Thursday, September 04, 2008

Management Guru - 700 BC

Thank you to my friend J Kannan for your comments on my last posting that reminded me of one of my all time favourite leadership quotes:

Go to the people

Live with them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build with what they have

But with the best leaders
When the work is done
The task accomplished
The people will say
“We have done this ourselves.”

Lao Tsu (700 BC)

Question - How come some 'leaders' still don't 'get it' 2708 years later?


J.KANNAN said...

Dear Trevor,
I thank you immensely that my comments on “5 Leadership words” did inspire you to post yet another excellent and all time great quote of Lao Tsu(700BC) and this indeed is going to benefit all “simplicity” readers. You have number of great and good “simplicity” readers.

We have to learn and practice, yet many things said by Lao Tsu for bettering ourselves and the society.

Your question “How come…………………..still don’t get it 2708 years later? Is most apt and relevant keeping in mind various factors some of the Leaders fail even to grasp and my answer for your question will be:-

Just opposite to the principles of Lao Tsu:-

They drag the people instead of going to them.
They lie with them instead of being honest
Burn them in total instead of learn.
Leave them instead of Love them
Start with what they don’t know
Build with whatever little bit left with, it’s a try

And the last four lines are not applicable to the kind of leaders I have already referred to above. These guys will not understand the true meaning of “TEAM”. It’s the team that works to say that includes a Leader too:-
“We have done this ourselves.”

Trevor, thank you once again for your kind and nice expression.


Trevor Gay said...

Thanks JK - I sometimes feel there are managers and leaders ‘out there’ who have your ‘alternative Lao’ words programmed into their DNA.

I am sure that, like me, you have come across supposed 'leaders' in your career who practice their leadership role by the rules opposite to Lao Tsu. I have great faith though that such people are ‘found’ out in the end. Apart from being skilled experts, front liners are also very smart people in my experience and they easily see through ‘falseness’ in their leaders.

You are so right about visitors to my Blog - I have 'met' so many great leaders and teachers through this forum and hopefully many more to come. I learn from every comment and that is the purpose of my Blog as far as I am concerned.

Cheers JK

David Wike said...

We have seen two examples this week of the front line not being allowed to get on with the job. Managers of football clubs are held accountable for their team’s performance. And yet in two cases this week, Premiership managers have resigned because they have not been allowed to have control of the transfer of players in and out of their teams. How can anybody be made accountable without being given the responsibility to set the parameters? All organisations have to work to budgets, and most people will understand that and work with the resources available, but surely they must be given a say in how the resources are allocated.

In my view, the owners of these two clubs have failed to demonstrate leadership qualities and to give their support to two excellent front line managers.

Trevor Gay said...

Great examples David thank you - unfortunately as you and I well know money has become the religion of football club owners.

Front line managers are now a disposable item it seems. I admire Kevin Keegan and Alan Curbishley for walking away. It tells us a lot about the shabby treatment they received from poor leaders.

I never advocate quitting but we can all be pushed too far and good luck to both Keegan and Curbishley I say.

Leaders who look at numbers, target and all that measurable stuff are taking the easy option. The much more difficult but far more rewarding leadership route is to get along side your front line managers and workers and understand them as Lao Tsu was telling us 2708 years ago.

Leaders like those owning the football clubs you mention are not good leaders at all – they take the simple one dimensional measurable route. They are just after making a quick buck and getting out.

Dave Wheeler said...

Trevor...another great question! I found Mr Kannan's comments on both posts to be very insightful and definitely "useable" in the workplace.

There are many reasons leaders don't get it I imagine but there are two that immediately come to mind. First is a lack of accountability. How many folks are actually held accountable or have their bonus linked to metrics such as employee turnover, work climate or culture in their area of responsibility, or the employee review section of a 360 evaluation. These are but a few of the things that might be used to assess the "follower's" evaluation of their leader's effectiveness. If you aren't meeting the numbers, you don't get rewarded as you are likely costing your company a great deal of reputation and profit as the costs of turnover are incalcuable in many ways. Second, they might not know the differences between being a manager or being a leader. I didn't learn these skills in a classroom as I was greatly influenced early in my working days in the Air Force but three superior leaders. I adopted my own leadership "style" to the these three great role models. By the time I reached the point where I was receiving "leadership" training, it only validated that T/Sgt Tom Yockey, C/Msgt Clarence Benton, and Col Mel Reeves were benchmarks of "world class" leaders!

