On Being a Leader

by Christopher Lovejoy on September 29, 2013

Let me say this from the outset: I have never been, nor have I ever had, any desire to be an officially sanctioned leader. Occupying an official position of trust and/or authority has zero appeal to me.

Which is not to say I don’t, can’t, or won’t appreciate the value of these types of leadership.

In my involvement with the corporate world, I’ve also come to appreciate the notions of “servant as leader” and “leadership through service”, neither of which have any appeal to me.

I also have zero interest in being a model or an example for others, which is not to say that I’m no longer mindful of the value of an image aligned in harmony with authentic being.

With these admissions, why would I even bother to write about leadership?

Well, for one thing, verses 57 through 59 of the Tao Te Ching are about ideal leadership. For another, great leaders require great followers and great followers need great leaders.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 57

Great leaders know that allowing and imposing are two sides of the same coin of having and getting, keeping and gaining.

Being a leader is not so much about telling others who to be or what to do as it is guiding others to be or do what they already know would be good for them when viewed in hindsight.

If being a leader is your wish,
learn about following the Tao.
Stop trying to control, let go
of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

How do I know this is so?
Because in this world, the greater
the restrictions and prohibitions,
the more people are impoverished;
the more advanced the weapons of state,
the darker the nation;
the more artful and crafty the plan,
the stranger the outcome;
the more laws are posted,
the more thieves appear.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
As I refrain from imposing myself on others,
they ceaselessly become themselves.

Edited slightly by yours truly to enhance the flow of text

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

All of this seems counterintuitive, and yet … knowing when not to act, when to be at peace, and when to do nothing clears a space for the tender buds of wisdom to spring forth and bloom.

My Impressions of the Verse

In light of my introduction to this post, I’ll give my impressions of this verse from the point of view of a follower who appreciates the energy and presence of a wise leader.

If being a leader is your wish,
learn about following the Tao.
Stop trying to control, let go
of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

As a follower of wisdom, I allow myself to follow the Tao without condition. By turns, I listen to reason and I follow my intuitive guidance as and when this feels necessary or desirable.

Thus, it becomes plainly obvious to me when a leader is following “a formless intelligence with heart and soul” and when a leader is following a formless intelligence, with heart and soul.

How do I know this is so?
Because in this world, the greater
the restrictions and prohibitions,
the more people are impoverished;
the more advanced the weapons of state,
the darker the nation;
the more artful and crafty the plan,
the stranger the outcome;
the more laws are posted,
the more thieves appear.

These desperate, controlling measures with their out-of-control consequences are warnings to would-be leaders in desperate need of wisdom where the exercise of control is concerned.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
As I refrain from imposing myself on others,
they ceaselessly become themselves.

I like how these affirmations fly in the face of those who appear to be addicted to action in concert with imposition buttressed by all manner of deception and manipulation.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Might I find fulfillment in being a mere follower? By being a follower of the Tao, might I not find myself in a leadership role?

As far as I can see, this world has a split personality.

We have legions of those who act like movie characters in 3D, going about their lives and their business as if what they see, hear, taste, touch, and smell are all that matters.

And then we have a growing contingent of those who act like film directors with witness perspectives of what goes on in 3D, able to wield attention artfully and skillfully with conscious intent.

Of course, the movie characters have their own leaders and followers, just as the film directors do, and some pretty interesting and unusual things happen when their paths cross.

But I digress.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a director, and as a director, you can understand and appreciate the wisdom of being at peace with not knowing, with not acting and not doing, with not controlling and not imposing. Perhaps you have an uncanny ability to know when to act and when to rest, when to impose and when to allow. For a movie character, all of this would be incomprehensible.

Personally, I find myself constantly negotiating a space between these two worlds. The movie characters don’t know what to make of me and the film directors know enough to let me pass.

From this curious vantage point in the neutral zone, I can be a witness to fulfillment in the best of both worlds, but the nature and meaning of these fulfillments appear quite different.

“The movie character who lives and dies with the most toys wins” is a rather strange notion to those who find their fulfillment in the quality of their experience as directors of their lives.

You can follow those who appear to have the most toys, you can follow those who appear to flow like water through life, or you can find and follow your own bliss, untroubled by good or bad fortune.

Next up: Wholly Wholesome (Living Untroubled by Good or Bad Fortune)

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

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