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 resonates 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?