The Art of Leadership: Integrity

Sections 50–55

Photo: Natalie Rhea/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 “Invite over inflict.” Jonathan Smart (All Parts; Other reading and viewing formats).

50. Truly Set on Living

Lao Tzu

In the cycle of life and death:
companions of life are one third,
companions of death are one third,
one third are set on living, they slide from life to death.

How come? They are too set on living.

Those truly set on living:
cross the country, facing rhinos and tigers;
enter war without weapons or shields;
rhinos have nowhere to jab;
tigers have nowhere to stick;
opponents have nowhere to pierce.

How come? Those truly set on living
are without mortal spots.

Chuang Tzu

Those who understand purpose (tao) certainly have a penetrating familiarity with the overall pattern of things; those who understand this pattern certainly know how to deal with contingencies. And those who know how to deal with contingencies will not find themselves harmed by other things. For those of the very best character, fire cannot burn them, water cannot drown them, heat and cold cannot harm them, birds and beasts cannot hurt them. This is not to say they don’t pay any attention to such things, but rather that because they are alert to danger, secure amid changing fortunes, and careful in their undertakings, nothing is able to do them harm.


Those who know how to live don’t display the intention of defending their lives by taking the lives of others, so they are no threats. Since they are unwilling to defend their lives, those lives seem to be of no value to others. Therefore others are not eager to take them.

51. Integrity

Lao Tzu

Purpose is created,
integrity nurtures it.
Conditions are created,
momentum completes them.

Therefore, everyone
honours purpose;
respects integrity.

Purpose is honoured,
integrity is respected
since they enable self-organisation without pressure and control.

Purpose is created;
integrity nurtures it,

Create without owning;
act without pressure and control,
nurture without orders.
This is ultimate effectiveness.


“Integrity” (de) is interpreted by the verb that means “to obtain”. “Integrity” (de) is something that is effective. It does not take over what it helps to exist (it remains uninvolved); it acts through action that is neither dependant nor expectant of any return (without applying pressure); it makes things develop (but without exerting authority).

52. Back To the Beginning

Lao Tzu

The beginning of everything
is the mother of everything.

Once you know the mother,
you know the children.

Once you know the children,
guard the mother
and be safe
until life ends.

Close your eyes
and thrive
until life ends.

Open your eyes and use pressure
and struggle
until life ends.

Seeing the small is real sensitivity;
safeguarding the weak is real strength.
Seeing how things reveal themselves;
relying on sensitivity;
to prosper.

This is embracing purpose.


Purpose (tao) is formless and reality is constantly evolving.

By embracing purpose (tao), it is possible to embrace variations in circumstances, which marks an important step toward a system of variation that is capable of replacing all models.

53. Thieves’ Purpose

Lao Tzu

When having some knowledge
of purpose,
only stray paths bring fear.

Although the path to purpose is smooth,
people prefer shortcuts.

Although the court is very clean,
fields are overgrown and vaults are empty;
their clothing is gorgeous with weapons in their belts;
they are glutted with food and drink;
their wealth is excessive.

This is called thieves’ purpose,
avoid confusing it with purpose.

Ames & Hall

One explanation for people getting lost along the way is of their own making: They are tempted from the straight and narrow by beckoning byways and shortcuts.

54. Well Planted, Well Embraced

Lao Tzu

Well planted, rooted;
well embraced, saved.
Heirs will continue
the family habits.

Maintain self:
integrity becomes real;
maintain family:
integrity becomes abundant;
maintain community:
integrity becomes enduring;
maintain society:
integrity becomes prolific;
maintain the world:
integrity becomes universal.

through self, contemplate others;
through family, contemplate families;
through community, contemplate communities;
through society, contemplate societies;
through the world, contemplate past and future worlds.

How do I know?
From this!


If you want to understand others, you must start by understanding yourself. It works the opposite way as well. If you want to understand yourself, compare with what you learn from watching others.

Integrity (te) should be cultivated, and not preached. One needs to find it within oneself, in one’s search for purpose. Otherwise, integrity (te) is ill planted and ill held, so it will be uprooted and escape.

Integrity (te) is no simple rule to memorize, but an endeavor of growing insight. It’s a time consuming quest.

55. The Baby’s Integrity

Lao Tzu

A person with integrity is like a baby:
wasps, scorpions and vipers avoid stinging it;
tigers avoid stalking it;
eagles avoid attacking it;
soft bones, weak muscles, tight grip;
ignorant of the union of man and woman,
its vital energy complete;
screaming all day without getting hoarse,
its harmony complete.

Knowing harmony is endurance.
Knowing endurance is sensitivity.
On the other hand, striving to increase life is dangerous,
forcing you to use energy needlessly.
Beings prosper and age naturally;
going against this is going against purpose.
Go against purpose and the end is near.

Ames & Hall

Vitality is managing one’s energy effectively across the seasons of one’s lifetime. The newly born child is an image of the fullness of potency: a robustness that makes it immune from environing evils.

What gives the baby its vigour is its capacity to respond from the centre, being supple, yet firm, flexible yet potent. The baby, unconsciously and without motivation, is the embodiment of harmony and equilibrium.


When people reach their prime, they are inclined to want more of life, to show off their strength, and to use their minds to control their lives. But this leads to using up and wasting away one’s vital powers and hence the start of old age.

Le Guin

Purpose (tao) is more than the cycle of any individual life. We rise, flourish, fail. Purpose (tao) never fails. We are waves. It is the sea.

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.

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Erik Schön

Erik Schön

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

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