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Diane Dreher's Tao Leadership Blog

Changing Conditions: The Wisdom of Flexibility

The Tao reminds us that we live in a dynamic universe, that wise leaders recognize and move with change. Leaders make foolish mistakes when they become fixated on the past, using old strategies in new situations, not realizing that times have changed.

 

The Tao Te Ching encourages us to be more mindful and flexible, saying:

 

Unable to bend,
The tree will break.

 

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 76

 

There's a term in neuropsychology: "to perseverate," which means to continue performing an action even when it no longer produces the desired result. For example, some laboratory animals continue to press a lever for food even when food is no longer delivered. Stuck in an old behavior pattern, they cannot adjust to a new situation.

 

How often do we humans perseverate as well, behaving in a way that worked in a previous job or relationship but is totally out of place in this one?

 

Recognizing the dynamic cycles of Tao, we can take actions appropriate to the context, aware that the context is continually changing.

 

What is one way you can use the wisdom of flexibility in your life?

 

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The Wisdom of the Seasons

The wisdom of the Tao, like the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, affirms that "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven."

 

Each season has its own form of beauty. Spring brings delicate plum blossoms. Summer bursts forth with profusions of orchids. Autumn is graced with golden chrysanthemums, and winter brings the strength and serenity of bamboo.

 

 

The Tao Te Ching says:

 

Tao leaders live close to nature.
Their actions flow from the heart.
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8

 

In the wisdom of Tao, the wisdom of nature, every project, every week, every day, has its four seasons: a time to plant and a time to grow, a time to harvest and a time to contemplate. Wisdom means being mindful of the seasons. It is folly to ignore them.

 

Seeing these patterns in the work week, a Tao leader realizes that Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are not the best times to call a busy office. On Monday mornings, people are too busy getting started with the week, and on Friday afternoons, they're too busy trying to wrap up their work and leave.

 

As a department chair, it took me a while to learn this lesson. I used to schedule staff meetings with my administrative assistants the first thing Monday morning. But on busy Mondays, these meetings were often cancelled or postponed. Realizing that Mondays are not the best times for long-range planning, I began holding staff meetings near the end of the week when things slow down. An hour after lunch on Thursday became a much better time for reflection and planning.

 

How can you use wisdom of the seasons in your life?

 

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The Power of Timing

The Tao Te Ching says:

 

Tao leaders live close to nature.
Their actions flow from the heart.
In words, they are true;
In decisions, just;
In business, effective;
In action, aware of the timing.

 

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8

 

Sometimes being aware of the timing means being mindful of others. When a friend is feeling stressed, overwhelmed by too much to do, right timing means being understanding and compassionate, giving your friend space.

 

Sometimes right timing means following your intuition. Years ago when I was a nineteen year-old college sophomore, driving home from a summer temp job, I passed by the local newspaper office, the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Suddenly the through struck me—"I'm a writer. That's where I should be working."

 

Without hesitation, I turned my red Volkswagon into the Press-Enterprise parking lot, and walked in the door. "Hi. I'm a writer," I said, "I'd like to apply for a job." Ushered upstairs to the personnel department, I filled out the paperwork and learned that their college intern had given her notice that morning. I was hired on the spot.

 

Timing. In an instant, some doors can open, leading to new possibilities. When our "actions flow from the heart," we can be intuitively led to right action and right timing.

 

How have you used the lesson of timing in your life?

 

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Leading with Ego or Wisdom

We have many varieties of leadership today.
The flashy leaders who focus on themselves with PR, noise, and lots of ego can be thrown off balance by challenging times.

 

Wise leaders are less about ego and more about vision and process. Unlike their flashy counterparts, they can meet any challenge with strength of character.

 

The Tao Te Ching tells us:

 

Tao leaders
Are wise as the ages.
Their depth cannot be sounded,

Yet we can describe their actions:
Mindful, as if crossing an icy stream;
Focused, as in the midst of danger;
Respectful, as if an honored guest;
Fluid, as melting ice;
Honest, as an uncarved block of wood;
Open, as a yielding valley;
Blending, as earth and water.

 

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15

 

Does one of these qualities stand out for you? If so, how can you cultivate more of it, bringing more of the wisdom of Tao leadership into your life?

 

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