The Ruler’s Guide has been translated and published in Brazil, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Taiwan, and Bulgaria.
The following is taken from an interview the author did with Veja Magazine in Brazil in June 2017.
- What’s The Ruler’s Guide about?
If you want to live a long, healthy life, it makes sense to seek advice from a centenarian who has lived a long, healthy life. If you want to build lasting success for your organization, it makes sense to seek advice from a person who built a great enterprise that lasted many years.
The Ruler’s Guide reveals the secrets of a man who set out to build a strong, prosperous and long-lasting enterprise when he was twenty-eight and who succeeded spectacularly. His enterprise lasted nearly 300 years. The enterprise is the Tang dynasty, and the man its founding emperor.
- I’m not a ruler, so why should I be interested?
Today’s leaders—regardless of what organization they lead—often assume the role of “ruler.” An elected leader in our time has much the same power as an ancient emperor within his or her domain. Business leaders and corporate managers are rulers in their world. And there are rulers in virtually every field.
Parents are the rulers of their family.
The headmaster is the ruler of her school.
The teacher is the ruler of her class.
The coach is the ruler of his sports team.
The conductor is the ruler of his orchestra.
The lieutenant is the ruler of his platoon.
The priest is the ruler of his local church.
The list goes on and on. You may be a ruler without realizing it, or, alternatively, you may be subject to the rule of others. Look around and think about whose control and direction is being imposed on you. What will happen if you stop listening to them?
You may be a ruler in one situation and ruled in another. You may be ruler and ruled simultaneously. You may be ruled and yet aspire to be the ruler.
- What are the differences between a ruler and a leader?
Rulers rule. To rule is “to control,” “to impose rules,” and “to exercise authority over others.” Leaders lead. To lead is “to guide,” and “to direct on a course.” So, one of the secrets of The Ruler’s Guide is that the best rulers lead.
Leaders have willing followers; rulers impose authority on others. Leaders earn their authority through merit and example; rulers may not have corresponding merit.
There seem to be more rulers around us than leaders. That’s probably why we have so many problems today.
Long term success in any organization can only be achieved through leadership, through inspiration and example, not through rulership, not through control or coercion. Taizong succeeded because he learned to be a leader—a brilliant one. The Ruler’s Guide reveals the leadership qualities that made him one of the greatest rulers in history.
- What can an ancient emperor teach me?
Whether running a country or an enterprise, leading a team or serving as a role model, rulers wield enormous power over the people and resources they command. They’re capable of exerting great influence over the society, environment, and community in which they operate. And they face many problems that are similar to those an ancient emperor would have faced.
For example: how to attain self-knowledge; how to evaluate people; how to handle the relationship between moral character and talent; how to enhance organizational effectiveness.
You’ll find answers to these questions in The Ruler’s Guide.
- How is The Ruler’s Guide different?
The Ruler’s Guide is different from many books on leadership and management. It is not a one-way stream of advice from some guru, but ideas discussed between the emperor and his ministers, who put their heads together on how best to run the government and achieve longevity for the dynasty. As these men put into practice their ideas and collective wisdom, the result was amazing: the Tang dynasty became one of the longest and most splendid dynasties in Chinese history.
- The Ruler’s Guide is related to another culture. Can it be still be useful?
Cultural differences do exist, but human nature has hardly changed since ancient times. The ideas in The Ruler’s Guide transcend time, space and culture. No prior knowledge of Chinese history or culture is needed to understand the book’s wisdom.
- Why did you write The Ruler’s Guide?
Tang Taizong is an iconic figure in Chinese history—like Thomas Jefferson in U.S. history, or King Alfred in British history. But he is hardly known in the West. Years ago, my study in Harvard Business School reminded me that many of Taizong’s ideas on management and leadership have practical relevance. In that early academic experience was born the idea of writing a book for mainstream readers in the West.
I had a sense of mission, so to speak. I knew I could do it. I was sufficiently confident that my knowledge of classical Chinese and English would stand me in good stead. I realized, though, that the source materials are too unwieldy and cumbersome. Translating and annotating every passage would be too laborious. And the result would be boring to read.
To make my book user-friendly, I relied partly on the case study method at Harvard. Case study focuses on the practical relevance of each case: what we can learn from a case, and how we can apply it in our own situation. I put myself in the shoes of a busy but curious reader, and tried to fashion a book that would maximize their takeaway.
- Why did nobody write about Tang Taizong before?
Some history books published in the West contain accounts of Tang Taizong’s life, but they don’t explore his ideas on leadership and management, which are a key part of his legacy. One reason may be that the source materials aren’t so easy to process.
Tang Taizong is the only emperor whose daily deliberations resulted in a book on how to run a country, and there are other related historical records. But these works are written in classical Chinese. For readers of today, they need to be translated into modern Chinese vernacular with annotations. So, for example, the original Zhenguan Executive Guide, the main source for The Ruler’s Guide, has 90,000 words; by contrast, the modern Chinese version swells to 450,000. If that amount of text were translated into English, it might exceed 600,000. Trying to absorb a book of that length would be a daunting task indeed. The answer was to simplify the original so that the emperor’s wisdom is accessible to a popular audience.