The Art of Leadership: Effectiveness Without Contending
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).
67. Compassion, Frugality, Modesty
Everyone talks about purpose
with such familiarity.
is useful because it is unique
or it would be lost and forgotten.
There are three treasures to nurture and sustain
the first is compassion;
the second is frugality;
the third is modesty.
Compassion leads to courage;
frugality allows generosity;
modesty entails leadership.
Courage without compassion;
generosity without frugality;
leadership without modesty;
is a complete failure.
success in attack;
safety in defense.
Nature serves and protects
Ames & Hall
A sense of frugality reflects abiding respect for the integrity of things and an unwillingness to compromise them. It is this respect for other things that allows one to be magnanimous and accommodating in dealing with them. And an unwillingness to contend for domination over other things is a reluctance to sacrifice the creative possibilities of either oneself or one’s environing others through recourse to coercion. It is precise because I am non-coercive that other things defer to me in leading the way.
Compassion funds the concrete network of affective relationships; all effective transactions are effective transactions, and require recourse to these invested relations.
We must beware, because those who have the desire to be first in the world will spare no efforts to get there. Once they do, it’s extremely difficult and costly to get rid of them. So, we have to consider very carefully what persons we allow to be our leaders.
A golden rule is to avoid giving power to people who want it, or loudly claim to be best fit for it. The best leaders we can find are usually those who are reluctant to shoulder the responsibility. They take it seriously. Those we need to convince to take the job are the ones we should get for it. But those who jump at the opportunity should be stopped at the entrance.
68. Effectiveness Without Contending
Experienced people avoid anger;
skilled generals avoid aggression.
successful leaders avoid engaging competition;
and take a lower place.
This is effectiveness without contending;
this is suitable use of abilities;
this is following climatic patterns.
The path to perfection.
Avoid moving, except for advantage;
Avoid deploying, except for success;
Avoid engaging, except in crises.
Avoid developing strategy in anger;
avoid deploying strategy enraged.
if engaging is in line with purpose, move; if not, stop.
Anger can turn to happiness;
rage can turn to joy;
an organisation destroyed is beyond re-recreation.
Therefore, skilled leaders are careful and cautious.
This is how to keep an organisation in harmony and safety.
Ames & Hall
Warfare is always a losing proposition, but sometimes you are left with no other choice.
The leader, who refrains from personal strife, will find people responding by doing their utmost to comply. They are encouraged by a leader who doesn’t push a personal agenda, but the common interest. So, they take initiatives to bring their own abilities and make use of them.
69. Moving Without Formation
In strategy deployment
rather than going first,
wait before moving;
rather than taking an inch,
give up a foot.
This is moving without formation;
seizing without swinging;
repelling without opposing;
wielding without weapons.
The greatest disasters are
contempt for competition;
what treasures lost.
Therefore, in competition
The skill of skills is to succeed without engaging competitors rather than succeeding in a hundred engagements.
Knowing stakeholders and oneself ensures success;
knowing oneself without knowing stakeholders enables it;
knowing neither stakeholders nor oneself prevents it.
The prize thrown away by the aggressor is compassion. The yielder, the griever, the mourner keeps that prize. The game is loser takes all.
Ames & Hall
Being successful militarily requires awareness.
Just as control produces disorder, aggression leads to enervation, and arrogance to humiliation.
The army that enters the battle with remorse is the one that has the deeper understanding of the relationship, between itself and its enemy, and although it would not be deploying on the battlefield unless all other options had been exhausted, it still treats the relationship with this enemy with abiding respect.
The warrior who is eager to advance is the one who nurtures the illusion that war brings good things to the winner. There are no winners in war. Those who know this neither invite to it, nor hurry to advance in it.
The hesitant warrior tries as much as he can to win the war without doing battle. If prepared properly, a war can be won before the battle begins.
Repelling without opposing is to arm the country so well in times of peace that war is avoided, or swiftly won. It’s arming to avoid war, not to wage it. The same can be said for wielding without weapons.
70. Unprincipled Knowing
These words are easy to understand;
easy to practice.
Yet few understand and act accordingly.
These words and actions
are part of a system.
Only because it requires unprincipled knowing
Those who understand and act accordingly
are highly valued.
Skilled leaders wear rough clothes
Ames & Hall
The attainment of “unprincipled knowing” (wuzhi) is the habit of embracing experience immediately and on its own terms without allowing preconceptions to arrest one’s exploration and appreciation short of a probing depth of awareness.
71. To Think You Know
To know — with unprincipled knowing — is supreme.
To think you know — without unprincipled knowing — is faulty.
The only way to avoid faults is through unprincipled knowing.
Therefore, skilled leaders are faultless,
recognizing a fault as a fault.
What you know without knowing you know it is the right kind of knowledge. Any other kind (conviction, theory, dogmatic belief, opinion) isn’t the right kind, and if you don’t know that, you’ll lose purpose (tao).
Ames & Hall
We invariably have a set of presuppositions that we bring to experience. To think otherwise is naive. But a self-conscious awareness of such prejudices can go a long way toward immunising us against the hardening of the categories and epistemic sclerosis.
The only proper attitude to have is one of modesty and humility. We must keep in mind that knowledge is uncertain and truth is elusive. Then we know that we don’t know, and thereby escape the illness.
72. Feeling Safe
When people feel safe with leaders,
leaders are skilled, and safe.
Avoid invading their privacy;
avoid pressuring them.
Only by avoiding this
they will stay content.
Therefore, skilled leaders
and avoid showing off;
and avoid being precious;
letting one go, keeping the other.
Ames & Hall
It is only by being people-centred that those entrusted with governing can exercise the authority appropriate to bringing proper order to the world. If people feel mistreated and become estranged from those holding responsibility, the days of the present leadership are numbered, and change is imminent.
73. Brave Caution
Brave daring brings failure;
brave caution brings success.
One brings benefit, one brings harm.
Who understands common sense?
Even skilled leaders find it hard.
Common sense is
succeeding without contending;
answering without lecturing;
attracting without summoning;
preparing without controlling.
The net of common sense is vast;
still catching everything.
Ames & Hall
Real strength entails flexibility, real wisdom entails uncertainty, and real endurance entails patience. So, too, real courage is most effective when it is tempered by prudence.
The Art of Leadership: All Parts
- Sections 1–6: Purpose
- Sections 7–13: Attending to needs
- Sections 14–19: We did it ourselves
- Sections 20–23: Grasping the whole
- Sections 24–30: Self-organisation
- Sections 31–37: Knowing yourself
- Sections 38–43: Effectiveness
- Sections 44–49: What is enough?
- Sections 50–55: Integrity
- Sections 56–61: Living with change
- Sections 62–66: Serving without interference
- Sections 67–73: Effectiveness without contending
- Sections 74–81: Balancing
This is provided as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the author, Erik Schön.