Friday, August 28, 2009

Verse 43: Just a Little

Verse Forty-Three
Gentle interventions, if they are clear, overcome rigid resistances.
If gentleness fails, try yielding or stepping back altogether.
When the leader yields, resistances relax.

Generally speaking, the leader's consciousness sheds
more light on what is happening than any number of
interventions or explanations.

Few leaders realize how much how little will do.
~ John Heider rendition ~
I chose Heider's rendition of Verse Forty-Three because it underscores two important messages: 1) Stepping Back and 2) How much how little will do.

The typical style of leadership in western society -- particularly in the U.S. -- centers around barking orders at people and threatening them with sanctions if they don't comply or don't comply fast enough. It's an in-you-face or "my way or the highway" mentality. This strategy may work in the short-term, but it has a tendency to breed resentment, anger and hatred which can create negative long-term ramifications.

Nobody likes to be forced into doing things. When someone is pulling and pushing us in a specific direction, even if we eventually acquiesce, the natural reaction is to resist. It doesn't really matter if we're being pushed and pulled in a good direction; our initial inclination is to dig in our heels and refuse to budge.

So much time, energy and money is wasted each day as we participate in such antics. Much of this could easily be avoid, as Roger Ames and David Hall point out, if more people understood the efficacy of wu wei.
The way to optimize the creative possibilities of all the elements in any particular situation is to allow them to collaborate in doing what they do noncoercively (wu wei). These participating elements are constituted relationally, and their most productive relationships are those in which they are able to contribute themselves fully to the shared nexus without being diminished by the friction of contentiousness.
The leader who can stand back and not attempt to exercise his/her will stands a far better chance of getting the most out of a group and achieving objectives. In essence, by doing as little as is needed, the group can accomplish much.

This is not to suggest that a wise leader is passive. There are times when direct action is needed. However, rather than try to force the action by cleverness or manipulation, the wise leader utilizes the strengths of the group's members and nudges the group forward in a non-threatening manner.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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