The Art of Leadership: Attending to Needs

Sections 7–13

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 leaders in ancient China. “Purpose is a surer path to productivity than pressure. Pressure keeps knocking you off the path. Purpose keeps bringing you back onto the path” Kent Beck (All Parts; Other reading and viewing 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 dwells in loathed places
to fulfill its purpose.

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

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.

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.

The greatest obstacle to optimising relationships is coercion. If a healthy relationship is mutually accommodating, then the introduction of coercion, in which one party overwrites the importance of the other, entails a diminution of the creative possibilities of both. Forced redefinition is humiliation. Relationships are invariably hierarchical. But hierarchy is only pernicious when it is compromised by coercion. The family as an institution is hierarchical, but appropriate patterns of deference can allow members of the family to have both dignity and parity in their relationships.


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.


The very best way to find a solution is not to search for one’s own gain, but for that of the others involved. If you begin by understanding and respecting that, you will be surprised by how easy it is to reach an outcome beneficial to you, as well.

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.


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.

10. Respectful Intent

Lao Tzu

Can you balance your energies
and embrace them
without separation?

Can you control
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 view clearly
the possible directions
using unprincipled knowledge?

Create with respectful intent;
act without pressure;
nurture without orders.
This is effectiveness.

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.

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.

Therefore, something brings value,
emptiness brings usefulness.


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 destroy the tongue;
hunting and riding upset both heart and mind;
exotic goods hinder progress.

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

Nonaka & Zhu

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

Chuang Tzu

Classifying or delimiting knowledge fractures greater knowledge.

Ames & Hall

Prevent the inner focus of vital energy from being overwhelmed by outer distractions.


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.


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 and viewing formats




No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

Recommended from Medium

A Cut Diamond

Your Faith Can Come Back After Abuse

Axiom 1: All Creatures are Naturally Good

Abundance without Attachment

My understanding of God determine how i perceive and see myself!

chapter 1 this is me

The Lord’s Prayer, Updated to Reflect American Values

The Lion, The Jackal and the Fox

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Erik Schön

Erik Schön

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

More from Medium

Five phrases to use during challenging times

Large hand with NO written on palm; on warm grey background. White overlay with text: How to say no nicely

Matrix Organization at American’s Biggest Corporate Turn-Around

Why healthy work culture isn’t just about the sunny side of life

Improving Digital Communication Can Increase Belonging and Reduce Burnout