At first, Guan Zhong suggested to Huangong that he should be friendly with neighboring states, pursue development at home before branching out, and bide his time. Unfortunately, Huangong ignored him. The duke launched a reckless attack against the State ofLu the following year, and was defeated in the battle of Changshao.
After the defeat, Guan Zhong initiated a series of reforms with a view to elevating the people, enriching the state and strengthening its military force. Due to the reforms, the Qi State rose rapidly. He then put forward a strategy that he believed would help Huangong gain dominance over China's Central Plains: "Respect the King, and resist the barbarians."
In this slogan, the "King" referred to the king of the Zhou Dynasty. At a time when tributary states continuously battled each other under a powerless central government, Guan Zhong believed that Huangong would be able to take the moral high ground by recognizing the king's authority and to head the alliance of states in the name of the king. "The barbarians" referred to the Di and Rong people in north China. Taking advantage of the chaos, these peoples frequently beleaguered the Central Plains, posing a severe threat to all states. If he took the initiative in fighting 'the barbarians," Huangong would gain the respect of other states, according to Guan Zhong.
In 652 BC, or the 34th year of the reign of Duke Huangong, King Huiwang of Zhou died. Huangong, together with other regional lords, enthroned Prince Zheng, who was known as King Xiangwang. When he took power, Xiangwang sent sacrificial meat to Huangong to honor his contribution. Huangong then summoned all the regional lords to a grand award presentation ceremony in Kuiqiu (near today's Kaocheng, Henan Province). At Guan Zhong's suggestion, these regional rulers signed a treaty, forming an alliance led by Duke Huangong.
By this time, Duke Huangong, as head of the alliance of states, had become the unchallenged overlord. All this would have been impossible without Guan Zhong. So he called this great aide, "Godfather," as a show of respect.