Purpose and Integrity for Sustainable Success in Turbulent Times

The Art of Leadership: Attending To Needs

Sections 7–13

Erik Schön
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
7 min readDec 26, 2020


Photo: Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

What is leadership? Why is this important? How do you lead successfully? The Art of Leadership provides timeless answers to these eternal questions. It is a modern reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching — a guide for sustainable success in turbulent times. All Parts. Other reading formats.

7. Attending to People’s Needs

Lao Tzu

The world is eternal since it exists for others.

Therefore, skilled leaders
avoid competing, yet find themselves in front;
acts selflessly, yet find themselves taken care of.

Attending to people’s needs
fulfils your own.

Ames & Hall

Skilled leaders in emulation of the natural processes are impartial and inclusive. It is because skilled leaders take nature as their mentor that their persons are preserved and all of their needs are satisfied.

8. Being Like Water

Lao Tzu

The highest effectiveness is like water:
water benefits everything without contending
and flows in loathed places
to fulfill its purpose.

So, find a suitable place;
keep your heart and mind deep;
treat others properly;
stand by your word;
lead effectively;
serve capably;
act timely.
Avoid competing to avoid dislike.

Bruce Lee

Be water, my friend.

You put water in a bottle, and it becomes the bottle.
Water can flow, or it can crash.

If nothing within you stays rigid,
outward things will disclose themselves.
Moving, be like water.
Still, be like a mirror.
Respond like an echo.

Sun Tzu

Torrential waters rumble rocks thanks to momentum.
The swoop of a diving falcon kills the prey thanks to timing.
For skilled leadership, momentum is massive and timing tight.
Momentum is like a drawn crossbow, timing like a released trigger.

Ursula K. Le Guin

A clear stream of water runs through this book, from poem to poem, wearing down the indestructible, finding ways around everything that obstructs the way. Good drinking water.

Ames & Hall

The highest effectiveness is a combination of the degree of benefit something bestows and the inclusiveness of such beneficence. The intensity and expansiveness of water is an appropriate analogy for such efficacy since it gives the gift of life without discrimination, and flows everywhere disdaining nothing.

François Jullien

Water is not fixed in any definite aspect, never immobilised in any particular place. It is the least thinglike of things — the most alive, the most alert. The Chinese tradition expresses admiration for the continuous flow that so resembles the great process of the world, the source of which is inexhaustible since its course never stops proceeding, water represents effectiveness. The uninterrupted flow of variance, so well illustrated by the course of flowing water, is regarded as constituting the very course of reality.

Skilled leaders, like water, steer clear of obstacles and insinuate themselves wherever the way before them is free; like water, they always stick closely to the line of least resistance and at every moment seek out where it is easiest to proceed. All their skills lie in varying from one extreme to another — as widely as reality does.

9. Accomplish and Withdraw

Lao Tzu

Rather than filling to the brim, stop in time:
keep on pounding and the sharpness will be gone;
treasures are hard to guard;
riches and pride bring tragedy.

Purpose is to accomplish and withdraw.

Ames & Hall

The human experience can be maximised only by coordinating its activities with the workings of the natural environment and the propensity of circumstances. These human activities should be modelled upon the cyclical patterns of nature in which one season gives way to the next, orchestrating the full range of natural forces — sun, soil, air, moisture — to collaborate in producing a thriving environment and an abundant harvest.

François Jullien

When an effect is pushed to the limit, strained, or forced, it passes beyond reality’s threshold of tolerance, it can no longer be integrated and so undoes itself.

Hans-Georg Moeller

If one tends to create conflicts and is eager to contend, one will squander one’s energies and soon be exhausted. The displaying of wealth, strength, and a willingness to fight will unavoidably lead to tension and possibly one’s downfall.

10. Respectful Intent

Lao Tzu

Can you nourish your energies
and embrace them without separation?

Can you focus your breath gently,
like a baby?

Can you cleanse your heart and mind
towards perfection?

Can you love people and lead
without pressure and control?

Can you open all senses and attend to people’s needs
like a mother?

Can you clearly see all perspectives
using unprincipled knowledge?

Create with respectful intent;
act without pressure;
nurture without orders.

This is effectiveness.

Lin Yutang

Lao Tzu uses the child, as he uses the “uncarved wood”, as a symbol of the whole, unspoiled nature of man

Ames & Hall

It is the thorough integration of the physical and spiritual aspects of our experience in the concentration of our energies that enables us to maximise our potency and invigorate our minds.

Unprincipled knowledge is knowledge without the assumption that there is an unchanging reality behind appearance, i. e. knowledge without fixed principles, categories and labels. The acceptance of the world on its own terms without recourse to rules of discrimination that separate one sort of thing from another. This type of knowledge gives the ability to mirror the world at each moment in a way that is undetermined by the shape of a world that has passed away, or by anticipations of a world yet to come

11. Emptiness Brings Usefulness

Lao Tzu

Spokes form a wheel;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Clay forms a pot;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Windows and doors cut out to make a room;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Something brings value,
emptiness brings usefulness.

Stefan Stenudd

The value of what is visible and palpable is an illusion. It has no use without that which is absent. What is of no use has no value.

12. Belly Over Eyes

Lao Tzu

Five colours blind the eye;
five tones deafen the ear;
five flavours distort the tongue;
hunting and riding madden heart and mind;
rare goods block progress.

Therefore, leaders
take care of the belly instead of the eyes
choose one, reject the other.

Chuang Tzu

The problem of how terms and attributes are to be delimited, leads one in precisely the wrong direction. Classifying or delimiting knowledge fractures greater knowledge.

Nonaka & Zhu

Lao Tzu, in poetic language, warns us about the harmful effect of obsessive categorisation.

Alan Watts

Lao Tzu is referring to the formal rules and classifications for these arts, as to say that if you think there are only five colours, you must be blind, and deaf if you think that all music has to be in the pentatonic scale. This is the reason why schools for these various arts produce so few geniuses, and why the genius is always going beyond the rules, because the fountain of creative work is an intelligent questioning of the rules.

Stefan Stenudd

When Lao Tzu says that we should attend to our belly, instead of what our eyes can see, he means that we should make sure to stay centered. Focusing on the belly keeps you grounded and collected. It’s how to guard your integrity and get to know yourself properly. When our eyes trick us to forget what our bellies tell us, our minds get lost and our bodies are sure to suffer. Lao Tzu reminds us to get our priorities right. In doing so, we get to know ourselves and stay true to what we really are. What the eyes show us may very well be illusions, but what we feel inside our bellies is for real.

13. Beyond Yourself

Lao Tzu

Favour and disgrace are like fear.
Honour and distress are like the self.

What does this mean?

Favour debases us:
afraid when we get it;
afraid when we lose it.

The self embodies distress:
no self, no distress.

Respect the world as your self:
the world can be in your trust.
Love the world as your self:
the world can be in your custody.

Ames & Hall

If we attend to each and every one of our responsibilities with the same care that we invest in our own persons, we can be entrusted with anything, including ruling the world. Treat all things with equal seriousness and respect, and our own person will be taken care of as a matter of course.

Stefan Stenudd

Lao Tzu regards the fear we have as an asset, as long as we are aware of its cause and act accordingly. We should aim to preserve the world as we do our bodies. In that way, fear is a good thing. It keeps us alert and cautious, and it helps us set things in their right perspective.

The Art of Leadership: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of all parts
Introduction: How to make a difference

Glossary: Explanation of key terms
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more
Other reading formats: Hardcover, paperback and PDF



Erik Schön
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

From hacker, software researcher and system engineer to leader, executive and strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy http://yokosopress.se