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5 Charismatic Leadership Skills You Can Learn from Shen Yun Performing Arts

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If you’re looking to cultivate charismatic leadership skills, read on!

Over the course of 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, there have been many great leaders who can teach us valuable lessons rooted in the teachings of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

With a mission to revive the beauty and spiritual wealth of Chinese culture, New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts portrays the essence of this divinely-inspired civilization through the universal languages of music and dance.

On stage, we meet some of the most charismatic leaders of the past—from humble heroes to brilliant strategists and mighty emperors. Not only do they inspire us with their glorious deeds, but they also leave behind lessons that continue to help us today!

1. Harness Your Enemy’s Power: Charismatic Leadership Lessons from Zhuge Liang, China’s Exemplary Military Strategist

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Left: Zhuge Liang. Right: Capturing arrows with boats. Illustration by Jinxie Zhong (金协中)

Each of us has opponents, rivals, or challengers in our life, and when these obstacles arise we usually defend ourselves and look for ways to fight back. Yet some of the greatest strategists in history have found ways of gaining victory by harnessing the enemy’s power even without a fight.

We see this beautifully represented in the Shen Yun story dance Capturing Arrows with Boats of Straw, which features a memorable event in the life of renowned strategist Zhuge Liang.

Zhuge was the most accomplished (and feared) military strategist in China’s turbulent Three Kingdoms era (220 C.E.–280 AD). The year was 208 C.E., and Zhuge, chancellor of the Shu state, faced two enemies: a mighty army from the north and his untrustworthy southern Wu allies.

Although the Shu and Wu states had formed an unlikely alliance, the Wu forces were jealous of Zhuge’s talent and planned to take him out. So they demanded an impossible task: find the 100,000 arrows needed for battle within ten days or face execution.

Zhuge replied:“Give me three days and no more.”

Three nights later, he set sail through a thick fog with 20 swift boats. But instead of arming the boat with soldiers, he filled them with dummy men stuffed with straw. Startled by the surprise attack, the Northern army shot tens of thousands of arrows toward the fleet. The arrows entered the straw soldiers like pin cushions.

Zhuge returned with 100,000 arrows to the amazement of the Wu generals. The great strategist then admitted he had foreseen the fog three days in advance.

In the business world, just like Zhuge, you may feel pressure from your rivals. But if you keep your mind and heart tranquil, the universe may just give you a hint of how to turn the tables on your foes.

2. Patience and Wits: Charismatic Leadership Lessons from Kangxi, China’s Longest-Reigning Emperor

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Portrait of young Emperor Kangxi.

Entrepreneurs know the challenges of getting a business off the ground, especially in today’s extremely competitive landscape. But what can we learn from the power struggles of Chinese emperor Kangxi?

The Qing Dynasty began in 1644, and a decade later Kangxi was born. But the Shunzhi Emperor, Kangxi’s father, died when the young boy was just eight years old. Kangxi would not officially become Emperor until he reached 14 years old, the age of adulthood. The brave yet power-hungry general named Aobai thus saw his opportunity to seize control of the imperial court.

While still a boy, Kangxi had the foresight to realize there would one day be a showdown between himself and the oppressive Aobai. Kangxi thus started recruiting the brightest, strongest boys at court to train as his guards. But the boys were so young that Aobai passed off the training as a boyish sport rather than a genuine threat to his great strength and political ambition.

After Kangxi officially became Emperor at 14, Aobai became increasingly aggressive. He even wore golden robes, an act of treason since the color was reserved for the Emperor.

One day, the young Emperor summoned Aobai to court and slapped 30 charges on the unsuspecting general. Kangxi’s young guards, now highly skilled warriors, surrounded the treasonous Aobai and detained him. Thus began a glorious age in Chinese history.

So when launching a business, take a cue from Kangxi and understand that a winning strategy may take many years of patience and planning before you get that big payoff.

