20/07/2016 6:34 PM IST | Updated 22/07/2016 8:45 PM IST

From Power-Wielding To Value-Creation in Leadership: Wisdom From The Tao Te Ching

Leaders have long wielded power in human society, though the sources of power as well as its direction of flow are getting ever more varied and complex. While there have been wonderful examples of leaders who have risen above narrow limitations of the egoic self to serve larger causes, power more often than not finds a crude and cruel manifestation rather than a caring and compassionate one. Power is wielded crudely instead of serving as a means for greater and more refined value creation. What are the dynamics of human nature and consciousness behind such utilization of power?
Even more important than the spirit of non-attachment in action is the spirit of non-attachment to the desire for "fruit" or a particular result...

Power-wielding in leadership is prone to all the upheavals the egoic self is susceptible to. Attachment to and identification with egocentric perception is its major barrier to the attainment of a larger good. As it attempts to gather impetus to take a leap to its desired goal, its feet are caught in the first step -- its attachment to its self-centred outlook makes it trip and fall flat on the earth. If it manages to save itself from this trap, desire in its more intricate forms awaits to entangle it in its myriad nooses. Desire invariably lands the mind into the quagmire of Machiavellian manipulative twists and turns, and drains it of all its precious virtues. That's the reason that the Tao Te Ching makes a different call upon leadership:

In loving the people and ruling the nation
Can one be without manipulation?
(Chapter 10)

Actions without attachment are an important way of breaking free from the clutches of the narrow frame of the egoic self -- to shift the focus from power-wielding to true value-creation in leadership. The Tao Te Ching lays great emphasis on such actions:

The benefits of actions without attachment
Are rarely matched in the world.

"Actions without attachment" at the individual level have the power to lift a person beyond egoic gratification to a higher good. Similarly, at the organizational level, they have the power to move organizations for a greater good through the agency of highly motivated leadership. Non-attachment leads to a higher perspective and a finer dynamics of consciousness where one can identify with the grief or happiness of the larger world as one's own. Again in the words of Tao Te Ching:

The sages live in the world
They cautiously merge their mind for the world
The people all pay their attention with their ears and eyes
The sages care for them as children.
(Chapter 49)

Such a person very spontaneously comes to acquire a leadership role, where leadership becomes the medium for true value-creation for a higher and greater good rather than power-wielding. Whatever be the sphere one is working in, it is the spirit of non-attachment to action that matters most. The Tao Te Ching puts it like this:

The Tao is constant in non-action
Yet there is nothing it does not do
If the sovereign can hold on to this
All things shall transform themselves.
(Chapter 37)

Even more important than the spirit of non-attachment in action is the spirit of non-attachment to the desire for "fruit" or a particular result or a certain achievement. Sadly we miss the wisdom behind both. If non-attachment to actions makes our actions more perfect, non-attachment to its fruit or results makes it more potent and fruitful. The Tao Te Ching brings out a deeper dynamics of our consciousness that weds our "wishing to achieve" with the tendency to pin down and name; to tag, label and characterize. We take a few steps and call it a milestone; we observe a few qualities or characteristics and go on to label a person. We don't realize that in narrowing down the world around us to fit our limited measuring scales we are delimiting our own horizons and giving rise to conflict, disorder and disease. Lao Tsu therefore makes us aware of "the simplicity of the nameless":

Transformed yet wishing to achieve
I shall restrain them with the simplicity of the nameless

The simplicity of the nameless
They shall be without desire
Without desire, using stillness
The world shall steady itself
. (Chapter 37)

The Tao Te Ching brings out the fine distinction between power-wielding and true value-creation in leadership:

A good commander achieves result, then stops
And does not dare to reach for domination
Achieves result but does not brag
Achieves result but does not flaunt
Achieves result but is not arrogant
Achieves result but only out of necessity
Achieves result but does not dominate.
(Chapter 30)

How important and indispensable is this paradigm shift, from power-wielding to true value-creation in leadership has been put very eloquently in the following words by no less a philosopher than Plato himself:

"Unless philosophers become kings in our cities, or unless those who now are kings and rulers become philosophers, so that political power and philosophic intelligence converge, and unless those lesser natures who run after one without the other are excluded from governing, I believe there can be no end to troubles, my dear Glaucon, in our cities or for all mankind." (The Republic, Book V)