Lately, we've seen too many people who lead with ego. These are shadow leaders, who try to impose their will upon others which can have disastrous results.
As I write in The Tao of Inner Peace, the Tao Te Ching offers a holistic and creative vision of leadership. Instead of exercising top-down power, Tao leaders work with the cycles of nature, respecting the energies within and around them.
They include, inspire, and empower people. As the Tao Te Ching tells us:
"With the best of leaders,
When the work is done,
The project completed,
The people all say,
"We did it ourselves."
(Tao Te Ching, 17)
Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers carried this quote in his wallet. In his person-centered therapy and peace negotiation, he saw his own role in the Taoist tradition of leader as facilitator.
Tao leaders bring out the best in people. They cultivate a culture of inclusiveness, trust, and empowerment where people can flourish and think more creatively. This is especially important as we face the complex problems of today's world. With Tao leadership, everyone's perspectives become part of the process, leading to more effective solutions than any one person—no matter how well meaning—could come up with alone.
If we look beyond the shadow leaders who often fill up the news, Tao leaders are all around us. Think of someone in your life—a teacher, family member, coach, minister, or mentor who brought out the best in you. This person is a Tao leader.
Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching as a handbook for leaders, inviting us all to be leaders. So when you take on leadership roles at home and at work—as a committed employee, professional, manager, parent, community leader, or engaged citizen—ask yourself:
- How can I help create an atmosphere of greater trust and commitment?
- How can I help others do their best?
- How can I work with the natural energy cycles within and around me to create greater harmony?
Our world needs your leadership now more than ever.
I wish you joy on the path.
 From the Tao Te Ching, 17. An earlier version of this passage appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, now available as an ebook and a new audiobook edition, published by Penguin Random House in January 2022.