Review :

At first glance, this seems to be a remarkably bland and commonplace book on things that everybody knows that everybody knows. It occurs to me though that, as with music, film, and literature, anytime you encounter the originator of an innovation after encountering its copies, it seems unoriginal, unremarkable and very much common sense. I try to keep that in mind, especially when I know I'm reviewing things that are very likely the first of their kind.

This book is guidance on how to build processes into rulership, into leadership, into system-building, that ensure success not only in your time but after your time. There are a few points that make this valuable even to people who are not the founders of dynastic empires in medieval China. The first is that rulers are everywhere. The book reframes the idea of rulership such that things as mundane as parenting, management, and even self-discipline are acts of ruling. Second is the importance of keeping in mind the impacts of your choices today on what will happen long after you're gone (for example, by setting practices in place that will be caried out by people after your death, to their benefit).

The quick points here are as followers: Allocate people to roles based on their strengths and avoid burdening their weaknesses. Don't throw away valuable human resources if you can help it. Self-leadership is an important part of the ability to lead others. Accepting criticism is not only valuable but necessary for a leader. Lanes of communication must stay open if effective leadership is to occur. Punishing people for telling you the truth is the easiest way to get people to stop telling you the truth. People who are afraid of what you will do will rarely tell you what you need to hear. Having a pool of advisers who are wiser and more knowledgeable than you to call on is inordinately useful. Having rich shared sources of wisdom to use in these exchanges is also useful (in the book, this was Sun Tze's work and Confucius' teachings). Setting up something that will fail once you are no longer in charge of it is itself failure, so put systems in place that will ensure success (such as putting the right people into the right positions and maintaining resource flows and usage rates). Reward people when you ask them for something (such as remunerating or gifting people for their critique, even if you don't like it personally). Keep the failures and successes of others in mind as you plan your own strategies. Meritocracy is a way of avoiding traps caused by the wrong people in the wrong jobs, not just a way of behaving morally. Moral behavior can often coincide with orderly and fair behavior and positively influence long term outcomes by avoiding easily identifiable sources of failure.

Not a bad book. I would enjoy seeing it on the bookshelf of someone leading me.

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