3. Be Humble: Charismatic Leadership Skills from Liu Bei, the Renowned Three Kingdoms Era Warlord

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Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and Guan Yu. Illustration by Jinxie Zhong (金协中)

In today’s world of social media and self-promotion, many people think that bragging and showing off pave the road to success. However, if you’re running a company and are responsible for many employees, humility is actually your greatest asset.

Shen Yun portrays this lesson with a story about 3rd-century warlord Liu Bei, the founder of the Kingdom of Shu. A powerful leader, Liu nonetheless inspired and gained the loyalty of the era’s most legendary figures with his down-to-earth, humble nature.

Liu was especially praised for possessing a strong character and for following the principle of ‘yi,’ or righteousness. His superior nature attracted great warriors such as Zhang Fei and Guan Yu. The three of them became sworn brothers.

Liu also set out to visit the iconic military strategist and sage Zhuge Liang to invite him to become his prime minister. By accepting the role, Zhuge became instrumental in defeating Liu’s archnemesis, Cao Cao, the jealous, conniving leader of the Kingdom of Wei.

To win in today’s competitive climate, you need the most talented, bright staff to help you. Not putting yourself above your staff is essential to creating a welcoming, inspirational work culture that breeds success.

4. Be Loyal: Charismatic Leadership Skills by Yue Fei, China’s Greatest Military General

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©Shen Yun Performing Arts

The greatest assets a company has are its talented employees. When they know their company cares about and looks after them, they put in the extra effort to make sure the company thrives.

In a particularly moving story dance, Shen Yun told the tale of China’s greatest military general, Yue Fei, who would probably make an extraordinary CEO today.

Yue Fei was the embodiment of loyalty to his family, country, and soldiers. Yet in his youth, this loyalty placed him in a moral dilemma. Invaders were attacking his country, and his mother was ill. For Yue Fei, these two cherished Chinese virtues—loyalty and filial piety—seemed to be at odds.

To resolve this inner turmoil, Yue Fei’s mother tattooed four characters on his back: jing zhong bao guo—“serve the country loyally.” With his mother’s blessing, Yue Fei went off to battle and became China’s most iconic general.

Yue Fei’s deep loyalty to his soldiers gained him a series of victories in his career. If his soldiers were sick or injured, he would personally treat their wounds. If his men died, Yue Fei would visit their families.

The general’s unwavering loyalty to his country and soldiers even brought him a miracle when he defeated 100,000 soldiers with just 500 men.

Just like Yue Fei, if CEOs treat and care for employees like close family, there are no limits to what a company can achieve.

5. Be Tolerant: Charismatic Leadership Skills from Legendary General Han Xin

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©National Palace Miseum

An entrepreneur constantly needs to weigh risks, act rationally, and keep a cool head, especially when under duress. One piece by Shen Yun depicts the extraordinary forbearance shown by 3rd-century B.C.E. general Han Xin. Even in his youth, this great man was able to make sacrifices and demonstrate great tolerance.

Han Xin was skilled in martial arts. While martial arts students are often eager to compete with others and demonstrate their talents, Han Xin was quite the opposite: his mind was focused on bigger goals.

As an accomplished martial artist, Han Xin always carried a sword on him. But one day, a ruffian challenged him, blocking his way in the street. The bully sneered at him, saying, “If you’re not afraid of dying, I dare you to cut off my head. If you’re too afraid, then crawl between my legs.”

Han Xin was unafraid and calmly weighed his options. Due to the strict laws at the time, he knew he’d be executed if he took the ruffian’s life. He thus accepted the humiliation and crawled between the troublemaker’s legs.

Filled with neither fear nor anger, Han Xin remained calm and was unmoved by the judgment of others. This inner fortitude allowed him to stay true to himself and make rational decisions even in the direst circumstances, which led to his incredible military victories for Liu Bang, the future Emperor of China.

Of course, tolerance is as essential today in business as it was on the battlefield thousands of years ago.

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