Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What does leadership look like?

The Leadership Learning Community is hosting an interesting conversation on network leadership. As part of that dialogue, Claire Reinelt put to me the question, "What does leadership look like in a healthy network?"

In response, I turn to The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. This ancient Chinese book of wisdom has inspired many translators to describe leaders and leadership of healthy networks. A few examples are below.

The best leader is one whose existence is barely known by the people.
True Persons do not offer words lightly.
When their task is accomplished and their work is completed,
The people say, "It happened to us naturally."
--Tolbert McCarroll (trans 1982)

When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists.
The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
"Amazing: we did it all by ourselves!"
--Stephen Mitchell (trans 1988)

The "very highest" by those below is just known to exist.
He takes his time, oh, as he weighs his words carefully.
And, when success is had and the task accomplished,
The common folk all say, "We just live naturally."
--Richard John Lynn (trans 1999)

To know Tao alone without trace of your own existence is the highest.
The great ruler speaks little and his words are priceless.
He works without self-interest and leaves no trace.
When all is finished, the people say, "It happened by itself."
--Jonathan Star (trans 2001)

The very highest is barely known by men.
When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!"
--Gia-Fu Feng (trans 1972)

BTW, this is not the first time the Tao Te Ching has graced these pages.
  • See here for Taoist perspective on the spread of information.
  • See here and here for Taoist perspective on naming and organizing things.
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