I was definitely blessed to have personally worked for many great leaders over the years and have seen many great bad examples as well. You can learn a great deal from each!

J.KANNAN said...

Dear Trevor,

An excellent presentation of comments by David Wheeler, particularly on accountability and responsibility, as these aspects are very important qualities and indispensable to a Good and effective Leader. This needs to be developed and maintained from the very beginning of ones career without any compromise whatsoever, as these becomes effective tools to become an effective leader later on in ones career. No one has become a leader overnight. One needs to take unstinted efforts, initiative and drive to become a good leader-that being the case I have to totally agree with what Mr. Dave Wheeler has mentioned.

Incidentally, I too started my career at 19 with Indian Air Force as a regular combatant and taken the initiative and pains to imbibe some of the leadership qualities/principles in me at a very young age under tiring and constrained circumstance, facing the powder on couple of occasion( I mean to mention of Involved with Indo-Pak Wars.).Having identified and recognized these qualities in me, I was adequately rewarded and accredited in those days by my leaders and ‘am indeed happy, contended and ‘am really proud of my leaders of those days, and according to me leaders with such good qualities and caliber are on adiminishing trend these days.

I only pray that we get that kind of leader again to lead our younger generations effectively.


Trevor Gay said...

Dave and JK - seems like the Air Forces of your respective countries have produced two great leaders! Thanks for your comments.

If leaders such as you two keep saying it so eloquently the message gets through eventually to those who need to hear it!

Stacy Brice said...

Trevor, I love that quotation. I've tried for 11+ years to get the VAs at AssistU to see that I may have shown them a door to walk through and a way to get through it, but THEY walked through themselves.

As a leader, one of the hardest things I have to deal with is praise I know doesn't belong to me. On an individual level, their successes absolutely belong to them.

I actually see it in part as JK does--the team, in some instances, vs. the individuals. For instance, I see AssistU as so much more than "me." It really is so very much about us.

So, a question back to you (I'd ask Lao Tsu, but...): Since they still attribute much of their successes to me, am I not a good leader? Or do their eyes not yet see things rightly?


Trevor Gay said...

Hi Stacey – one of the things I say most in my writing and in presentations and leadership teaching session is ‘the best way to gain power is to let go of power.’

It is not really about whether we see ourselves as leaders. The best judge of an effective leader is the follower.

The best leaders I’ve known are humble and love to give credit to others. These leaders are doing something that comes natural to them – that is to make the job of people in their team as easy as possible. That means letting people do parts of your job – they usually do it better because they come at it with a new pair of eyes.

I would say it’s great that you find it difficult to deal with praise – most leaders don’t like to shout from the rooftops ‘Look at me – aren’t I a great leader!’

I have never been convinced that great leaders are charismatic ‘walk on water folks’ who inspire people the moment they walk in a room. The best leaders get to know people around them and they will inspire confidence over time. Followers need to see competence and credibility as well as charisma. The charisma is less important. Integrity, sincerity and kindness are the words I use to describe the best leaders.

In answer to your specific question I would think from what you say that you are indeed a very good leader. You gave your folks the space, the time, the freedom and the empowerment to walk through a door that you made sure was ajar. If you were a bad leader you would have made damn sure that door was bolted and double locked because that way you literally ‘hold the key’ to your followers getting out. You gave away the power which takes us back to my beginning ‘The best way to gain power is to let go of power.’

A long answer but I hope it makes sense – keep doing what you are doing

J.KANNAN said...

Dear Stancy,

Thank you very much for your pat on my shoulder to my comments on” Management Guru-700BC” written by Trevor.

Dear Stacy you are already a Good Leader of Leaders. as you are training, coaching and turning out some of finest to be leaders and leaders, with your best efforts coupled with your own creative ideas. What I could understand from your writing is (I ref Para 2 of your comments) praise and success. To praise is your duty as a Leader. Success belongs to individuals you are grooming and the cause of their success is your truthful efforts for a fruitful outcome as a Good Leader and KEEP IT UP.

May God continues to Grace & Bless you.


Trevor Gay said...

Great advice JK!

John O'Leary said...

Trevor, I love to see my favorite leadership guru quoted! Another quote from Lao: "Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking."In fact Lao's "Tao Te Ching is a terrific spiritual guide to living. (

Dave Wheeler said...

