Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Leadership - Turning Stones of history
A necessary evil, a potent tool of goodness for civilization and culture? Both? More?

Reports show that about 1/3 of any given population are easily hypnotized and therefore natural followers. Another 1/3 are almost impossible to hypnotize and from this group arise natural leaders. Though leaders may only reflect and embody the spirit and understanding of their times, their influence on civilization is undeniable. Most use their natural leadership traits for personal gain and become corrupted by power and their own success, arrogantly fly too close to the sun, and crash in a dramatic fall, or just gradually fade into oblivion. Salutary leaders like Benjamin Franklin cloak their strength with inscrutable anonymity and accomplish powerful change without credit. Like the “turning stone” in a Japanese garden, they receive the torch of a wisdom lineage, translate into contemporary language, and evolve our collective consciousness. Chuang Tzu described the best leaders to be like high branches in a tree who protect and nourish the people while the people don’t even notice them and “wander in freedom like deer in a forest.”

The best leaders aren't attached to power and the benefits of having power; but rather, only become pulled into leadership positions by a demand for their leadership qualifications—they enter into the positions with reluctance and hesitation. In contrast, democracies tend to elect and give power to those who want it the most, who spend the most money, time, and pieces of their souls in order to grasp the position. It could often prove true that the more someone desires/grasps/fixates on the office, the less qualified they become as well as more likely to achieve their goal.
Pascal points out how irrational it is to nepostistically appoint leaders, kings and queens based on their parents as well as a huge advantage in doing so: preventing extreme power struggles, chaos, and civil wars. In the case of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, it did result in an actual civil war. In our own time, no hostilities yet but the constant fighting between the Democrats and Republicans in many ways does resemble warfare.

The Confucian solution to this dilemma—one of the most meaningful contributions of Confucius to cultural evolution—was the idea of from an early age to train future political leaders and having their advancement dependent on achievement rather than background, political pull, or wealth. Only a fantasy during Confucius' time, this system of government became solidly implanted during Zhu Xi's era in the establishment of Neo-Confucianism. Today, democracies still elect incompetent, untrained, and perverse leaders like Donald Trump; but, US history does have examples of this more Confucian approach in the family political lineages of the Kennedys and Bushs.

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Quotes (90)

“The ruler must visibly cultivate his Virtue (德) and embrace government policies that will allow the state to compete for the minds and hearts of the people.”

Jiang Ziya 姜子牙 11th century BCE
"Master of Strategy"
from Six Secret Strategic Teachings

Themes: Leadership

“If you can stay in the lead of men without their knowing, you are at the core of life.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Witter Bynner
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

10. The Power of Goodness

“When leaders are convinced by concepts, corruption, confusion, and conflict reign. When instead they remain unconvinced and open, blessings and goodness spread.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #65
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Only a leader not focused on personal gain, can wisely govern.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #75
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“The wise can easily be made into leaders but leaders not so easily made wise.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #28
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“When the hour of the great man has struck, he rises to leadership; but before his time has come, he is hampered in all that he attempts.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Legge

Themes: Leadership

“When leaders work for personal reward, honesty fails and deception rules.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Even for the feeble, it is an easy thing to shake a city to its foundation, but it is a sore struggle to set it in place again.”

Pindar Πίνδαρος 522 – 443 BCE
Archetype of poetry

Themes: Leadership

“Power and eloquence in a headstrong man can only lead to folly; and such a man is a danger to the state.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today
from Bacchae Βάκχαι

Themes: Leadership

“How can the wise man who has charge of governing the empire fail to restrain hate and encourage love? When there is universal love in the world it will be peaceful and happy; when there is mutual hate, it will be filled with suffering, disorder, and unhappiness.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Shan Dao
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus

“the truly enlightened ruler must think of his subjects first, and of himself last... he will feed them when they are hungry, clothe them when they are cold, nourish them when they are sick, and bury them when they die.”

Mozi 墨子 470 – 391 BCE via Burton Watson
Chinese personification of Newton, da Vinci, and Jesus
from Universal Love

Themes: Leadership

“Whenever you deliberate on the business of the state, you distrust and dislike men of superior intelligence and cultivate instead the most depraved of the orators who come before you; you prefer those who are witless to those who are wise, those who dole out the public money to those who perform public services at their own expense.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE
from Areopagiticus

“The leader must himself believe that willing obedience always beats forced obedience, and that he can get this only by really knowing what should be done.”

