Professional Development

5 Career Strategies You Can Take From Reading ‘The Art of War’

Written by Kate Lopaze

If you’ve ever read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, you know that it was meant to be a guide for actual warfare. Taken slightly less literally, all these centuries later, it’s also a handy guide for approaching and surviving any kind of conflict, including those at work—not to mention a fantastic primer for building your leadership skills.

Let’s look at some of the key points in the book that you can apply to your own career.

1. Strategy is Everything

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

If you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day and lose sight of your goals. It’s crucial to have short-term and long-term professional goals so you’re making active progress, instead of just dealing with whatever comes your way and waiting around for the next thing.

2. Be Ready to Compromise

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

You may know you’re right on a particular point or a way to do things, but ask yourself—if I go all in on this, what is achieved here? Part of being a team member means being ready to compromise and negotiate to make sure work is getting done. If you’re working on your own, then sure—it’s your way or else. If you’re working with others, it’s important to take their points of view into account as well. Knowing your priorities can help you figure out when it’s important to fight for something, and when you’d be better off finding a compromise.

3. Keep Calm

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Work is not the place to lose your cool, even when things are rough, or someone makes you angry. Find alternative ways to settle conflicts without yelling. You can also work on your at-work relaxation techniques to help you cope with stress and resolve issues without flying off the handle.

4. Embrace Office Politics

“He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.”

Workplaces have politics. This is just as true if you work in a fast food restaurant as it is if you work for a Fortune 500 company. Any time you put different personalities together to achieve common goals, part of your own job will be working together with others to make sure you’re getting things done.

Rather than avoid conflicts, work on them and through them. You’ll be building good skills, and racking up experience points you can point to later for a promotion or a new job.

5. Keep Your Confidence Levels Up

“You have to believe in yourself.”

Strategy, planning, and good habits are fantastic ways to boost your career, but they’re not the most important element—you are. If you play to your strengths and know that you can handle whatever comes your way (even if it requires some extra battle planning), that confidence can improve both your work performance and the quality of opportunities that come your way.

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About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.

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