Leadership in the Tao
The first place that this Taoist learner began thinking about leadership was in her spiritual life when reading the Tao Te Ching.
The 66th Verse of Lao Tzu’s work states, “The reason the river and the sea can be regarded as the rulers of all the valley streams is because of their being below them. Therefore they can be their rulers. So if you want to be over people you must speak humbly to them. If you want to lead them, you must place yourself beneath them.
Thus the sage is positioned above and the people do not feel oppressed. He is in front and they feel nothing wrong. Therefore they like to push him in front and never resent him. Since he does not contend, no one can contend with him. (Lao Tsu, 2005)”
This passage speaks directly to the characteristics that make a good leader. It speaks of the importance of remaining humble and compassionate when in a leadership role. If a leader separates himself from his followers, he invites contention.
There are many other references to leadership in this sacred text which encourages compassion, harmony and inclusion. Lao Tsu (2005) denounces the claiming of ideas and says a true leader is acting as though the group interests were the same as his interests. He goes on to claim that good leaders are the ones whom the followers scarcely know are there. When the best kind of leader achieves success, the followers feel they can claim it as their own.
Lao Tsu. (2005). Tao Te Ching (Translated by Charles Muller). New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.