Subtle Guidance

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 23, 2012

When it comes to leadership, do I ultimately serve myself or do I ultimately serve others?

Leadership takes many forms: guide, coach, consultant, counsellor, doctor, nurse, therapist, parent, teacher, supervisor, manager, director, executive, president – anyone in a position of authority willing and able to assume a leading role and serve a valued function.

The intention of a leader is to serve the patient, the client, the family, the company, the organization, the region, the country, the world.

A clear distinction can be made between those who rigidly apply a one-size-fits-all approach, serving themselves first, and those who flexibly apply a many-sizes-fit-many approach, serving others first and foremost.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 17

One unfortunate tendency of institutional leadership is that it encourages, compels, and enforces conformity. Even worse, such leadership is vulnerable to corruption at the highest levels, where tyranny threatens mastery.

With great leaders above them,
people barely know that they exist.

Next comes those whom they love and praise.
Next comes those whom they fear.
Next comes those whom they despise and defy.

When leaders trust no one, no one trusts them.

Great leaders speak little, and rarely if ever speak carelessly.
They lead without self-interest – and leave no traces.
After all is said and done, the people say, “we did it ourselves.”

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Who among us can guide or lead others without drawing attention to ourselves?

My Impressions of the Verse

When I read this verse, I am of two minds.

On the one hand, I can nod and say “yes, this makes perfect sense”. On the other hand, the cynical part of me thinks “but what if a carefully concealed conspiracy is in play?”

With great leaders above them,
people barely know that they exist.

People barely know they exist, either because they’re part of a conspiracy or because they’ve made service their number one priority.

Next comes those whom they love and praise.
Next comes those whom they fear.
Next comes those whom they despise and defy.

Here, we find some very interesting and intuitively obvious gradations of fitness for leadership.

The first gives off the faint odor of misplaced ego; the second tells us something is wrong with the leader’s priorities with respect to service to self and service to others; the third indicates in no uncertain terms that the bane of tyranny has replaced the call of mastery.

When leaders trust no one, no one trusts them.

This point is fundamentally correct as it draws the line where leaders cross into tyrannical territory.

Great leaders speak little, and rarely if ever speak carelessly.
They lead without self-interest – and leave no traces.
After all is said and done, the people say, “we did it ourselves.”

These points reveal the essentials of ideal leadership: strong leaders make their words count; they masterfully assume responsibility for everything that is relevant to their mandate; and they establish the conditions necessary for their followers to thrive.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

As far as I can see, in my many and various observations of guides and leaders both strong and weak, the most difficult lesson to be learned when providing guidance or leadership can be summed up in three words: everything is relevant.

Over two years ago, I wrote a post called For the Benefit of Others, which still counts as one of my favorites.

In this essay, I explore the implications of taking “everything is relevant” to heart. I examine the possibilities and consequences of asking a simple question: “what is going on in me that is causing me to have this experience?”

To me, “everything is relevant” means “everything that I judge, positively or negatively, is directly or indirectly the result of something I said or did”. “Everything is relevant” is code for “if it affects me, positively or negatively, then I had a hand in bringing it about”. When I think about it, this is profound: my entire experience is a product of my will to power, whether this willing feels carefree or not.

Obviously, not everything that affects me is fraught with consequence or pregnant with meaning, but even the most trivial of occurrences can leave me thinking “hmm, interesting” whenever I perceive it and make a memorable connection to something I said or did.

When I’m not aware of my contribution to the emergence of an occurrence that carries a positive or negative charge for me, the data that underlies and brings about the occurrence is nevertheless being processed as if I am aware. Such data allows me to have an experience, and my feelings, positive or negative, alert me to the presence of this data, which determines a certain kind of experience in me.

When feelings are generated in a leadership context, I can work with the data in me that I experience as “the other person” (or “my people”, if you’re a leader). If, in the course of guiding or taking the lead, I judge someone as pleasant or difficult, this is only my experience.

My experience is not my perception, which is merely a byproduct of the data that is causing the experience to manifest. My experience is the actual data processing that allows me to have the experience. If the data is erased, I can no longer have this experience. I can only see what I see because the processing of this data causes me to see what I see, and the most profound feature of that practice known as ho’oponopono is that I can erase the data, or more precisely, petition a broader consciousness than my own to have the data cleaned or cleared. Through the practice of ho’oponopono, I can conduct a cleaning on certain data with respect to myself, certain others, or others generally.

Before we can even have a discussion about clearing the data, we would do well to ask ourselves what Dr. Hew Len calls “the most important question in creation”: who am I?, maintaining that because so many of us do not really know who we are, we’re in no position to allow the data to speak for us (as opposed to choosing not to have the data by erasing it). To be at choice about erasing certain data with certain others, we must allow the data to speak for us. The whole point of ho’oponopono is to fall in love with the data, to welcome the data, with gratitude for the memories that bring back any pain or distress: “thank you for showing up and giving me one more chance to free you and to be free.”

After the data is erased (confessed), what remains? Nothing, which manifests as a state of calm, clear and carefree.

Curiously, the formless is the foundation out of which comes the inspiration to be moved by live data rather than dead data. Most of the time, because of our egoic conditioning, too many of us are dead to new data as we are too stuck in old data.

So again, when it comes to providing leadership, do I ultimately serve myself or do I ultimately serve others?

Viewed in the proper light, the practice of ho’oponopono exposes the false dichotomy implicit in this question.

As I practice ho’oponopono, I serve myself and others in the same way, at the same time, in the same breath.

In my post In Lak’ech Ala K’in, I explore several flavors of leadership. Whether we’re naturally inclined to guide, envision, strategize, execute, or command, knowing our own style of leadership can help us to focus on what is relevant in our experience.

Aiming for mastery of our leadership experience involves heeding two hedges against tyranny: (1) refusing to take undue credit for the accomplishments of others, and (2) trusting that others are capable of knowing (more often than not) what is best for themselves.

Within the purview of leadership, a mastery of that tendency known as tyranny is a mastery of “everything is relevant”.

Next up: Living Without Rules

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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