Mr. Kannan...thank you for your kinds words sir and for sharing our comments regarding your service in your country's armed forces. "Facing the powder" is a term I had not heard before but it quite clearly and powerfully conveys the message. In my experience folks view military leaders as authoritarian, autocratic and closed minded. No doubt there are those who try to use that style. They had a way of being identified and replaced. The great leaders were many and I think that it has to do with the core values that one is introduced to, held accountable to meeting, and are modeled by most leaders...teamwork, integrity, service before self, excellence in all that you do, discipline, and initiative. This coupled with the sense of mission and how important your specific role is in achieving that mission enable folks in the military to achieve and sustain a high level of personal and team performance. I would agree wholeheartedly that leaders from this mold are a vanishing breed.

Thanks to Mr. O'Leary's most timely and appreciated link to "Toa Te Ching" (thank you sir), I found a tenet that puts it into a perspective that helps to explain the essense of leadership and life in a manner that is says a great deal in a few words...

"The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.

It is content with the low places that people disdain. Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


Mark JF said...

Question - How come some 'leaders' still don't 'get it' 2708 years later?

Answer - Because a) many leaders find they can get results quicker by telling people what to do; b) many leaders lack the humility to stand in the background and not receive the plaudits; and c) very few people actually define 'the task' in any meaningful way, anyway.

Further question: who can provide 5 examples of someone actually fulfilling all of Lao Tsu's guidelines? It may look fine on paper but I'd venture it's pretty rare in real life.

BTW: I'm not too aware of the Alan Curbishley circumstances but I've little sympathy for Kevin Keegan, despite agreeing he was treated badly at the end. However, given that he signed a contract knowing what the management structure was and with a well defined job description, it strikes me as rank bad behaviour to quit so acrimoniously 9 months later saying it was unworkable. Surely he needed to talk quietly to the club about his concerns and try to work out a solution. If he truly loves the club, wouldn't the better course have been to agree to disagree with the Board and to resign diplomatically and with dignity? Did he really have to help plunge the club into yet more trouble? In my view, neither Mr. Keegan, the Board nor the Club come out of it with anything other than shame.

Mike Gardner said...

Trevor--thank you for this post. Very true and very timely for me as it relates to a personal quest I am currently undertaking (more on that soon, I hope).

A point: the WHY I ask is not why so many "leaders" do not grasp these concepts, but why we keep asking that question. Why do we believe that all leaders should be the cream that rises to the top? In any group there will be those who excel and those who do not. The vast majority are those who are either inadequate or just muddling through. We should not expect the majority of our leaders to excel at leadership any more than we expect the majority of any population to perform at the top level. I've quoted my old friend before, who said "if everyone were as good as us, no one would realize how good WE are."

spinhead said...

I think a change is happening. Like most good changes, it's slow and organic.

Poor (nonexistent?) leadership among managers has been rewarded by consumers and the market for a long time. Ruthless bashers got the job done, below the cost threshold and above the quality threshold. Barely.

It's been a very different world from the handmade homemade world for quite some time. It took a while for the cost and quality thresholds to move far enough to cause enough dissatisfaction among consumers to drive change into businesses. And they're getting the point, because slowly, good leadership is being recognized and rewarded because it turns out better quality product or service at a fair price.

I guess the short version of that might be that the managers who don't get that just haven't been weeded out yet.

But they will; they will.

Trevor Gay said...

Wow! – What brilliant comments – thanks to you all once more!!

John – thanks – for the link – the greatest wisdom is the oldest wisdom.

Mark – people are not given enough time to be judged. Demanded quick results from followers does not equate to great leadership. The reason not many people are being celebrated as followers of the Lao philosophy is because of impatience about getting results in the short term. People, when given time can and do emerge as great leaders. Sir Alex Ferguson is a prime example. Sadly we now live in a 'results at all costs' culture so often now. I think Newcastle knew what they were getting when they signed up Keegan as Manager. The man has a well publicised reputation of impetuous behaviour and him walking away was an outcome waiting to happen. Nevertheless it seems reading between the lines he was not allowed to do what he wanted to do and that is a recipe for Mr Keegan to take away his ball and leave on past evidence. I suspect we will never really know the truth.

Mike – I don’t think everyone can be a great leader nor do I believe we should expect everyone to be a great leader. I think truly great leaders don’t actually see themselves as leaders quite often. I’ve been fortunate to have had a couple of exchanges of written correspondence with Sir Alex Ferguson in the last 5 years and it is others who tell him he is a leader, never sir Alex himself professing himself as a leader. The greatest leaders have humility and modesty as part of their DNA. The ‘leader’ who shouts from the rooftops ‘what a great leader I am’ is the one to be wary of. I would love to know more about your personal quest when you are ready to share it

Joel – as mentioned earlier in my reply to Mark the best leaders do it effectively over time in the long haul and are not ‘here today gone tomorrow’ – it may take 40 years for some leader to become an overnight success.

