Tao Te Leadership

by Brian C. Marella


The Tao Te Ching is a collection of 81 short verses written by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu over two thousand years ago. The historical existence of Lao Tzu has been a matter of academic debate. I am no historical scholar and will leave the irrelevant discussion to historians.

What I find remarkable, is some of the Tao Te Ching’s relevance to modern day business leadership. I will highlight some translated Tao snippets for you with the intention that you find their guidance beneficial. Especially, during times of hard decisions that inevitably come with leadership. I did not order chronologically but rather by the positive impact the verses had on me over my years in leadership.

Verse 8

In dealing with others, be gentle and kind. Stand by your word. Govern with equity. Be timely in choosing the right moment.

Verse 58

When the ruler knows her own heart, the people are pure and straightforward. When she meddles with their lives, they become disturbed. The master is content to serve as an example and not impose her will. She is pointed but does not pierce; she straightens but does not disrupt; she illuminates but does not dazzle.

Verse 60

Governing a country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking. If only a ruler and her people refrained from harming each other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the kingdom.

Verse 17

With the most excellent leader above them, people barely know one exists. Next comes one they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one they despise and defy. When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts her. She works without self-interest and leaves no trace. When the work is done, the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

Verse 66

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams? Because the sea lies below the streams. Humility gives it its power. Therefore, those desiring a position above others must speak humbly. Those wishing to lead must follow. Thus it is that when a sage stands above the people, they do not feel the heaviness of her weight; and when she stands in front of the people, they do not feel hurt. The sage stays low, so the world never tires of exalting her. She remains a servant.

Verse 65

Not using cunning to govern a country is good fortune for the nation. The simplest pattern is the clearest. Content with an ordinary life, you show all people the way back to their true nature.

Verse 63

Take on difficulties while they are still comfortable; do great things while they are small. If you agree too quickly, you will be little trusted. Because the sage always confronts difficulties, she never experiences them.

Verse 2

The sage can act without effort and teach without words. Nurturing without possessing, she works, but not for rewards; she competes, but not for results. When the work is done, it is forgotten. That is why it lasts forever.

Verse 7

The sage puts herself last and so she ends up ahead. She stays a witness to life, so she endures. Serve the needs of others, and you will be fulfilled. Through selfless action, fulfillment is attained.


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One comment

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