Therefore, a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.
One aspect of Sun Tzu that I find frequently ignored is his integrated perspective of events. Many factors influence them, yet we often behave as though life is only a stage upon which humans play. In reality, life is an organism, meaning that in our analogy that stage is alive and constantly moving.
Putting this in a practical business perspective, I often find that managers feel as though they are actually doing something when they say something as, “I told them they had to get this done.” Such orders do not help subordinates deal with the situation, and thus, violates Sun Tzu’s quote number seven.
Yet, this is the danger those who strongly believe in free will and in our control over events pose. They can reach a point at which Pollyannaism takes over, and they believe will alone is enough to solve problems. In reality, this quote of Sun Tzu emphasizes the need to do real problem solving (victory) by looking at the situation. Otherwise, we arrive at situations similar to the one in the movie Gallipoli where we force the fastest man in the world to charge a machine gun nest over open land and expect . . . or at minimum demand . . . success.
In effect, Sun Tzu is saying that the solution to squeezing water from a rock is not demanding employees to do so. He requires leaders and managers to apply real problem-solving skills.
Note: Versions of this quote usually appear in the 21st paragraph of the fifth chapter, Energy.