John O'Leary said...

Mike Gardiner: it comes back to the question I always ask, "Why can't EVERYONE be above average?" :-)

J.KANNAN said...

Dear Mr. Dave Wheeler,

As a matter of fact I was very much fascinated to read both posts “5 Management words” & Management Guru 700 BC.” By Mr. Trevor. And it has lead me to think deeper on the subjects before mentioning my opinion. In fact the subjects of the postings by Mr. Trevor are such; it deserves to be discussed at length and in depth with readers of “simplicity blog” and ‘am still at it.

My dear Dave, let me be permitted by you, “Facing the powder is a pretty and a good old term and you have rightly understood its concept and meaning-really great. We at Air Force in my younger days while facing the powder in trenches at relevant occasions used to refer in a lighter vein- “while we are facing the powder at battle field or at various installations of importance” we are facing the powder, the natural reactions,repercussions and results of artillery bombardments and air strikes by enemy forces, while, the women at the other end (home end) are powdering their faces to look more beautiful. Now you can understand the contrast and its effect as a whole. That’s how the term “Facing the powder and powdering the face” gained its importance, significance and popularity.

As you have rightly indicated, that military leaders are authoritarians, autocratic and close minded, is absolutely a wrong opinion and views of people who think so, in our place even they are commended as being “a hard nut to crack”, contrary to facts, and they are very soft, well cultured and behaved when the question of “Leadership and Management” are concerned-bearing a very few exceptions (a helpless situation, even nature can’t mend and set right). Unfortunately many either fail to understand this truth, or having understood hesitate to accept the facts. Only time can cure and change this negative aspect of attitude towards a positive and fine out look.

According to me to learn, know and understand what’s integrity, loyalty, discipline, excellence Team work etc. essential qualities of a good leader, I would say nothing wrong in learning these from learned and knowledgeable defense leaders, who have applied and succeeded in their missions, and are well equipped in these areas of knowledge, and certainly I don’t exclude other proven leaders from this fine category.

Thank you Dave and all the best to you.


Porus Munshi said...

I guess it's just not easy being a leader. I'm currently reading Gandhi's autobiography and his biography by Louis Fischer. The insights are so simple and yet so eye-opening. According to Gandhi, it starts with the Truth. Speaking the plain unvarnished truth. To be truthful, one needs to be Fearless. As he puts it, cowards can never be moral.

But that's not enough. You do have fearless people who speak the truth in a manner that attacks others. The next stage is to develop genuine love (sounds very touchy feely, but I guess leadership is that). Love because the intent is not to hurt or belittle or harm. As Gandhi says, hate the sin, not the sinner.

Another quality is to drive to the ethical heart of a practical problem and create a mission that creates a sense of self-transcendence and not just self-actualization.

Another quality is the sense of equality. The feeling of equality that comes from recognizing a human being no matter what his/her role. Speak to the person. Not to the position.

And finally, I guess, it's the sense of just acting. The magic of leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mandela is that they acted while others deliberated. They let their learning come from action and reflection.

That's a tough combo to do. Most leaders I know are good because they are good with people or because they go after something with a single minded focus. But to be great is to really look and reflect and grow from within.

Trevor Gay said...

One of my greatest joys is that Simplicity Blog can create the forum for discussion and thanks Dave and JK for your fascinating exchanges about the leadership subject using the military as an example.

When I did my leadership dissertation in 19967-98 as part of my MA Management (Healthcare) the book I used to device some leadership competencies was ‘The Business of Leadership’ which was co-authored by Alan Hooper a former marine in the British armed forces. I had the great pleasure of meeting Alan during my research. His wisdom and guidance is amazing using his experiences and knowledge of the military world. Whilst being very clear about the need for focus and determination Alan was equally passionate about what are sometimes (wrongly) referred to as the ‘soft’ aspects of leadership like genuinely caring for your people.

JK and Dave have first hand experience and knowledge of the military leadership model and I’m honoured that you two share your wisdom on my Blog to educate us all about leadership at the sharp end – thank you again gentleman!

Trevor Gay said...

Porus – I love your summary of the thoughts of Mr Gandhi – he is one of my great heroes too. How I wish I could have met him. I have spoken to friends in India who tell me that visiting Mr Gandhi’s place of rest is an experience where one can ‘feel’ his presence. I hope you visit one day. Thank you for sharing this on Simplicity Blog - I hope you will visit again.

