Leadership from Daoism

The way you can go

Isn’t the real way.” (Guin, 1998)

What one finds obvious is not the way to go. One must find the hidden ways. Translating it to the modern business environment, an innovative approach lends a competitive, strategic advantage to a company. If one can see it, so can their competitor. One must dig deep to find the unique selling point of their company. Recognizing fears and Unseen forces is highlighted here.

“Not praising the praiseworthy

Keeps people uncompetitive’ (Guin, 1998)

By not appreciating the employees, we quell their motivation. Recognizing employees hardwork, initiative and outcomes is an important part of engaging them with the company’s outlook.

“Followers of the Way, like the forces of nature, act selflessly.” (Guin, 1998)

With the vision, mission and values statement of a company it is vital to align all the employees energy towards a common goal. When employees start to act selfishly, it can negatively affect the motivation of their subordinates and cause stasis in the company. Acting selflessly, puts the focus on a bigger than themselves thing and motivates all the employees.

“Heaven will last, earth will endure. How can they last so long?

They don’t exist for themselves and so can go on and on” (Guin, 1998)

The reason to mimic nature in Daoism and bring out the human nature in all is to ensure the longevity of the humanity, just like the nature. Confucian thought looked to the past to maintain the longevity of the dynasties. Daoism looked to the whole wide cosmos, to achieve that longevity in the human race by becoming a part of Nature. This can be translated to the sustainability goals being adopted by many companies. There’s no alternative to sustainable development (Nidumolu, Prahlad & Rangaswami, 2009).

“to lead and not to rule” (Guin, 1998)

There is a resentment in people when they are ruled compared to when they are led. When the rulers get oppressive, then the ruled revolt. Followers follow their leaders by their own volition. Followers look up to their leaders knowing that their obedience is for their own good too, because a good leader acts selflessly and cares for the welfare of the followers. This is reflected in the two-way street leadership concept of Confucianism (class notes).

“True Leaders are hardly known to their followers” (Guin, 1998)

Like Toto in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, at the end, the followers feel empowered and that they have achieved the great results.

“To give no trust is to get no trust” (Guin, 1998)

To gain trust from others, we must start with taking the risk of trusting others.

“self-promoters never grow up” (Guin, 1998)

Self-promoters will fail in finding followers and those who trust them. Without followers, self-promoters cannot lead. Forsaking Acclaim is key concept of Daoism leadership.

“So wise souls are good at caring for people, never turning their back on anyone” (Guin, 1998)

When leaders show caring for all their employees, then the employees show their loyalty.

“So the wise souls keeps away from the extremes, excess, extravagance” (Guin, 1998)

Our CEO, Steve Sanghi, answered in ‘Ask Steve’ column that a good manager must be sensitive to cost. Centeredness is staying away from extremes.

Most of the Daoist concepts of leadership are well-known but they are not enforced as well. When companies run into hot water then they start employing the employee recognition techniques while these should be adopted all the time. This analogy is like Peterson’s concept of an individual staying healthy. Companies too should focus on staying healthy all the time, instead of restoring efforts when it tilts. The harmony (Cosmic as well as Personal) and balance concepts of Daoism, when practiced in the western world can reduce the short term thinking and save the company from pitfalls. These concepts can also release the stress and improve work-life balance.

Not Conflict would be one concept that is hard to enforce in a civilization where it is one of the driving force for innovation.

“When two people in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary” – William Wrigley Jr. Creative conflict explains the need for it in this disruptive economy.

The concept that I will add to my repertoire of leadership is Empowering others and empower to Energize reflected in “Carving without cutting”.  Michelangelo approached the craft of sculpting with the humble conviction that a unique and beautiful piece of art already existed within the stone, and his job was only to release it (Brad & David, 2018). This view of latent virtue is the main concept of Daoism. By identifying the strengths of the employees and pushing them in pursuing their full potential, I am likely to obtain the commitment for our vision of their success.



Guin Ursula, 1998, Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching

Nidumolu Ram, C.K. Prahlad & M.R Rangaswami, 2009, Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation https://hbr.org/2009/09/why-sustainability-is-now-the-key-driver-of-innovation

Johnson Brad & Smith David, The Best Mentors think like Michelangelo, https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-best-mentors-think-like-michelangelo


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