In theory: War

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

You may well ask yourself what war has possibly got to do with those kind, gentle and caring managers that populate charities, but the analogy between management and the military is a popular one.

At the bottom end of the scale, you have numerous training outfits peopled by ex-army types who persuade you to part with your cash in order to cover you in mud, make you run until you cry and call you every name under the sun with the idea of turning you into a team player. At the top end of the scale, military historians-turned-management gurus whisk you off to historic battle locations to discuss the pincer movements of successful armies in a bid to impart leadership lessons that you can translate into your office role.

You have to be either a Territorial Army nut like Gareth Keenan in the sitcom The Office or a member of the battle re-enactment group The Sealed Knot to dig this kind of activity - and heaven help you if you are a woman. Yet if you get away from the more obvious side of war, such as weapons, battles and death, say the gurus, then there is much to learn from military thinking and tactics.

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general living 2,000 years ago, whose book The Art of War has been seized upon by management gurus as a manual filled with sagacious strategic advice that would serve any gung-ho 21st century charity manager well. Want to muscle in on your competitor's patch? "Deeply investigate the true situation," advises Tzu. "Secretly await their laxity. Wait until they leave their strongholds, then seize what they love."

This might sound a bit violent, but Tzu was a man known for his subtlety and restraint. He also said: "A sovereign should not start a war out of anger, nor should a general give battle out of rage. While anger can revert to happiness and rage to delight, a nation that has been destroyed cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life."

Rival chuggers should bear that in mind the next time they meet on the high street.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.


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