Xenophon of Athens Ξενοφῶν  (430–354 BCE) via Edith Hamilton
General, Socratic biographer, philosopher

Themes: Leadership

“Wise leaders generally have wise counselors because it takes a wise person themselves to distinguish them.”

Diogenes 412 – 323 BCE
(of Sinope)

Themes: Leadership

“A ruler's prosperity depends on his exercising a restraint upon himself... When a ruler rejoices in the joy of his people, they also rejoice in his joy; when he grieves at the sorrow of his people, they also grieve at his sorrow.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE via James Legge
from Book of Mencius 孟子

Themes: Leadership

“Those who govern and follow the Tao are like the high branches in a tree; people don’t notice them and wander in freedom like deer in a forest. 3:14”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

17. True Leaders

“Like small hills that pile up and become a mountain, like streams that flow into one another and become a great river; the good leader unites all and makes a unified effort and a unified nation possible”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao

from Zhuangzi

“The straightening board was created because of warped wood, and the plumb line came into being because of things that are not straight. Rulers are established and ritual and rightness are illuminated because the nature is evil.”

Xun Kuang 荀況 310 – 235 BCE
(Xún Kuàng, Xúnzǐ)
Early Confucian philosopher of "basic badness"

“To survive peril and quell disorder cannot be done without wisdom. Were it a matter of following precedents, even fools have more than enough. Therefore, enlightened leaders do not enforce useless laws or listen to ineffectual words.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
from Huainanzi

Themes: Leadership

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“When the directives of the leadership are ignored because of factionalism, laws are broken out of treachery, intellectuals busy themselves fabricating clever deceits, mettlesome men occupy themselves fighting, administrators monopolize authority, petty bureaucrats hold power, and cliques curry favor to manipulate the leadership. Then, even though the nation may seem to exist, the ancients would say it has perished.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
from Huainanzi

18. The Sick Society

“There is no stronger test of a man's real character than power and authority, exciting as they do every passion and discovering every latent vice.”

Plutarch 46 – 120 CE
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)

Themes: Power Leadership

“Our great mistake is to try to exact from each person virtues which he does not possess, and to neglect the cultivation of those which he has.”

Hadrian 76 – 180 CE

Themes: Leadership

“He is the best of men who dislikes power.”

Muhammad محمد‎; محمد‎; 570 – 632 CE
from Koran

Themes: Power Leadership

“When fools are in charge, wise men make no predictions.”

Hilda of Whitby 614 – 680 CE

“[Leaders—emperors or hegemons] entrusted the worthy and employed the capable, rewarded the good and punished the evil, prohibited cruelty and executed the rebellious. Therefore, they differ in the honor or pettiness of their status, in the depth or shallowness of their virtue, in the greatness or insignificance of their achievements, in the breadth or narrowness of their governmental orders, but they do not contradict each other like white and black or sweet and bitter.”

Sima Guang 司马光 1019 – 1086 CE via Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom
"Greatest of all Chinese historians”
from Book of History

Themes: Leadership

“Like a man struck by a stone he throws in the air, the leader who lacks a gentle mind will be punished by karma as he punishes others.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 11th century CE via Robin Kornman, Shan Dao
from Gesar of Ling Epic

“In times of old, a warrior bold mounts his steed and takes the lead with lance so long in arms so strong. From Western lands our beaten bands return. But he now takes the toll; this noble soul must wear his wasted life away”

Su Shi 苏轼 1037 – 1101 CE via J. Dyer Ball, Shan Dao
(Dongpo, Su Tungpo)
"pre-eminent personality of 11th century China"

Themes: Leadership

“Those who see far into the future become leaders even if they are servants.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport; Shan Dao
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

Themes: Leadership

“If rulers could uphold this Tao of effortlessness, without consciously thinking about changing others, others would change by themselves”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Leadership Change

“The wise are like others in that they are leaders in the world. They are unlike other in that they go beyond the world.”

Longchenpa ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ། 1308 – 1364 CE via Herbert V. Guenther, Shan Dao
(Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer)
from Kindly Bent to Ease Us, Trilogy of Finding Comfort and Ease ངལ་གསོ་སྐོར་གསུམ་

“This friar boasts that he knows hell, and God knows that it is little wonder; Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE via The Summoner's Tale
“Father of English literature”
from Canterbury Tales

Themes: Leadership
“Only a good leader understands the nature of the people; only the people understand the true nature of the leader.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W.K. Marriott, Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Leadership

“There is no place for rulers to rest, and no resting place to which they can retreat… I tried to emulate the wise rulers of the Three Dynasties, and desired to bring lasting peace to the whole earth, and make all men happy in their work. For decades I have exhausted all my strength, day after day working with unceasing diligence and intense watchfulness, never resting, never idle.”

