Leading by Serving

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 1, 2013

Consider this unspoken claim: “I am simply the best; I serve myself first and foremost, and because of this, I will usually know what’s best for everyone concerned. Trust me.”

Now consider this alternative: “I am secure enough to put you first, as I care deeply about your values and interests, willing to know them and serve them to the best of my ability.”

Which one rings true for you?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 66

As children, most of us liked to play pretend as we remained present to our power to really know what’s best for ourselves.

As adults, playing pretend is serious business to the extent that we betray ourselves in the service of a controlling desire.

Why is the sea
ruler of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them;
humility gives it its power.

Therefore,
those desiring
a position above others
must speak humbly;
those desiring to lead
must follow.

Thus, when a sage
stands above the people,
they do not feel the heaviness
of his or her weight;
and when a sage stands
in front of the people,
they do not feel hurt.

Sages stay low
so the world never tires
of exalting them.
They remain servants
so the world never tires
of making them their leaders.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

When you observe a leader in today’s world, do you see and feel and sense the pretense of humility or do you see and feel and sense its presence in reality?

My Impressions of the Verse

Verse 66 eloquently expresses the essence of power in leadership. First, there is intent: cui bono? (to whose benefit?). Second, there is judgment: can anyone know what’s best for another?

“If you presume to lead us, can we trust your intention? And if you presume to act on our behalf, can we trust your judgment?”

Why is the sea
ruler of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them;
humility gives it its power.

We saw this comparison being used to good effect in verse 61.

Therefore,
those desiring
a position above others
must speak humbly;
those desiring to lead
must follow.

Genuine humility is a marker of genuine ability …

“She remains calm in the face of adversity because her skill and experience in alignment with the supreme virtue allow her to deal with this adversity effectively.”

Genuine humility implies openness, willingness …

“He is willing to hear your side of the story; he is willing to consider your point of view; he is willing to follow your directions and heed your instructions as and when he finds them good and sound.”

Thus, when a sage
stands above the people,
they do not feel the heaviness
of his or her weight;
and when a sage stands
in front of the people,
they do not feel hurt.

The people are spared the congested ego with its dense, dark energies.

Sages stay low
so the world never tires
of exalting them.
They remain servants
so the world never tires
of making them their leaders.

Sages can be trusted to serve others with skill and wisdom: their intentions are pure and firm; their judgments are good and sound.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

In our own way, most of us can be leaders to others as and when we serve their interests with genuine humility. At our best, we know enough not to presume to know what’s best for others without taking the time to follow their lead. Many of us naturally desire to be of service. By incorporating the wisdom of verse 66, our fulfillment of this desire is almost assured.

Next up: What Truly Matters? (Living by the Three Treasures)

/

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

Previous post:

Next post: