Much can be learned from classics such as Sun Tzu’s ART OF WAR and other battle classics, and masterpieces such as Niccolò Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE. The tactics, battle-plans, and strategies revealed in these classics require some interpretation to be effectively modernized, an effort well worth the time to do so. Let’s review some of those strategies and apply them to getting ahead on the job and in one’s career at work.

I will present some of what I believe to be the more useful strategies for one’s career:

  1. Short and sweet, (where sweet represents the lowest costs to manpower and other resources). Long wars and long battles are always exhausting. Supply lines become jeopardized. Getting ammunitions, food, and medical supplies to the front lines become more difficult with the passage of time. Men, and soon to be, women, become demoralized and “burned out”. Technology advances sway the advantage from one side to the other. Whenever possible pick small battles rather than lengthy, protracted, complex, multi-stage, costly wars. (At work, learn as much as you can. Take useful extra courses that align with the future direction of the company. Take on small, but important projects and activities. Pro-actively offer to help others if and when you have a few minutes of spare time.)
  2. Move in rapidly, powerfully, and relentlessly. Though there is no one “best” strategy, it pays handsomely to implement offensive tactics that can be applied quickly, powerfully. This both surprises and overwhelms the opposition, sometime by timing, and often by the weight of the massive amount of resources or strength accompanying the forward momentum, all of which the opponent defines as overpowering commitment. This level of commitment can create at once fear and confusion. Fear because of the appearance of no end in sight, and no barrier will stop the advance. Confusion because of the appearance of the loss of compassion, humanism, and empathy, or, generally, the appearance of dealing with an opponent who “lost it” and has gone insane. (Hold high principles, squeaky-clean ethics and positive habits. When someone challenges your high principles, be rightfully protective and defensive. Defend others, too, using the same high moral grounds. Perhaps it is your reputation that you defend at “all costs” whenever anyone, at any level of management, attempts to smear it.) 
  3. Protect captured grounds. Ground assaults prove difficult because of the geography that has to be cleared of enemies during the forward momentum AND because of the need to apply large numbers of resources to protect flanks and the rear while holding and guarding recaptured land. Regardless, if the strategy is purely “move forward”, the battle will soon be lost by being encircled by the enemy. Every effort has to be made to protect recaptured territory from falling into the hands of the opposition.  (In due time, at work, you will gain a reputation and with that will come a label. You can control the shaping of both and you ought to do so. When your work is submitted or being reviewed, actively remind others of your reputation and the pride you take in your positive label. The moment you fail to protect either, is the time you lose your “recaptured ground” to potential opposition.)
  4. Commit fully. Once you commit to a forward strategy, consider yourself to be all in. Any hesitation, any dilution of will or commitment will often result in failure. However, don’t be blinded to the value that new information and data play in providing milestones and feedback about your progress. The data may even dictate a deviation or wholesale change that will better improve the odds of success. Be committed, but alert and flexible as needed. (You either work for the company or you don’t. If you do, then make it obvious to everyone that you are a “company person”. Actively support the company at every turn, even in your off hours. Join charities and make your employer known to everyone during your charity work. Vie for membership on steering committees or executive committees wherever practical. “Work” your involvement in associations or on advisory groups to invoke your company executives when guest speakers are being considered. Be a positive representative of your employer at every turn.) 
  5. Use the opponent’s resources.  Wherever possible use the resources of the opponent while conserving your own resources. A relative of this strategy is to cause the opponent to overspend or overtax resources. The former strategy is mostly obvious, whereas the latter may require some explanation. Regarding the latter, you can draw the opponent farther, deeper, or into costlier strategies than the opponent originally intended by switching your own tactics mid-way through the escalation or by by creating distractions which will draw upon the resources of the opponent. (I just can’t put a positive spin on this strategy. This is, in my opinion, a confrontational strategy for use during office politics or when going up against tough competitors outside the company. Within the corporation, if you learn of someone spreading malicious rumours about you, confront them, but be diplomatic about it. Request that they implement an action plan to rectify the damage done and that you be advise of actions taken. Then, visit the human resources department with your data in hand. Ask that they become involved in helping to rectify the “problem” since this is now a matter that falls squarely in their ball court. If it won’t damage your career, consider the possibility of threatening a lawsuit if action fails to resolve the matter to your satisfaction.)
  6. Enlist your opponent. By now you are familiar with the theme of “keeping your enemies close” which has been so overdone in the movies. But there is more to this strategy. If you enlist and profile your opponent cleverly enough the result may be a significant boost to your own strategy. It may multiply the force of your own forward momentum. (Where you are aware of a fellow employee who is trying to undermine you, when you are involved in a committee or project, determine if there is a high-profiled, high-risk, task that you can assign to that employee after you enlist that employee to join the committee or project. That way, his or her success becomes yours. Yet, his or her failure becomes strictly his or hers.)
  7. Surround and conquer. Isolate the problem and, or, your opponent. Watch for opportunities to isolate the opponent. Once isolated, once cut off from resources, the opponent, like fruit on the vine cut off from its nutrients, will whither. When implemented to such as high level as to be considered an art, this strategy may be invoked with minimal or almost no resources of your own. (Often employees are pigeon-holed in their career because of an executive who bears malice or who has a preferential candidate in mind. To weaken that barrier, it may at times be necessary to build alliances with other executives around the one in question. If you know of your direct competitor who is going to be given preferential treatment, and if time permits, invoking strategy 6, above, may sometimes be effective. Having a peer-to-peer working relationship on committees where the preferential candidate “reports to” you certainly shores up your case when the two of your vie for the same job opening.)
  8. Attack all elements simultaneously. Whereas an opponent would typically expect to be “attacked” on one or two elements of apparent weakness, a clever strategist will take the time to study and uncover all strengths and weakness of the opponent. Then, with a complete psychological profile in hand, the strategist will attack all weaknesses, simultaneously while avoiding or distracting all of the strengths simultaneously. (This last point is reserved for an outright “war”. Spare nothing to win. But a word of warning…if you don’t win, you will likely be viewed as an ongoing threat to others so may be terminated or be moved aside. If planning to use this strategy, it’s truly an all-or-nothing one.)