Leadership According to Lao Tzu

Leaders; the best ones have the character, position and vision to energize their followers and make the world a better place. Right? Well, not quite. Or at least, not only. As the nation, hold-up, the world, turns their attention to the battle for U.S leadership it’s an opportunity for us all to reflect on what it takes to be a truly great leader.

The Internet’s love of a list means there’s inspiration aplenty to get our reflection going. Caesar, Confucius, Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Churchill, Napoleon, Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy.…. the list goes on. And on. There’s a leader and leadership style for every persuasion. But for me, when it comes to leadership, I’m with the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’” Je suis désolé, Napoleon.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’” — Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’” — Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher

Think about it. Think of the best boss you’ve had. The most inspiring coach. The teacher that left the greatest impression. Chances are they had one trait in common; they led as a learner, not as a knower. Big difference. One leads by sharing power, the other by holding power. So, how do we, imperfect humans as we are, take a leaf out of Lao Tzu’s leadership book?

Start by asking questions. Many questions. Begin by asking yourself, “What can I learn from my people that will allow me to lead them more effectively?”

Become interested in the lives of your people. Or your family or fans, for that matter. (Celebrities: that means you). Ask them what they value about the matter at hand. Ask them what challenges they are facing. Ask them what ideas they have to make it better.


Ask yourself, “What can I learn from my people that will allow me to lead them more effectively?”

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Instead of making your people wrong for perceived failures, do as the corporate powerhouse of innovation, Google, does and use team failures as models for future growth. That’s right. Put your ledger for ‘bad stuff’ away and ask your people questions about what went wrong.

Give up punishment to gain connection.

A leader we connect with? Now, that sounds like the foundation for a truly great leader.

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