The ‘action’ element is crucial and I often use this anonymous quote;

‘Some men dream of worthy accomplishments while others stay awake and do them’

J.KANNAN said...

“Care and Share” “Kindle and ignite” system will work very well, yet an additional path for Leadership Development.

I had been reading all the comments on both the posts for the past nearly a wee posted by veterans in their respective field and ‘am indeed happy to mention, having gained excellent inputs and knowledge by virtue of my elite yet simple “Simplicity” friends. As I had already mentioned the subjects deserves at length and in depth discussions with and amongst simplicity friends, and contemplation individually. This will make all simplicity friends to end up with added ideas and knowledge sharing, in leadership, coupled with right direction and perspective to share with others.

“Share and Care” attitude by a Leader will bring out the desired results from his colleagues/fellow men to whom the Leader is accountable as well responsible. The moment the leader expresses his desire to share the problems being encountered by his colleagues/fellow-men, the results will start pouring out to reality experience. The fellow men have understood the leader that the leader is there to care for them by sharing with their problems, be it in business, social circle, or in personal life, and to guide and lead them in the right manner to find solutions to the problems. Simple in concept, easy to implement with “open heart and mind” and the end result is “Mission achieved.” As such it goes without saying the “Share and Care attitude” by leaders can do wonders in accomplishing what they are looking for, in a comparatively shortest possible period.

Similarly “Kindle and ignite” policy by Leaders can create more men to succeed them. (Mind you one has to be succeeded one day and no-exceptions to this fact whatsoever-) and lead the team/colleagues the way they have lead and derive satisfaction. of having passed on the leadership mantle rightly and happily. In every one, embedded within themselves, immeasurable talents, knowledge, wisdom, ideas etc. and only thing is these are not brought out to brighten instead lies buried within them in darkness. According to me the solution is by applying “kindle and ignite” policy by leaders, to kindle and ignite as the circumstances and necessity arises and requires, from colleagues and fellow men. Induct and infuse confidence, inspiration and motivation while applying “Kindle & Ignite” way of bringing out leadership qualities and talents and see how it does work. The topic by Trevor is such, can be discussed endlessly from various angles and perspective for gaining number of Leadership development needs.

I take the privilege of thanking all my” Simplicity” friends in particular Mr. Trevor for posting such excellent topics. for discussion and exchange of views, ideas and knowledge amongst all readers of “Simplicity”.


Dave Wheeler said...

Mr. Kannan: I truly appreciate your sharing your expetise and experience on the topic of leadership on these two posts. I recall the title but not the author of a book I read decades ago "It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts". I can say that I learned several several important lessons in your words, lessons that will be passed along to the folks I have the privledge to work with and lead. Thank you Mr. Kannan and I do hope we have the opportunity to "converse" again in the future. The best to you as well sir.

Mr. Munshi: Your observations that the essense of leadership can be found in the through the application of truth, love, equality, and action is outstanding. Anyone who can credibly "live" those values personally and professionally is truly a leader. Thank you for sharing your thoughts...

Trevor: Thank you sir for this forum and your're the best!

Porus Munshi said...

Thanks Trevor, Dave for your comments. I work with organizations in enabling innovations and breakthroughs and the first challenge is always one of leadership.

And reflecting on Trevor's simplicity theme (just love the theme and idea behind it Trevor), it strikes me that whenever I encounter a particularly blocked group the first and perhaps only 'leadership' intervention I do is to get the group together and facilitate one-on-one dialogues with each member talking to every other in the group. We call this Interpersonal Alignment and the single key question is "How do I prevent you from doing your best?".

The only nudge that comes from me in the dialogues is to ensure that people go below the line and share personal disconnects, fears, uncertainties and doubts vis-a-vis each other.

I never cease to be surprised at how much this single dialogue does to cut away years of 'sand between the gears' in terms of relationships.

And perhaps that's one of the most important questions for a leader to ask: How do I prevent you from doing your best?

Trevor Gay said...

Once more thanks guys. Leadership is clearly a subject that hits the right spots.

Mike Gardner said...

Trevor--I posted the Lao Tsu quote and your question on the TPM Log today. I think it is profound and I wanted to see if I could generate some discussion among my regular readers, too.



Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Mike - let me know if it generates interest. Seems Tom Peters had a management guru predecessor 2700 years ago!