Tao Leadership

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“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist,” said Lao Tzu

Indeed, a good leader is ‘nowhere to be found’.  He’s invisible!

Most leaders we know are visible. Among them are laudable leader who is adored and respected by his people, and chieftain who asserts his authority by making people aware that he is the BOSS. Sadly, they also include the bully who points a knife at your back forcing you to empty your wallet.

These leaders get you to do things they want you to do. But if you’re talking about effectiveness of leadership, theirs is in nowhere near the influence of the ‘invisible’ leaders.

The ‘invisible’ leaders lead without ‘leading’ in the conventional sense.

Like what Lao Tzu says, “They act without effort and teach without words.”

They inspire and guide, so that people do what he wants them to do without feeling being led.

We have heard of highly accomplished people talking about how someone however insignificant had led them to their success. The person can be a mother with little education who lavishes her children with wisdom and love, or a stern master who pokes his student’s bloated ego so that he can see clearly his true value in his pursuits. The person drives successes without appearing to be a leader, although he is the real leader.

The real leaders can also be someone as simple as your friend who makes you travel all the way to a remote place to try out an interesting restaurant, or take part in a program to shed your weight without telling you to do so.

Having said that, there is no doubt that a true leader can be someone in leadership position, who is both visible and invisible, depending on the situations.

So who are these leaders in your life?

There are many of them around. Since they are invisible, they are in no fixed form. In fact, this is the beauty of it. They are there for you to discover and be enthralled.

Once you have spotted any one of them, take note of how they have led you. Apply the secrets to the people you lead, and you will see the invisible leader emerging in you.

According to Lao Tzu,

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“The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”
(17)

Leaders with such tao leadership style are hard to come by.

In the book Chuang Tzu, there is a fable on horse training. Let’s see if this trainer is a good leader.

How do you think a horse should behave?

Horses have hooves to saunter over frost and snow and hair to protect them from wind and cold. They eat grass and drink water, and fling up their tails and gallop.

This is the real nature of horses!

One day, there came a horse trainer, Bole, who claimed he was great at handling horses.

But what did he do to the horses! He singed and clipped the horses’ hair. He pared their hooves, and branded them body. He tied them up by their necks, and shackled them by their legs, while numbering them for their stables.

As a result, two or three in every ten horses died!

He made the horses go hungry and thirsty, trotted them and galloped them, and got them to run in formations. He threatened the horses with the tasseled bridle at the front; and whip of terror behind.

More than half of the horses died.

Was Bole a good leader?

Even if he was, his success was at the expense of the horses tortured to death. You would not regard him to be the best of leaders.

The flaws of Pole’s leadership in the fable are obvious. There are however many leaders around us behaving just like him. These leaders intervene and control too much. They push and bulldoze. They look innocuous, and often work hard. But they are stifling, rather than leading their people.


The Effective Tao Leader

“I have heard my master say that nurturing life is like keeping a flock of sheep,” says Chuang Tzu in his book. “You lash the last sheep, and the rest will move.”

The leadership style is effective and effortless.

It is so different from bulldozing. It is Tao leadership.

You hold a whip in your hand, but you are kind to the flock. You lash only when it is absolutely necessary, and only on the last sheep – one that makes the whole flock move.

Instead of pushing, you work on the nature of the flock. Although the flock is totally under your control, it follows without knowing that you exist.

The challenge, of course, is on knowing where the last sheep is. To know the last sheep, you’ll need to do the following::

1. Clarity of mind

Effective dao leadership requires clarity of mind. If you are not sure about where you want to go, rather than leading, you are confusing your people.

2. Simplicity

Clarity of mind begets simplicity. As a Tao leader, you cut off the noises, make a clear decision, and the people follow.

3. Balance & Yinyang

As a good leader, you are remarkably resilient. Like water, you are able to regain your balance in no time, even during turmoil.

4. Stoop Low

Rivers and seas are more powerful than streams, but they would not have been powerful without the water from streams. To receive water from streams, however, rivers and seas stoop low. Leaders with Tao leadership are like rivers and seas. They derive their power from the people, and to do so, they are ready to stoop low.

5. Letting go

When you are sure you have done the necessary or what you can, stand back. Do not interfere. Let the people do their works; and nature takes its course.

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