Tao of Leadership

Back in the 80’s I came across a book by John Heider titled “The Tao of Leadership.” It’s an adaptation of the classic Tao te Ching in which Heider shares his insights about effective leadership. I lost my copy some years ago but it impressed me enough to have a lasting influence. So I mentioned it in our circle keeper’s practice group, and a couple of days later a copy showed up in the mail, courtesy of one of our volunteers who participates in that group.

It’s great to look it over again. It really is an extraodinary, concise set of precepts for those of us who are involved in circle keeping. It’s also a good resource for brief readings that might be useful as opening dedications for circle meetings. Here’s one that impressed me long ago, and does so even more now that I have deeper understanding of the power of circles and the role of the circle keeper:

The wise leaer does not intervene unnecessarily.
The leader’s presence is felt, but often the group runs itself.
Lesser leaders do a lot, say a lot, have followers, and form cults.
Even worse ones use fear to energize the group and force to overcome resistance.
Only the most dreadful leaders have bad reputations.

Remember that you are facilitating another person’s process.
It is not your process.
Do not intrude.
Do not control.
Do not force your own needs and insights into the foreground.
If you do not trust a person’s process, that person will not trust you.

Imagine that you are a midwife; you are assisting at someone else’s birth.
Do good without show or fuss.
Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening.
If you must take the lead, lead so the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge.
When the baby is born, the mother will rightly say: “We did it ourselves!”

–John Heider, the Tao of Leadership


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