Being an inspiring leader and making a difference in our organizations and the people around us is a goal many of us have. But how do we actually do that?
In Part 1 of the Tao series, we learned that, according to Lao-tzu, the proclaimed author of the Tao Te Ching, the more rigid we are in life, the less control we actually have. By being softer and more flexible, we can in fact accomplish more. Read Part 1 here.
How does this statement resonate with you?
We live in a world that desires and looks up to hero leaders to save the day, come up with the winning strategy, make the world a better place. Many organizations today still prescribe to the command and control leadership approach that we adopted from the military environment and that has guided us through the Industrial Age.
However, as we look to the future of humanity, we are keenly aware that the realities of the 22nd century society and economic environment will be vastly different from today and will require new thinking.
But, we don’t need to look too far into the future to realize the complexity of our changing environment that challenges our values and life priorities. Recent world events have prompted us to reflect on what it takes to be a good leader. At an even more personal level, we reach deep to ask ourselves:
- What kind of leader do I want to be?
- What do I stand for?
- What legacy do I want to leave?
Lao-tzu proclaims that “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” This is vastly different from leaders being center-stage, being the face of the organization and taking credit for its accomplishments.
Lao-tzu proposes to take the spotlight off the leader and put it on the people and by doing so, growing both their confidence and their competence. But we are human, and we can let our Ego get in the way of stepping back and letting others shine. Instead of promoting ourselves and thinking that we have all the answers, the Tao asks us to serve with humility and focus on cultivating excellence in others.
Here are 4 ways of incorporating the principles of the Tao in your leadership practice:
1. Model and Step Back: Model what you expect from others in word and action. Speak your truth, based on your core values and inspire others to achieve more than they thought possible.
In stepping back, you give others a voice and encourage their contribution. In listening to others’ viewpoints and implementing their ideas, you show that they are important and their work is valued. Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of others. Put trust in others, empower them to act, and give them the freedom to do the work their way. In stepping back and letting others step forward, you create more leaders around you.
2. Be Humble: “Learn to lead in a nourishing manner; lead without being controlling; lead without coercion; be helpful without taking credit” says Lao-tzu in Verse 10. Another voice that speaks to the importance of humility is that of American philosopher Wayne Dyer. In his writings, he urges us to practice radical humility; to move away from entitlement and instead be in a state of constant curiosity and learning.
Humility is an important leadership skill because it moves the focus from “I” to “We”. Humility does not rob leaders of power. In fact, it allows them to speak to the higher purpose of the organization and so garner the hearts of those around them. To practice humility: ask for feedback, become aware of your biases, own your mistakes, ask questions and listen deeply.
3. Be Kind: In Verse 49, Lao-tzu says that ”the Sage is kind to the kind. He is also kind to the unkind because the nature of his being is kindness.” Being kind to those you like is one thing, but being kind to someone who annoys you or makes you mad is a tall order.
Practicing kindness requires you to put judgment and criticism aside and to be kind and accepting instead. Kindness does not mean that you are a pushover. Being kind means that you are willing to look for common ground you have with others and focus on similarities instead of differences.
The next time you are frustrated with someone, truly look at them and recognize that they are another human being, another soul, just like you. You may find that your heart softens, and you can choose to respond in kindness instead of in anger or impatience.
4. Learn and Grow: Remain curious and teachable. ”Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power”, Verse 33 in the Tao. Personal growth and transformation is at the root of leadership. You cannot effectively lead others if you don’t know yourself. In becoming more self-aware and knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you are able to show more empathy and understanding to others.
By continuing to grow and expanding your horizon, you encourage those around you to do the same. By being willing to be uncomfortable and exploring new approaches and ways of seeing the world, you are being transformed.
While the Tao was written many centuries ago, its wisdom is just as relevant today. The principles of humility, patience and compassion are timeless and speak to the heart of those who see leadership as a path to serve the needs of people, the organization and the greater community.