The views expressed
here are only an effort to apply Tao philosophy to management and leadership
principles and not an exact translation.
Tao Te Ching said to be written by Lao Tzu
during the period of warring states in china around the second century B.C.;
a compilation of Chinese philosophy dating back to 6th century B.C. or even
earlier, is a profound philosophical work with many lessons for the corporates of
the 21st century.
There is a lot of debate on issues of what
differentiates a leader from a manager. One of the biggest challenges for
leaders is to lead and lead by example. He is less preoccupied with
control functions which is a function of knowledge and more with broader
objectives of how the future should be shaped. Future can be shaped with visions, dreams
and emotions. He also realizes that for the future to shape up well he
needs to utilize the Present to the maximum advantage. He can achieve higher ideals and aspirations only when he is
in touch with the ground realities. Experience of events and situations
and behavioral aspects
bring him closer to current realities and help discern the undercurrents of
change so that he can translate them to better solutions. The managerial
functions of organization and control have more to do with knowledge
whereas a leader thrives on futuristic vision, people centered approach, a bias
for action and in creating the future which he desires. All this emanates from the
Let us now look at the leadership paradigm
from the what Tao Te Ching has to say about knowledge and experience.
Knowledge & Experience: Tao is
the way. The way in which we conduct our lives in accordance with the
natural principles conducive to right living and thinking, without regrets and
in such a manner that we develop and realize our potential without harming others
or preventing others from realizing their potential which is beneficial to the
society. Such a way of life may be conducted without a name. This may
simply be called the way. Or to distinguish from other ways we may
describe it and give it a name so that others may know of it.
By thoughts and words and by means of being non
participating observers we may gain knowledge of its manifestation. But
only through participation in this way do we gain experience of it for
So knowledge is not the same as experience.
When we have knowledge of something, we can describe only our knowledge and not
the experience. And when we have experience, we can describe the knowledge
of that experience and not the experience itself.
Let us look at an illustration. We
observe the marketplace and we see the manifestation of market place. Then
we have reports from our sales people which is the knowledge from the
experience. So we now have the knowledge. But it is not equal to the
experience of the marketplace. So we go down physically to the marketplace
and buy or sell products or interact with the many components of the market. We now have the experience.
With the experience comes right decisions and actions. But we cannot
still convey the experience itself, only the knowledge of the experience may be
Knowledge and experience both are real.
But they are different realities which may cause complexities. When they
are used according to that which may be appropriate we may transcend the
barriers of such complexities.
This perhaps explains why many of the leaders
are men who have risen from the ranks. Even if they have not risen from
the bottom you may easily identify them by their hands on nature and leading
from the front. Hands on men who have the knowledge, knowledge of
experience and experience itself. Leaders who understand the complex
reality of the manifestation, knowledge and experience prefer to lead from the
front and not from sterile cabins far removed from the experience itself.
These are the leaders you cannot keep away from the marketplace or their people
or their constituents or customers. These are the men who instinctively understand the "Tao"
of leadership - The Way.
This is not to say being hands on and lead from the front
is the only leadership criteria. This is
one of the distinguishing qualities of leadership.
It is said that the greatest leader of all time Alexander The Great always lead
every battle from the front when the battle began and only then did he move on to other roles.
What would you prefer to be. An
acquirer of knowledge or a leader.