Daodejing Chapter 17: the best leader

Daodejing Chapter 17

The best leader is one whose presence is unknown to his people;
The next best is one who is loved and praised;
The next is one who is feared;
The worst is one who is despised;
When a leader has no trust in his people,
The people have no trust in him.
The best leader reflects and chooses his words carefully.
When his objective is achieved and the work is done,
The people all say, “We did it ourselves.”

This is my favorite definition of leadership. It perfectly encapsulates the true meaning of the Daoist concept of effortless action (無為/wúwéi).

The best leader acts like an invisible hand. He trusts his people and creates the right environment for them to thrive in. Rather than making rash promises that he has no hope of fulfilling, he speaks only when absolutely necessary and chooses his words very carefully so that they are not open to misinterpretation. And instead of trying to take credit for any accomplishments that occur under his leadership, he leaves it to his people to enjoy their successes.

The best leader is thus a facilitator – not a dictator. He focuses on achieving long-term results – not on gaining the short-term adoration of his people. Because he shows that he trusts his people, they in turn show their trust in him and willingly follow his leadership.

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