Vi The Art of Leadership: Self-Organisation

Sections 24–30

Copyright © Daniel Biber, Germany, Shortlist, Professional, Natural World & Wildlife (2018 Professional competition), 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

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).

24. Following Purpose

Lao Tzu

Standing over tiptoeing;
walking over striding;
soaring over strutting;
acclaim over bragging;
outcomes over boasting;
leadership over self-praise.

When following purpose, extras are like
excessive food,
extravagant activity,
and are to be avoided.

So, follow purpose and move on.

Ames & Hall

Arrogance is disintegrating. It is both an unrealistic obsession with the importance of one’s own role and a blindness to the contributions of those around one. Ironically, it has the opposite of the desired effect. Rather than persuading the community of one’s own singular worth, it turns them away in irrepressible disgust.

25. Self-Organisation

The whole is chaotic
use climate and landscape
to isolate constant parts.

Like a nurturing mother,
bringing safety everywhere.
Unaware of its name:
call it purpose
label it “great”.

Great means passing;
passing means going far;
going far means returning.

purpose is great,
and landscape,
and climate,
and also leadership.

People follow landscape;
landscape follows climate;
climate follows purpose.

Purpose enables self-organisation.

Sun Tzu

Purpose keeps people united, supporting each other without fear through success and failure.

Landscape is the environment including positions, distances, space and obstacles.

Climate is the forces acting on the environment including the patterns of the seasons and stakeholders’ actions.

Leadership is actions, decisions, choices and gameplays based on purpose, landscape, climate, doctrine and capabilities — guided by wisdom, trust, compassion, courage and strictness.

Master all to succeed; or else, fail.


As the theory of “returning” displays how Tao emulates nature, it helps to rationalise the seemingly paradoxical strategic scheme of the Taoists, which is about encouraging the impetus of natural propensity through means that appear to be contrary to the original goal.

“Landscape”, “climate” and “purpose” (tao) can be viewed as different levels of simplification. “Purpose” (tao) has the least simplification, as it doesn’t follow anything but rather self-organises. On the other hand, as Lao Tzu indicates, people tend to follow “landscape,” the level of maximum simplification, and make use of highly simplified forms and models to represent reality. When seen through these “lenses,” the world is seriously distorted, while the dynamism stemming from the flow of variance is completely lost as an inevitable result.

26. Balancing

The heavy is the root of the light;
balance over agitation.

Therefore, leaders travelling all day
stay in the baggage cart;
avoid magnificent scenery;
keep calm and natural.

How could leaders of global organisations
treat themselves as less important than the world?

Treating themselves lightly, losing the root;
becoming agitated, losing the role.

Ames & Hall

If leaders treat all things with equal seriousness and respect, their own persons will be taken care of as a matter of course. The way to be rid of such personal concerns is to be rid of the distinction between one’s person and the world in which we live.

27. Self-Knowledge

Ably travel without set route;
ably speak without harming;
ably strategise without set plan;
ably shutting without bolts,
yet stay locked;
ably knotting without rope,
yet stay tied.

Skilled leaders
always help people,
welcoming all
always help beings,
welcoming all
They follow common sense.

Therefore, able people train others
since they also have the potential to be able.

While wise enough,
failing to value the trainer,
failing to honor the potential in others,
means getting lost.

This is vital self-knowledge.

Ames & Hall

True effectiveness means having the sense to take things on their own terms and in so doing, to turn them to optimum account.


Initial action takes place upstream, at the stage when everything is still flexible and offers no resistance. Tracks, slips and tools are only needed downstream where one must strive in the face of the concrete.


Learning is no passive memorizing of the thoughts of others. It has to be done by active thinking, questioning, and coming to one’s own conclusions. But if nothing is taught, then there is no basis for conclusions, and if nothing is learned there is nothing to conclude. Teaching is to help the student gain what was lacking.

28. Returning to Simplicity

Know man, safeguard woman,
and be a ravine to the world.
As a ravine to the world,
effectiveness will endure.
Return to childhood.

Know the clean, safeguard the soiled
and be a valley to the world.
As a valley to the world,
effectiveness will be ample.
Return to uncarved wood.

Know integrity, support disgrace,
and be a model for the world
and effectiveness will prevail.
Return to simplicity.

Uncarved wood split into utensils.
Leaders employed as managers.

The most skilful tailor cuts the least.

Ames & Hall

While splitting up the world and making distinctions within it might seem to have a functional value, it always entails a diminution. The most effective way of cultivating order in the world invariably relies upon the power of inclusivity.


