“The Ruler’s Guide” by Chinghua Tang
“The Ruler’s Guide” by Chinghua Tang

“The Ruler’s Guide” by Chinghua Tang

There are many good beginnings, but few food endings.

After a discussion on leadership, this book was given to me by a friend and co-worker – David Cable. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and would recommended to anyone interested in fundamental, practical leadership principles.

We all know that getting to the top is difficult and staying there is even harder. Through the years great empires faced a 4 century lifecycle.  This 400 year lifespan has played out many times over throughout history. Given that the United States is about 240 years down this path, one can conclude that we are most likely on the downhill path toward a major fall.

While history is a good teacher, I do not believe it serves as an infallible prophet of all things to come. Is it possible to break this cycle? Can a world leader survive?

Beyond that, can any entity sustain at the peak beyond the historic cycles?

If so, I want to know about it. I want to understand what was different in that culture. Perhaps studying the characteristics of great empires, while rising, will provide some insight.

The Tang Dynasty (628 – 907) was one of the longest in Chinese History. It’s second leader, Li Shimin, is credited for establishing this dynasty as an enduring empire. Li Shimin, given the imperial title of Taizong, led as Tang Taizong. This book incorporates much of the wisdom and processes he utilized.

Here are a few of the quotes from Taizong and his mentors (along with the author’ commentation and a few philosophers):

  • A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together. – Goethe
  • An enlightened ruler knows his own inadequacies, so he becomes wiser. A fatuous ruler tries to cover up his own faults, so he remains in a poor light. – Taizong
  • ‘There are many good beginnings, but few food endings.’ It is my hope that Your Majesty will always be humble, fearful and prudent. Then the good fortune of our dynasty will last. – Minister Wei Zheng
  • Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom – Aristotle
  • You should rather have one talent in your employ than have a thousand ounces of gold in your coffer. – Taizong
  • The art of leadership is the art of leveraging – of giving full play to the strengths of others and enabling them to realize their potential.
  • Leaders don’t have to be skilled in every field but they must have an innate ability to assess people.
  • Leaders don’t seek perfection in others but are able to identify their talents and gifts.
  • Leaders must have the inner security not to be jealous of other people’s talents but, rather, to bring them into full play.
  • Leaders must have sufficient integrity to inspire loyalty and respect.
  • If we hire a man of mediocre ability, he may not do a good job, but the harm he can do is limited. If we appoint an evil yet cable man, he can cause a lot of damage. – Minister Wie Zheng
  • Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
  • The key to good governance lies in having an efficient government. The quality of civil servants is more important than the quantity. If we can’t find qualified people, let there be vacancies. We can manage with fewer but more talented people. After all, what good is it if we hire a lot of mediocre men? In fact the more mediocre men there are, the more likely things will get messed up. – Minister Fand Zuanling
  • In ancient times, candidates for ministerial positions had to work as local officials first. Nowadays too much emphasis is placed on central government appointments, but too little attention is given to staffing local posts. The quality of officials in remote regions is even worse. That may be the reason why life is still hard for the people. – Minister Me Zhou
  • If avoiding mistakes becomes the objective of civil servants, they will try to cover up their mistakes. That will lead to deceit. Then it will be impossible to have a good government. – Minister Wei Zheng
  • Mutual trust is the basis of their working together, and trust is created when neither the ruler not the minister is guided by self-interest. – Minister Wei Zheng
  • It is no good if a ruler doesn’t know how to judge a man. It is no good either if he knows how to judge a man but doesn’t know how to use him. It is still no good if he uses him but doesn’t trust him. – Minister Wei Zheng
  • Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. – Winston Churchill
  • Truth does not need a lot of argument. – Chuang Tzu
  • The best government is one that does not make its presence felt. – Lao Tzu
  • The right way to run a country is to let wealth stay with the people, not with the state. – Taizong
  • A wise leader understands that achieving victory is difficult but keeping it is even harder.
  • A wise leader knows that the seeds of decline are often planted in the peak of triumph.
  • A wise leader builds on his previous success to achieve new success.
  • A wise leader keeps the company of virtuous mena and shuns sycophants.
  • A wise leader continues to encourage remonstrance.
  • A wise leader makes a point of studying history to learn its lessons.
  • Heaven may endow a man with intellect, but he must study if he wants to accomplish something. – Taizong
  • It is your virtue, not your rank or wealth, that will establish you in the world. – Taizong
  • Fortune or misfortune has no predetermined target. It all depends on what a man does. – Minister Wei Zheng
  • The first and the best victory is to conquer the self. – Plato