Kāngxī 康熙帝 1654 – 1722 CE via Jonathan D. Spence, Shan Dao
from Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi

“According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties... first, the duty of protecting the society from violence and invasion; second, the duty of protecting every member of society from every other member of it; third, erecting and maintaining certain public works and institutions... because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals”

Adam Smith 1723 – 1790 CE
''The Father of Economic Capitalism"
from Wealth of Nations

“How an one hold on to a fixed formula and impose it on others?... Everyone has different abilities and skills. The lofty are sharp and broad but unconcerned with with detail, the deep and contemplative take one step at a time and reach their destination gradually.”

​Zhang Xuecheng 章学诚 章学诚 1738 – 1801 CE
(Chang Hsüeh-ch'eng)

“the Great Man was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.”

Thomas Carlyle 1795 – 1881 CE
"Great Man” theory of history creator

Themes: Leadership

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

Themes: Leadership

27. No Trace

“In historic events, the so-called great men are labels giving names to events, and like labels they have but the smallest connection with the event itself…. every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own will, is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole course of history”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE

Themes: Leadership

“Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when they superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption of authority.”

Lord Acton 1834 – 1902 CE
(John Dalberg-Acton)
Prolific historian and politician

“so engrained in the human heart is the desire to believe that some people really do know what they say they know, and can thus save them from the trouble of thinking for themselves, that in a short time would-be philosphers and faddists became more powerful than ever, and gradually led their countrymen to accept all those absurd views of life”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

“Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

15. Inscrutability

“Once trained, it is essential that their leader leave them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves. Plants always remain small under a big tree.”

Swami Vivekananda ʃami bibekanɔnd̪o 1863 – 1902 CE
"The maker of modern India"

“criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, - this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society”

W. E. B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963 CE
from Souls of Black Folk

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948 CE

Themes: Leadership

“so long as men are not trained to withhold judgement in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.”

Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970 CE
“20th century Voltaire”
from Unpopular Essays

26. The Still Rule the Restless

“Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE via Sonu Shamdasani
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Red Book, Liber Novus

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“the great Buddhist Emperor Ashoka is an example of the effect of Buddhist teaching upon character and policy... Quoting 'All men are my children,' he ordered the establishment of hospitals, that shade and fruit trees should be planted by the high roads, that animals should not be killed for his table, that all animate beings should have security, self-control, peace of mind, and joyousness”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from The Dance of Shiva (1918)

Themes: Leadership

“in order to attain any definite goal it is imperative that one person should do the thinking and commanding.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

42. Children of the Way

“A sound leader's aim is to open people's hearts.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

3. Weak Wishes, Strong Bones

“I am the son of lightning, grandson of thunder's howl;
At will I flash and thunder, at will I fling down hail.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE
from Report to Greco

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”

Eleanor Roosevelt 1884 – 1962 CE

“Our democratic dogma has leveled not only all voters but all leaders; we delight to show that living geniuses are only mediocrities, and that dead ones are myths... Since it is contrary to good manners to exalt ourselves, we achieve the same result by slyly indicating how inferior are the great”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time, 1968

“Moral reform is the most difficult and delicate branch of statemenship; few rulers have dared to attempt it, most have left it to hypocrites and saints.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Caesar and Christ

Themes: Leadership

“When a teacher like Mr. Gurdjieff goes, he cannot be replaced. Those who remain cannot create the same conditions. We have only one hope: to make something together. What no one of us could do, perhaps a group can. Let us make this our chief aim in the future.”

Jeanne de Salzmann 1889 – 1990 CE
(Madame de Salzmann)
Follower, preserver, and promoter of Gurdjieff's teachings

Themes: Leadership

“The supreme quality of leadership is integrity.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 – 1969 CE

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 – 1969 CE

Themes: Leadership

“Political leaders are never leaders. For leaders we have to look to the Awakeners! Lao Tse, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Milarepa, Gurdjiev, Krishnamurti.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from My Bike & Other Friends (1977)

Themes: Leadership

“Let a man in a garret but burn with enough intensity and he will set fire to the whole world.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE
from Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead 1901 – 1978 CE

Themes: Leadership Change

“we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead... By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.”

Karl Popper 1902 – 1994 CE
Major Philosopher of Science
from The Open Society and its Enemies

Themes: Leadership

“All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers.”

