Would Lao Tzu Think You’re A Leader?

What might the 6th Century BC Philospher, Lao Tzu, have to say about leadership today? Would he feel that Leaders today are honoring those around them, and being of service?

Although there is some discrepancy as to whether or not Lao Tzu was the sole author of the Tao te Ching or not, the following quote is attributed to him, and for me, it reslaotzuleaderonates to this day.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did this ourselves.”

This is the quote that often appears in the literature. However, here’s a few other versions that I found:

“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say ‘We did this ourselves.'”

Yet another version includes this:

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

Since we can’t travel back in time to ask Lao Tzu himself, I’d like to focus on the 3 take-away points that I find to be most significant.

1. Leaders listen twice as much as they speak, and they listen with the intention of understanding, not responding. Good leaders listen.

2. Leaders trust, respect and honor those they serve, interact with, and conduct business with. I say that I trust until given reason to mistrust, and I honor the individuality, perspective and opinions of all, even when/if I disagree. And I demonstrate respect by always agreeing or disagreeing with issues, not people.

3. Leaders have no need of the spotlight. It’s for others to decide whether or not to shine the light upon us. To demand the spotlight in a see-me-hear-me-follow-me way is not, in my opinion, a true leader. Leaders work from a place where people can say, “We did this ourselves.”

Listen. Trust. Honor. Respect. Be humble.

In my book, these are marks of great leadership. What do you think?

Kaarina Dillabough

Kaarina Dillabough

Business Life Coach at Decide2Do
Kaarina is a business/life coach living in Ontario. For over 25 years her high-voltage energy, expertise and experience has inspired those she has worked with to reach beyond their grasp, to attain great things in business and in life. A former Olympic sports colour commentator and coach, Kaarina parlayed her coaching skills from the gym floor to the boardroom, working with business owners to improve their profitability and prosperity. In doing so, she has seen people grow both personally and professionally. Kaarina is known as an inspiring motivational speaker in areas such as branding, marketing, business growth strategies, and personal growth and prosperity. She is a passionate, seasoned coach and accountability partner with a proven track record, who loves nothing more than helping people achieve their goals in business and in life.
Kaarina Dillabough
Kaarina Dillabough




  • October 17, 2013


    Hi Kaarina.
    Excellent! A leader seeks no spotlight. This person wants others to excel and gladly gets out of the way to allow their followers to become leaders too. True leaders do little from an ego level. These folks want to help, serve, and inspire the next generation to take up the mantle of leadership.
    The biggest challenge for most new leaders is trusting, but when you let go, you are forced to grow…..not  bad deal. And your people might just surprise you when you trust them.

  • October 17, 2013

    Jen Olney

    Welcome Kaarina! Great to have you on board with #bealeader!

  • October 17, 2013


    Jen Olney It’s a pleasure to be on board 🙂 Cheers! Kaarina

  • October 17, 2013


    RyanKBiddulph Thanks Ryan. You are so right. Leaders that demand the spotlight might get it, but it’s those leaders upon whom the light is shone by others that are true leaders. Cheers! Kaarina