Purpose and Integrity for Sustainable Success in Turbulent Times

The Art of Leadership: Knowing Yourself

Sections 31–37

Erik Schön
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
7 min readDec 30, 2020


Photo: Karsten Winegeart/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.

In memory of Erkki Schön (1935–2021),
who persevered and found contentment.

31. A Great Victory is a Funeral

Lao Tzu

Weapons are doomed tools,
they are hated.
Therefore, avoid them.

At home, honour the left;
in war, honour the right.

Weapons are doomed tools,
only use them as a last resort,
coolly without enthusiasm.

Even in success
weapons are ugly.
To think them beautiful
is to enjoy killing people.
Those who enjoy killing people
fail in this world.

When celebrating, honour the left;
when mourning, honour the right.
The lieutenant on the left,
the general on the right,
as in funerals.

When many people are killed,
we feel sorrow and grief.

A great victory
is a funeral.

Sun Tzu

War is vitally important:
a place for creation or destruction;
a path to success or failure;
a matter to be carefully considered.

Henrikson & Tsu-Yü

The left symbolises the fortunate, the creative; the right symbolises the sinister, the destructive.

Ames & Hall

Warfare ought not to be glorified. It is always a losing proposition, and there are no victors. Although on occasion unavoidable, it is nothing better than methodical state-sanctioned killing. Even in the event of victory, triumph on the killing fields should never be confused with the proper seasons of celebration, but instead should be treated as what it is: a state funeral properly marked by grief and mourning.

32. Knowing When to Stop

Lao Tzu

The whole endures without labels.
Though uncarved wood is simple and slight,
no one in the world can master it.

If skilled leaders could harness it,
people would follow of their own accord.
The world would harmonise
and drop sweet dew
and people would self-organise.

Once the whole is divided, parts need labels.
Labels need more labels —
know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop avoids problems.

Purpose is to the world
as creeks and streams are to rivers and seas.

Ames & Hall

In order to function effectively in managing our environment, we need distinctions. These distinctions in themselves are functional and enabling, but once established, can take on a life of their own.

Rational structure become institutionalised and, given enough time, petrified.

What began as a convenience takes over, constraining the very experience it was created to facilitate, and in doing so, robs life of its creative vigour.

Stefan Stenudd

Instead of struggling to understand what might lie far beyond our capacity, let’s be perceptive to the patterns and follow the directions pointed out by how nature behaves.

Zhang Ruimin

To continue to build momentum, it is necessary to make the enterprise a flowing river. The source is the innovative strategic business unit, and the end of the river is the user’s satisfaction, that is, the user who is loyal to the company.

33. Knowing Yourself

Lao Tzu

Knowing others is wisdom;
knowing yourself is enlightenment.

Conquering others is power;
conquering yourself is resilience.

Knowing contentment is to have wealth.
persevering is to have purpose;
holding your ground is to endure;
dying and being remembered is to live forever.

Sun Tzu

Knowing stakeholders and oneself ensures success;
knowing oneself without knowing stakeholders enables it;
knowing neither stakeholders nor oneself prevents it.

Jack Ma

If we want to change the world, we change ourselves.

Stefan Stenudd

If we learn to understand ourselves and improve by overcoming our personal limitations, then we have come a long way towards Lao Tzu’s version of longevity.

34. Flow

Lao Tzu

Purpose flows to the left and to the right.
Everyone depends on it
and avoids departing from it.

With all things accomplished
and the work complete,
it clothes and nourishes everyone
avoiding pressure and control.

With respectful intent, it may be called slight.
Everyone returns to it
since it avoids pressure and control.

It may be called great.
By avoiding making themselves great,
skilled leaders can do great things.

Ames & Hall

The effective “governing” of skilled leaders is analogous to the flourishing of an ecological habitat. The community is self-defining, with its ethos emerging out of the collaboration of its constituents. Skilled leaders are simply virtuoso coordinators, getting the most out organisations without the imposition of any personal agenda.

Greatness lies not in the skilled leaders themselves, but in their catalytic capacity to maximise the creative possibilities of the people. Less is more.

Stefan Stenudd

When we learn the natural way, we find solutions to problems no matter how big they are, and our actions meet no resistance. We still have the freedom to counter nature, and often we succeed. The question is what it costs us. And we continue paying as long as we want to keep it up.

35. A Great Vision

Lao Tzu

Seize a great vision
and the world comes together,
safe from harm in peace and prosperity.

Music and sweets stop passing guests.
Purpose put into words
might be flavourless and bland.
without seeing it.
without hearing it.
without exhausting it.

Ames & Hall

Seizing the great vision is having an aspiration, and having the strength of character and imagination to forge a way that leads the human community forward to live in their most productive manner. Those who have the vision will win the people, and in pursuing this vision, will secure their well-being.

36. Subtle Insights

Lao Tzu

To collect, first deliberately scatter;
to weaken, first deliberately strengthen;
to abolish, first deliberately establish;
to stop, first deliberately start.

These are subtle insights:
soft and weak overcome hard and strong.

Just as fish stay deep.
weapons stay hidden.

D.C. Lau

The “fish” is the symbol for the ruler and the “deep” his power. For a ruler to allow the power to slip out of his hands is for the “fish” to be “allowed to leave the deep”. Reward and punishment are the “twin instruments of power in a state”, and “must not be revealed to anyone”, lest, in the wrong hands, even the knowledge of how they are dispensed can be turned into a source of power.

Derek M.C. Yuen

Shaping inspired by Sun Tzu constitutes the foundations upon which the weak will be able to defeat the strong.

Ames & Hall

The mutual entailment of opposites can serve us as a caution against becoming preoccupied with one side of a situation. Such comprehensive awareness of the ineluctable transformation of events can serve as a general precept of anticipating the eventual outcome and consequence of any particular situation.

Any condition on reaching its extreme will subsequently give way to its opposite.

Stefan Stenudd

The cherished and enriched should avoid displaying this, or they might invite a forced change to the opposite. If they are hard and strong, they should for the same reason try to present themselves as soft and weak. Nobody is mighty enough to afford provoking those who surround him.

37. Transformed

Lao Tzu

Purpose ensures action without pressure and control,
and everything gets done.
Since skilled leaders respect this,
people transform themselves of their own accord.

If old habits return,
constrain using simplicity without labels.
Simplicity without labels
frees people of old habits,
bringing back peace,
and the world again settles of its own accord.

Chen Guying

To be transformed is to be born, to flow and reach completion. When leaders practice action without pressure and control, all things can develop according to their natural potential, expressing themselves freely and nurturing their own uniqueness. They have a stable and harmonious environment in which to grow.

Ames & Hall

If you have something’s name, you not only know it, but you can contain it and hold it subject to your will. To invoke a name brings power and mastery with it.

To have the vocabulary of a particular area of experience, then, is to assume charge over it and to control it. But fixed principles, closed systems, the pretence of absolutes and initial origins are intellectually and practically suffocating. Dogma, artificiality, and finality close off the openness and fresh air of new directions in thought and action.

The flow of experience is “nameless” and self-ordering.

Chad Hansen

By forgetting names and distinctions people free themselves from the socially induced, unnatural desires that cause strife and unhappiness in society (e.g. status, rare objects, fame, authority).

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