful strategists and political leaders of his day.
  4. Be Consistent.  Some leaders try to be feared by being unpredictable.  All they are doing is demotivating and demoralizing their subordinates.  The consistency of rewards and punishments should be clear and absolutely without personal bias, since this is the only way to encourage achievement and cultivate order.  “If they [the leaders] get angry without discernible reason, their authority will not be effective. If their rewards and punishments are not clear, the lower echelons will not be encouraged to achieve.”  Also, personal considerations cannot be allowed to intrude.  “If politics are inappropriate, orders will not be obeyed. If private affairs are carried over into public life, people will be of two minds.”  “If rewards are given for no reason, those who have worked hard in public service will be resentful; if penalties are applied arbitrary, upright people will be bitter.” This sounds like many an organization I’ve known!
  5. Reward Generously.  In other words, you have to give in order to receive.  The more you give, the more you get.  “[A] General should not be stingy, for if they are stingy they will not reward the trustworthy, and if they do not reward the trustworthy, the soldiers will not be dedicated, the armed forces will be ineffective.”
  6. Know your People.  “[The enlightened ruler] worries not about subordinates not knowing superiors, but about superiors not knowing subordinates. He worries not about the lower classes not knowing the upper classes, but about the upper classes not knowing the lower classes. Thus when you are alert to what the people in the lower echelons have to say, and take it into consideration, so that your plan include the rank and file, then all people are your eyes and a multitude of voices helps your ears.”

All this boils down to one essential point, as expressed by General George S. Patton, one of the most successful commanders of the Second World War.  Any organization is like a wet spaghetti noodle.  If you try to push it from behind, it won’t go anywhere.  You have to pull it from the front.

Zhuge Liang spends a great deal of time listing everything that leaders should avoid. His list of the eight evils of generals is particularly instructive. Inability to formulate strategy in a moral way is the worst evil, the inability to delegate authority to men of peace in peacetime the second worst. Being unable to foresee and prevent future dangers through wise policy features twice on the list. Yet another list of leadership vices deals with the ill effects of decadence and greed.

Zhuge Liang also emphasizes the importance of dismissing corrupt and unjust officials as well as those whose excessive meddling and bureaucracy causes the people hardship and confusion.

It is notable that Zhuge Liang remains a key standard by which officials, and especially Premiers, are still measured in China.

While there are more than a few gems of leadership advice to be found in ancient literature, The Way of the General is one of the shortest and easiest to read.  Its relevance to present day situations is never obscure, and it is highly recommended as a first stop for anyone wanting to improve their leadership skills.

All quotations from Kong Ming’s Archives, translation by Thomas Cleary.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 🙂

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