George Orwell 1903 – 1950 CE
English, poet, humanist, apostle of doubt, and powerful political influence
from 1984

Themes: Leadership

“Perhaps there is no such thing as unilateral power. After all, the man 'in power' depends on receiving information all the time from outside. He responds to that information just as much as he 'causes' things to happen... it is an interaction, and not a lineal situation.”

Gregory Bateson 1904 – 1980 CE
from Steps to an Ecology of the Mind

Themes: Leadership

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit”

Arnold Glasow 1905 – 1998 CE
Business with humor

“You don't manage people; you manage things. You lead people.”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

Themes: Leadership

“Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one's superiors; care for one's crew.”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

Themes: Leadership

“Those who truly think for themselves are like monarchs, they recognize no one above them and no more accept authorities than a monarch does orders. They don’t acknowledge the validity of anything they have not themselves confirmed.”

E. F. Schumacher 1911 – 1977 CE
The “People's Economist”

“Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE via Raise High the Roof Beams
from Raise High the Roof Beams, Seymour an Introduction

Themes: Leadership

“Remember, in tranquillity, that the Absolute, the Tao, is within thee, that no priest or cult or dogma or book or saying or teaching or teacher stands between Thou and It.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian

Themes: Taoism Leadership

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 1922 – 2007 CE
“A darkly humorous social critic and the premier novelist of the counterculture"

“The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field, thus surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating our own selves.”

Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010 CE
Historian of the oppressed and defeated

from A People's History of the United States​

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Warren Bennis 1925 – 2014 CE
Authentic Leadership pioneering thought leader

Themes: Leadership

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Rosalynn Carter 1927 CE –
Insightful and compassionate politician

Themes: Leadership

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

Maya Angelou 1928 – 2014 CE

Themes: Leadership

“A great government wouldn't chop and hack at human nature, trying to make leaders out of sow's ears.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Lao Tzu - A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

28. Turning Back

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

Themes: Leadership

“People ask 'Who is a leader?' A leader is a person that does the work. It's very simple.”

Dolores Huerta 1930 CE –

“The Outsider is always unhappy, but he is an agent that ensures the happiness for millions of 'Insiders'.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

Themes: Leadership

“...leadership can come from anywhere. You don’t have to be a certain type of person or have a certain type of education to be a leader. You just have to be willing to throw yourself into the fight. That’s all it takes.”

Julian Bond 1940 – 2015 CE
Courageous civil rights leader

Themes: Leadership

“Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

Themes: Leadership Wu Wei

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“How different this world would be if our leaders spent as much time in their gardens as they do in their war rooms.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat

76. The Soft and Flexible

“When leaders take back power, when they act as heroes and saviors, they end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and deeply stressed.”

Meg Wheatley 1944 CE –
Bringing ancient wisdom into the modern world.

Themes: Leadership

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.”

Brian Tracy 1944 CE –

“In the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, democracy proved its superiority to dictatorships in producing leaders worthy of the challenge, leaders that were but a reflection of the robust love of freedom held by their fellow citizens… can we find in the lessons of history the wisdom to choose such leaders today?”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

Themes: Leadership

“The concealment of the leadership of real people [those who have realized the Taoist ideal of freedom from artificialities] in unobtrusive spontaneity is a correspondingly common Taoist idea”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Wen-Tzu Understanding the mysteries (1991)

Themes: Leadership

“The problem was the managers. Not for them the open struggle of ideas in the marketplace of policy. It was turf politics, building alliances not to further the general good of the body politic, but to cement advantage... to feather their own nests—not to solve problems, but to use problems to strengthen position.”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from The Cobweb

Themes: Leadership

“Too stupid to conspire, too incompetent to obstruct, too dumb to govern... Some of Trump's actions are hateful, some are ideological, and some stretch the bounds of constitutionality. But above all, Trump is bumbling... [he] might talk like Joseph Stalin, but—fortunately—he governs more like Homer Simpson.”

Dana Milbank 1968 CE –
Author, and Washington Post columnist
from Washington Post

Themes: Leadership

“leaders are not responsible for the results, leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results-- for creating a safe, a trusted and trusting, supportive environment”

Simon Sinek 1973 CE – via Shan Dao
from Infinite Game

Themes: Leadership

“While good leaders exhibit the strength to learn from bad outcomes, great leaders show the wisdom not to overweight outcomes, whether they be bad or good... it is misguided to second-guess your actions simply because the outcome was rotten... Chance, error, and unknowns also play a role.”

Deepak Malhotra 1978
"Professor of the Year"

from Peacemaker's Code

Themes: Leadership