How is it possible to win the world without meddling? There is a Taoist scheme derived from the Taoist methodology that is most applicable to the diplomatic and strategic scenes, and it bears some resemblance to game theory. The message is about far more than being humble. It is not hard to discern that “man” stands for superiority and “woman” inferiority. It is common understanding that people wish to be superior rather than inferior. As people strive to become superior and states struggle to gain hegemony, however, there will be fierce competition, and most contenders will end up in failure. Therefore, the Taoists see it from another, if not reversed, angle: in order to succeed, one has to first understand both sides — “man” and “woman”. Yet the key is to renounce the claim to superiority and hegemony and to remain inferior (i.e. “safeguard women”) while fully understanding the “man” side (i.e. “know man”) and the game itself. By remaining inferior and being humble like a ravine, an individual or state can win the hearts and minds of other people or states more easily and will ultimately stand a better chance of becoming superior or gaining hegemony. Here we can see how “purely” strategic and effect-based the Chinese strategic thought is in nature, even to the degree of forsaking the claim to hegemony.


Skilled leaders know to remain in the state of uncarved wood, utter simplicity, in whatever grand tasks he gets involved. They are not split, either by distraction or ambition, but remain with what we call the whole picture. That’s how the world should be treated. It’s a whole that must not be split into this and that. All things are connected to the whole, and malfunction when separated from it.

29. Intent to Control Will Fail

Intent to control the world will fail:
the world is a spiritual vessel outside control;
trying to rule means ruining it;
trying to control means losing it.

Some go first; others follow;
some breathe in, others breathe out;
some are strong, others defeated;
some oppress, others are destroyed.

Therefore, skilled leaders avoid

Sun Tzu

Skilled leadership’s success looks easy since it is well-prepared.
Therefore their wisdom is without fame;
their courage without honour.
They engage without mistakes.
Without mistakes, success is certain since competition is already defeated.


By forcing things one goes counter to their natural development and consequently loses them. The spiritual vessel is an allusion to the Nine Sacred Bronze Vessels, which were symbolic of the Royal Power over the empire.

Ames & Hall

Harmony in nature is not only auto-generative and self-sustaining, but persists only as long as it remains free from calculated manipulation, well-intended or otherwise. When the patterns of nature are taken as counsel for political order in the empire, they teach us that the human world too will flourish if left to its own internal impulses.


In any long-term endeavour of a massive scale, with countless interactions such as ruling the state and winning the world, a cult of action is bound to fail. In short, both the empire and the world cannot be objects of action.

A remarkable victory shares the same shortcomings as those resulting from taking action, as both a remarkable victory and actions are easy to spot and inevitably provoke (new) elements of resistance. Although they may well prove to be of great value in non-successive moves, their shortcomings will eventually outweigh the benefits they can bring in the long run.


From the smallest to the biggest part of the world, everything changes. Water evaporates, rising to the sky, and falls back on the ground as rain. Forests grow, burn down, and grow back up again. Even the vast continents move across the surface of the planet, as if playing their own Rubik’s Cube

Everything is changing, and most of those changes are far superior to anything the human being can accomplish. We don’t fail because we try to change things, but because we want to stop them from changing. What little adjustments we do to the world, we don’t want undone. We build our houses and want them to remain exactly as they were immediately after the roofing. That’s futile. Decay starts already at the beginning of growth. Change has neither beginning nor end. We can never fully control it, since we are mere parts of it.

30. Avoiding Pressure and Control

Use purpose to lead people,
avoid using weapons
which soon turn on themselves.

Where armies camp, thistles grow;
after war, years of famine.

The most fruitful outcomes
happen without pressure or control.
without arrogance;
without hostility;
without force;
without resistance;
without violence;
is likely to endure.

Violence is against purpose;
what is against purpose soon ends.


Victories are won through propensity rather than force or actions. One of the most important tasks for a strategist is to recognise and assist natural propensity by encouraging its impetus, with the downfall of an adversary likely to follow as an inevitable result.

Ames & Hall

To achieve enduring results in all we do, we should be consistent with the way of things. To depart from this course of action and take any situation to an extreme will only backfire on us, producing untoward consequences. A good example of this precept is the use of arms to effect order. Look to optimise the possibilities of the situation even when success is minimising our losses. Force can be justified only when a failure to respond aggressively would entail a great degree of coercion. Martial order is an oxymoron.

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



How to beat the fear of missing out in life and admire yourself again

A Metamorphosis From Gambler to Christian

Mind vomit for the easily amused.

You’re Only as Hot as You Think You Are — Hold on, Let Me Explain

The Prestige: The Secret You Don’t Want to Overlook

Walk 9.19.2020 Around 12pm

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

What is an inspiring Leadership?

Phillip Price in Mr. Robot

The Innovation Process For Leaders

Getting unstuck a personal example

Leading through life with joy — The Daily PPILL #85