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The Tao Te Ching is often hailed as the wisest book ever written; for more than 2,000 years it has inspired and guided people with its precepts of harmony, communication, vision, and renewal. In The Tao of Personal Leadership, Diane Dreher ...
The Tao Te Ching is often hailed as the wisest book ever written; for more than 2,000 years it has inspired and guided people with its precepts of harmony, communication, vision, and renewal. In The Tao of Personal Leadership, Diane Dreher combines its ancient wisdom with lessons from successful leaders to provide a practical road map to becoming not just good managers but great leaders. Illustrating her points with examples taken from real life, she explains the basic Taoist principles readers can use to make the most of their resources, transcend conflict, transform problems, adapt to change, and enrich their business, community, and personal lives.
With the best of leaders,
When the work is done,
The project completed,
The people all say
"We did it ourselves."
For over two thousand years, people have drawn inspiration from the ancient Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching. Written by the venerable sage, Lao-tzu, as he crossed the boundaries of civilization into the Western Paradise, this small volume of eighty-one poems has been translated more than any book but the Bible.1 It has inspired leaders in fields as diverse as philosophy, politics, the martial arts, and humanistic psychology. Georg Wilhelm Hegel lectured on Chinese philosophy at Heidelberg University in the early 1800s, and his dialectic reflects the spiraling energies of the Tao. Nearly two centuries later, the influence of Taoism has only increased. Dag Hammarskj”ld's journal, Markings, resonates with the Taoist balance of compassion and detachment. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, based his nonviolent martial art on the Taoist principles of centering and blending, redirecting energy to overcome aggression without harming the aggressor. Carl Rogers, who practiced the Tao's philosophy of empowerment in his therapy and work for peace, carried in his wallet the quote that begins this chapter.
Composed during the warring-states period in ancient China, the Tao Te Ching was drawn from Lao-tzu's close observations of nature. It has endured because its principles are as real today as they were twenty-five centuries ago. The Tao reveals the wisdom of living systems, describing the patterns of energy within andaround us. The Chinese call this vital energy Qi, and the Japanese call it Ki. It is life itself, which flows in dynamic patterns throughout all existence. The ebb and flow of the tides, the phases of the moon, the changes of the seasons, all are variations on the cycles that occur not only in the natural world, but in individuals, families, relationships, institutions, and nations. Designed as a handbook for leaders, the Tao Te Ching can help us make wiser choices by being mindful of these patterns.
Much has been written in recent years about the difference between managers and leaders. Managers handle the day-to-day operations of business. Supervising workers, they make sure that people perform as expected: providing services, manufacturing goods, filling orders, or making deliveries. Managers handle budgets, keepoffices running, and generally maintain the status quo, whereas leaders are men and women of vision, who see how the daily details fit into larger patterns of significance. Good leaders plan ahead, facilitate change, and develop their people and their institutions. Great leaders inspire us with a vision of further possibilities. They share their vision and challenge us to develop our own, joining with us to fulfill our highest human potential. Great leaders have always had the vision of living systems, the wisdom of Tao.
Research on leadership has been informed in this century by general systems theory, which originated in the 1940s and 1950s, when researchers in engineering, mathematics, and physics observed that an organism or mechanism functions as a unified whole. A change in one part results in a corresponding change in the whole system as it adjusts to regain balance, or homeostasis. Systems theory became part of psychology in the 1950s, when therapists Murray Bowen and Virginia Satir noticed that families, too, function as systems: A change in one family member precipitates a change in the entire group. More recently, organizational psychologists have recognized that people who work together take on the dynamics of families, and often dysfunctional families at that.
But the lesson of living systems was known long ago by societies that lived close to nature. The teachings of Taoism and Buddhism, as well as of Native American religions, affirm that we are all part of a larger whole. With classic precision and grace, the Tao Te Ching describes the essential principles of systems theory in nature and human society.
Throughout human history, people have been fascinated by leaders, describing their strengths and weaknesses in classical epics, popular dramas, histories, and biographies, as well as handbooks for self-conduct, the precursors of modern self-help books. In the Renaissance, people learned about famous leaders of the past from epics, chronicles, and Shakespeare's history plays, but access to leadership strategies and principles was limited. Handbooks for leaders were written for only a privileged few. Desiderius Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, Baldassare Castiglione, and Niccol• Machiavelli wrote for kings; aspiring princes; and, at most, a small group of royal advisers. As we approach the twenty-first century, the complex challenges of our times compel us all to be leaders, men and women of vision, regardless of our professions or stages in life.
In the past few decades, people and institutions have been progressively unsettled by the rapid pace of social and technological change. In earlier eras, the world around us seemed more stable, and major changes in values, institutions, and technology occurred more slowly. It took centuries for the Middle Ages to become the Renaissance, yet many of us have experienced major technological revolutions in one lifetime. My father grew up riding a mule on a Kentucky farm that had no electricity or modern conveniences. In his youth he went barnstorming in biplanes and later became an air force colonel, flying jet airplanes and watching astronauts walk on the moon. What science made possible in his adult world would have been dismissed as the wildest science fiction when he was a child.
The ancient philosophers from Lao-tzu to Boethius were right about one thing: The world around us is constantly changing. And with the fast-forward pace of our technology, success in life no longer comes from externals: from mastering a single skill or even a single profession. By the time you or I master it, the field could well be obsolete.
In this fast-paced postmodern world, the most relevant lessons are, ironically, some of the oldest. Successful leaders in any field see their work in terms of systems, informed by principles as old as the Tao Te Ching and as new as quality circles, Japanese management, archetypes, empowerment, and shared governance. Today's leader is not someone who knows all the answers because in this world that is impossible. He or she is not someone who makes decisions and gives orders in the old military model of leadership. Rather, the new leader is someone who can assess a situation, bring people together, build consensus, and discover solutions, drawing on the talents of everyone involved. The new leader is a facilitator, a communicator, a team builder, who realizes that our greatest natural resources are our minds and hearts, together with those of the people around us.
Drawing on natural principles as old as time, the new leader brings the wisdom of Tao into daily life. He or she constantly faces the unknown, standing on the edge of previous knowledge and ability. Yet, empowered by the principles of Tao, these new leaders blend with the energies around them, realizing that they can redefine and reform situations by their own responses. They work to create community, transcending conflict with cooperation, transforming problems into solutions. Tao leaders do not shrink from the unknown in fear, but embrace change with a consummate faith in the deepest principles of existence. Living on the edge, leading from the edge, they respond to uncertainty by joyously seeking their balance in dynamic interaction with the challenges of life.
The Tao of Personal Leadership shows how we can all become leaders, courageous and resourceful individuals who make leadership an art, creating new harmonies from the experiences around us. Each chapter sets forth the leadership principles of the Tao with quotes from the Tao Te Ching and lessons from Taoism, Buddhism, and the martial arts. The book is divided into two sections. Part 1, The Yin of Inner Leadership, concentrates on the more personal elements of leadership. Part 2, The Yang of Leadership in Action, focuses on the leader's relationships and responsibilities.
The book's two parts imply a linear progression from personal wisdom to pragmatic action, but like the Tao Te Ching itself, the book's structure is cyclical, repeating the various principles of Tao--which are at once internal and external--in different contexts. Like the ocean waves continually casting themselves to shore, the Taoist principles recur in patterns at once familiar and new.
|List of Illustrations|
|Pt. I||The Yin of Inner Leadership|
|2||Centering, Presence, and Process||28|
|Pt. II||The Yang of Leadership in Action|
|8||Vision, Empowerment, and Growth||134|
|Notes and Resources||261|