The capacities of commanders are not the same; some are greater, some are lesser.
One who spies out treachery and disaster, who wins the allegiance of others, is the leader of 10 men.
One who rises early in the morning and retires late at night, and whose words are discreet yet perceptive, is the leader of a 100 men.
One who is direct yet circumspect, who is brave and can fight, is the leader of a 1,000 men.
One of martial bearing and fierceness of heart, who knows the hardships of others and spares people from hunger and cold, is the leader of 10,000 men.
One who associates with the wise and promotes the able, who is careful of how he spends each day, who is sincere, trustworthy, and magnanimous, and who is guarded in times of order as well as times of disturbance, is the leader of a 100,000 men.
One whose humanitarian care extends to all under his command, whose trustworthiness and justice win the allegiance of neighboring nations, who understands the signs of the sky above, the patterns of the earth below, and the affairs of humanity in between, and who regards all people as his family, is a world-class leader, one who cannot be opposed.
After the demise of Dong Zhuo, there were numerous warlords vying for supremacy over Northern China including Lu Bu, Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu and Liu Biao. Yet against all odds, Cao Cao managed to reign supreme overcoming all his bitter rivals. His most decisive victory was at the Battle of Guandu where he led 40,000 men and vanquished his rival Yuan Shao, commanding a horde of over 150,000 men.
What manner of man was Cao Cao such that he became the pivotal antagonist in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms?
Cao Cao himself once utttered:
‘I would rather betray the world than have the world betray me!’
Xu Shao who was famed for his ability to evaluate one's potentials and talents commented as follows:
‘A good subject in time of peace, a crafty hero in time of trouble.’
Zhuge Liang, described his achievements thus:
‘One bold person after another has arisen in various parts of the empire ever since the days of the rebel Dong Zhuo. Cao Cao was not so powerful as Yuan Shao, but he overcame Yuan Shao by seizing the favorable moment and using his soldiers properly. Now he is all-powerful: He rules an immense army and, through his control of the court, the various feudal lords as well. You cannot think of opposing him.’
Cao Cao was as a brilliant ruler and military genius who treated his officers like his family. He was also skilled in poetry and the martial arts, and wrote many war journals. He was greater than a leader of a 100,000 men and yet, fell short of Zhuge Liang’s standard of an exalted leader, one who could not be opposed.
Associates with the wise
When Cao Cao first set up his province in Yanzhou, he welcomed wise counselors and bold warriors, and many gathered around him including Xun Yu and Xun You and Guo Jia. By encouraging able people to assist him, he had intelligent advisers on the civil side and valiant generals in the army. He became famous throughout the East of the Pass. Surrounding himself with the wise and the bold, Cao Cao would erect the pillars of the Wei Kingdom and lay the foundations of the Jin Dynasty.
Magnanimous & Promotes the Able
During his Northern Campaign, Cao Cao successfully subjugated Wan Cheng. Unfortunately, Cao Cao’s soldiers under Xiahou Dun seized the occasion to plunder the people. Yu Jin (another general of Wei), took his army, fell upon them, and slew many. Thus he protected and appeased the people. The plunderers, meeting Cao Cao on the road, knelt down howling and said Yu Jin had mutinied and attacked them. Cao Cao was surprised, and he gave order to Xiahou Dun, Xu Chu, Li Dian, and Yue Jing to attack Yu Jin.
Now when Yu Jin saw his master and a great company approaching, he set his troops to make a camp, as he realized that Zhang Xiu, the local warlord intended to take advantage of the situation and attack both him and Cao Cao.
An officer asked him, "The Qingzhou soldiers say you have turned traitor. Why do you not explain now that the Prime Minister has arrived? Why first make a camp?"
Yu Jin replied, "Our enemies are coming up in our rear and are very close. It is necessary to prepare for defense or we shall not withstand them. Explanation is a small matter, but defense is very important."
Soon after the camp was finished, Zhang Xiu fell upon them. Yu Jin himself rode out to face them. Zhang Xiu drew back. The other generals of Yu Jin, seeing he advance thus boldly, also attacked, and Zhang Xiu was overcome. They pursued him a great distance until his force was almost annihilated. With the miserable remnant he finally fled to Liu Biao.
Cao Cao's army reformed, and the commanders mustered. Then Yu Jin went to see his master and told him of the conduct of the Qingzhou soldiers and their looting and why he had attacked them.
"Why did you not tell me before you made the camp?"
Yu Jin related what had occurred.
Said Cao Cao, "When the first thought of a leader in the time of greatest stress is to maintain order and to strengthen his defenses, giving no thought to slander but shouldering his burdens bravely, and when he thereby turns a defeat into a victory, who, even of the ancient leaders, can excel Yu Jin?"
Cao Cao rewarded Yu Jin with a golden armor and the lordship of Yishou.
Guarded in times of order
During 194 AD, major famine occurred due to a locust plague. At that time, people even ate each other out of desperation. Without food, many armies were defeated even without fighting. From this, Cao Cao realized the ample food supply in building a strong military. He began a series of agricultural programs in cities such as Xu Chang and Chen Liu. Refugees were recruited and given wastelands to cultivate. Later, encampments not faced with imminent danger of war were also made to farm. This system was continued and spread to all regions under Cao Cao as his realm expanded. Although Cao Cao's primary intention was to build a powerful army, the agricultural program also improved the living standards of the people, especially war refugees. [from Wikipedia]
Guarded in times of disturbance
Lu Bu was one of Cao Cao’s fiercest rivals during his Northern Campaign. In his attempt to capture the city of Puyang, Cao Cao was lured into attacking the city as he received information that there were defectors willing to open the gates to him.
And so at the first watch Cao Cao led the way. The moon had not yet arisen. As he drew near the west gate, they heard a crackling sound, then a loud shouting, and then torches moved hither and thither. Next the gates were thrown wide open, and Cao Cao, whipping up his steed, galloped in.
But when he reached the state residence, he noticed the streets were quite deserted, and then he knew he had been tricked. Wheeling round his horse, he shouted to his followers to retire. This was the signal for another move. An explosion of a signal bomb was heard close at hand, and it was echoed from every side in a deafening roar. Gongs and drums beat all around with a roar like rivers rushing backward to their source, and the ocean boiling up from its depths.
Cao Cao dashed off toward the north. On the way, sharply outlined against the glow, he saw the figure of Lu Bu coming toward him with his trident halberd ready to kill. Cao Cao covered his face with his hand, whipped up his steed and galloped past. But Lu Bu came galloping up behind him and tapping him on the helmet with the halberd cried, "Where is Cao Cao?"
Cao Cao turned and, pointing to a dun horse well ahead, cried, ‘There; on that dun! That's he.’ Hearing this Lu Bu left pursuing Cao Cao to gallop after the rider of the dun. Thus, Cao Cao escaped from harm and survived. Eventually, even mighty Lu Bu met his end at Cao Cao’s hands.
Even though one may not be able to reach the exalted standards of a world class leader, it may be wise to strive to emulate the qualities exhibited by the leader of a 100,000 men. Such efforts will surely yield bountiful harvests in the future.