Purpose and Integrity for Sustainable Success in Turbulent Times

The Art of Leadership

Introduction: How to make a difference

Erik Schön
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
5 min readDec 24, 2020


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. “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 formats.

Photo used with permission © Mikko Lagerstedt

The Art of Leadership is a modern reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching (On Purpose and Integrity) using the glasses of the Antimatter Principle (Attend to folks’ needs by Bob Marshall), Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of Strategy that both influenced and was influenced by Lao Tzu according to recent research.

It is part of a trilogy — The Art of Change, The Art of Leadership and The Art of Strategy — exploring timeless patterns for sustainable success in turbulent times, helping us to think and act from first principles while being mindful of context.

Tao Te Ching has inspired a diverse set of people:

This is the most lovable of all the great texts; funny, keen, kind, modest, indestructibly outrageous, and inexhaustibly refreshing. Of all the deep springs, this is the purest water. To me, it is also the deepest spring.
Ursula K. Le Guin, American novelist

This is the one book I’ve read every single day; it has transformed my life many times in many, many different ways.
Simon Wardley (swardley), inventor of Wardley Mapping

If you do not know the philosophy of Tao Te Ching, you have no chance of success.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group

I’m not just sitting and talking about the Tao, but starting and doing it.
Zhang Ruimin, founder of Haier Group

Lao Tzu itself is an agile manifesto.
Peter Merel, author of The Agile Tao

The interpretation gently transforms Tao Te Ching — written around 500 BC in what is now called China and one of the world’s most translated and influential texts— into modern, crisp English. It also includes helpful commentary to complement and clarify Lao Tzu’s terse, poetic text, turning it into a conversation through the ages. Additionally, an extensive Glossary is provided since many Chinese concepts are purposefully abstract and ambiguous. I have tried to keep the text as simple as possible but not simpler and I recommend reading the sections slowly, in small doses, to give time for reflection.

You will discover new perspectives on the world, people and their behaviour; get actionable advice on how to lead strategically and effectively, and, learn how to make a difference using purpose and integrity instead of pressure and control.

You will also improve your understanding of China, Chinese ways of leading and strategising since Tao Te Ching is deeply ingrained in Chinese thinking, decision-making and actions.

The following is a summary and visualisation of The Art of Leadership
according to Lao Tzu.

Move beyond individual goals towards purpose:
a higher meaning that keeps people united,
supporting each other without fear
through success and failure.

Move beyond efficiency towards effectiveness:
maximising outcomes while minimising efforts
using purpose.

Move beyond pressure and control
towards purposeful success — together.

Move beyond fixed labels and quick judgements
towards seeing with fresh eyes.

Move beyond separating heart and mind
towards integrating thoughts and feelings.

Move beyond individual wants and intents
towards attending to people’s and nature’s needs.

Move beyond resolving paradoxes and trade-offs
towards integrating opposite and complementary perspectives.

Complement the uniqueness and importance of every person
with the interdependence of people and the environment.

Move beyond optimising parts
towards harmonising wholes.

Move beyond leadership as pressure and control
towards leadership for self-organisation.

Move beyond leadership as a role
towards leadership-as-a-service — by everyone.

Move beyond trying to control turbulence
towards learning how to raft — together.

Move beyond finding your purpose, following your path
towards purpose-making and path-walking — together.

What is beyond was already here
2,500 years ago.

The Art of Leadership is
securing harmony among people and nature,
through purpose and integrity
and evolving our capabilities to see, think, feel and adapt.

This text is more similar to the hypertext of the internet than linear texts such as books. It is an entangled web of connections rather than a single thread of thought.

Move beyond words and sentences
towards seeing how needs, capabilities and sections connect:

A reader’s guide to The Art of Leadership. CC BY-SA 4.0 by Erik Schön (content) and Simon Wardley/swardley (structure)

Acclaim for The Art of Leadership

A beautifully deep exploration of leadership based on a modern interpretation of my favourite Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.
Rod Leaverton, Strategist

This is powerful, this is for practical people struggling with business goals.
Goran Skugor, Competence Manager

I love this interpretation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. The insights go beyond what I could possibly imagine. After leading a tech company for more than 26 years there is still so much to learn and study. Thank you Erik for bringing these more than wise words to our attention.
Joern Larsen, CEO and Founder

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

This is provided as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International by the author, Erik Schön.

Wardley Mapping is provided courtesy of Simon Wardley (swardley) and licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.



Erik Schön
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

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