A 2500-year-old perspective on leadership

With the greatest leader above them,
people barely know one exists.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
When a leader trusts no one,
no one trusts him.
The great leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self-interest
and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say
“We did it ourselves.”
—Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 17th Verse

Lao-Tzu gives us a 2500-year-old perspective on leadership. Great leaders create an environment where people can lead themselves! They stay in the background, making themselves as invisible as possible, opening space for people to choose for themselves. One leadership option is to use love, but the drawback is that praise of the leader creates dependency to that leader. Another option is to use fear, but the drawback is that the leader’s influence is based on threat. A third option is to make people despise you, but the drawback is that they will defy all that you say and stand for. The best leadership option is to trust and have faith in your people. Then, they will be able to say, ”We did it ourselves.

Related post: Principles for collaborative leadership

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