When Leading Means Getting Out of the Way

I spoke with Andy Heppelle yesterday, who was fresh back from Holland. He passed on a quote – which I found rather inspiring –  from a top executive who had just been through an ASE:

I find my team works best when I am silent”

I loved that. I love that it not only takes an incredible amount of courage and confidence for a leader to vocalize that, but it also shows the pride and confidence that that leader has in his team. I’m always impressed when people assemble amazing teams, then take that step further to actually recognize the collective capacity and strength of the team they have assembled. That’s when you know you have a great team that has not been hired for the sake of vanity, but to get things done.

The quote Andy passed on reminded me of a poem by Chuang-Tzu, which has always served as my ideal blueprint for leadership since I first read it in Thomas Merton’s The Way of Chuang-Tzu:

The wise man, then, when he must govern, knows how to do nothing. Letting things alone, he rests in his original nature. He who will govern will respect the governed no more than he respects himself. If he loves his own person enough to let it rest in its original truth, he will govern others without hurting them. Let him keep the deep drives in his own guts from going into action. Let him keep still, not looking, not hearing. Let him sit like a corpse, with the dragon power alive all around him. In complete silence, his voice will be like thunder. His movements will be invisible, like those of a spirit, but the powers of heaven will go with them. Unconcerned, doing nothing, he will see all things grow ripe around him. Where will he find time to govern?

That last line still gives me a chill whenever I read it…”Where will he find time to govern?” The concept that to lead is to enable people, as opposed to direct them,  is truly inspiring to me. It asks, what can I do to allow my people to succeed?

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear someone come out of an ASE with the answer to that question.

2 Responses to “When Leading Means Getting Out of the Way”

  1. Andy Heppelle
    January 7, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Brilliantly described and illuminated.
    Thank you Aaron. What a wonderful gift you have shared.

    Collaboration for Success,

  2. Daniel Rose
    February 6, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

    From Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, a French politician: “I’ve got to go follow my people, for I am their leader.”

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