Sun Tzu’s Tale of Three Healers…for today’s safety consultants

Sun Tzu Says. . .

Or, if Sun Tzu were alive today and doing my job. . .

One of the most often quoted of all fables based on the writings of the legendary mercenary general Sun Tzu is about three healers. . .

A lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.

The well-known healer replied, “I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords.”

“My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name gets around only in his own neighborhood.

“My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name does not get out of the house.

I have meant to write a blog comparing the three healers in Sun Tzu’s fable to the practice of “healing” for at-risk trucking companies and private motor carriers.

First, the safety consultant known far and wide . . .

From the first day we established ourselves as practitioners in the field, we have had the chance to roll up our sleeves and help some companies that were in hot water with the DOT.

If you have a compliance review (CR) and you fail in more than one area, you might have a proposed unsatisfactory safety rating. This means in a couple months if you have not solved all your problems and proven to the DOT that you have done so, you will be barred from dispatching trucks on streets and highways in the US.

Some people contact us when the DOT has threatened such an act, some after the agency has ordered them off the road. In either case, it is often possible to help a motor carrier get back underway in days or weeks.

We enjoy working with them and it is gratifying to be the outside consultant who rushes in, briefcase in one hand, plane ticket in the other – and saves people’s jobs and businesses.

After helping a company solve a problem that threatened their existence, sometimes people speak well of us and we get other business due to referrals.

Like the first healer in the fable. . . I am appreciated by people experiencing business calamity because I know how to “Puncture flesh, mix potions, and call upon the spirits”. . . .

Or, in the vernacular of motor carrier safety management, we help people develop safety controls to reduce crashes and fatalities and get the FMCSA out of your day-to-day business.

We still get these calls, and we are glad to help.

But I hate to see people go that far down the road of noncompliance, and in many cases the lack of effective safety controls is not lack of will but lack of knowledge, so we developed a training program to help people get their feet under them in this area.

In short, we have become more like the elder brother in the fable.

By getting in front of motor carrier safety management and other management staff, I help teach people to develop safety controls. Like the healer who is not known outside his neighborhood; we are known primarily to those who have attended one of our seminars or webinars. . .

We are proud of our training programs, and I believe we have sufficient evidence that people who attend our seminars and webinars and follow through with the recommendations do well if they have a subsequent CR or other intervention.

Sometimes a new practitioner is assigned major responsibilities for safety in a company that has many locations and many bad habits and he/she needs a bit more special high intensity training, so we spend a day or three on the ground with the motor carrier, passing along some lessons-learned and helping get the ball rolling.

It has taken several years for our training-and-assistance programs to evolve to the point there are at today – I am truly proud of this effort and think it is very useful to anyone who has some management experience but who just needs to get a ‘kick start’ in this area of motor carrier management. . .

Now, like the 2nd of three healers discussed in Sun Tzu’s fable, the one who senses an evil presence in the house and causes it to flee before the family is infected. . . we help people by teaching – in seminars and on location – so people can remedy shortcomings before the government gets involved.

And Finally, the road to becoming the eldest healer. . .

But what I really want is to change people’s attitude towards the rules. Too many who don’t understand the rules say they don’t like them, and the DOT doesn’t have enough staff to enforce the rules effectively. These two problems, taken together, far outweigh the importance of any and all issues with the rules themselves.

This is why I devote time to various writing projects. If I can entertain and inform, and help people understand WHY they should follow the rules, maybe then I can really make a difference.

Let others complain about the rules, and lobby the DOT to change the ones they don’t like. Too much time is spent discussing and considering minor changes to the rules, like the 5 slight changes passed a few months ago to the HOS rules.

What I want to do is help people understand the FMCSRs, and understand why they should develop systems to ensure compliance and then move to implement real, unique controls to address specific business risks.

Like the eldest healer; the one who senses an evil presence on the horizon; I want to change people’s attitudes, and have an unseen impact.


This is my quest. To change the attitudes of people toward the necessity to regulate and manage the behavior of these latter-day knights with their sometimes rusty and oil-dripping steeds, as they illegally modify their logs and check “OK” on their DVIRs. . .

I hope people are amused by my writings – amused and educated.

I want my readers to “Do the right thing” because you don’t want the DOT to issue an Out of Service order with your company’s name on it.

Or, you can do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.


When more people do this, more CMV operators and pedestrians will get the chance to live long enough to enjoy their retirement checks and their grandchildren.

Someone once told me the definition of a manager is one who does things right, while the definition of a leader is one who does the right thing, and causes his organization to do so as well.

My intention is to teach managers how to do things right, AND to influence leaders to do the right thing. Someday I will retire. If I have done my job well, someday I will read an article about safety management and realize someone is unwittingly parroting some catchphrase I put in a slide presentation or a blog back when I was active.

Then, I will know, my career has been a success. Then I will know I am like the eldest healer, the one no one knew of, because he did his job so efficiently no one ever felt the evil wind. . .

About DOT Compliance Help Inc
Phone: 847-836-6063 web: e-mail DOT Compliance Help, Inc. is a full-service consulting firm specializing in the interpretation and execution of the regulations and guidelines set forth by the US Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. •Mission Statement• To assist our clients in establishing proper safety management controls in order to minimize accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The ultimate goals are safer roadways for the public and increased profits for our clients. Our core consulting competencies include FMCSA Assessments (mock audits), DOT compliance training (on-site and via webinar) and custom safety plans and policies. We also hold DOT compliance workshops and conferences all across the country. Utilizing a proprietary curriculum developed by our President, Mike England, our classes cover everything you need to know about the FMCSRs, how to survive your next DOT Compliance Review, and how Comprehensive safety Analysis (CSA 2010) will affect you.

One Response to Sun Tzu’s Tale of Three Healers…for today’s safety consultants

  1. ponsiblog says:

    A client of mine forward me your SunTzu DOT safety blog to tell me about the three brothers but your blogs awoken my deeper nerves. Regardless, without going into my long history, I just want to let you know that your safety article may matter to some but most importantly it matter to me to reset my course as a future legendary Wellness Engineer Warriorette. Thank you.
    Have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

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