26 October 2016

The Most Powerful Force and Leadership - Adaptive like Water - DaoDeJing 78

The most powerful is not one that is hard and unbending. Because no matter how strong one can be, there is always an upper limit.  The strongest is one that can be flexible and can redirect the force away. At times, it can even redirect the force back to the attacker. That is the concept of Lao Zi's water analogy of Dao and this principle is used in such KungFu like 太极拳 TaiJi or Judo. A leader should be like water that flows to the needs of the people! Leadership is about serving people.
DaoDeJing Chapter 78 Text and Translation

天下莫柔弱于水,而攻坚强者 莫之能胜,其无以易之。
The softest thing under heaven is water. Yet, it can be used to attack the hard and strong, there is nothing that can beat it or replace it.

弱之胜强,柔之胜刚,天下莫不知、莫能行。
The weak can win against the strong. The soft wins against the hard. Everyone knows about it but no one is able to do it.

是以圣人云:受国之垢,是谓社稷主;
Hence, the wise sage said, "He that can bear the burdens and garbages of a country is the one that can be its ruler."

受国不祥,是为天下王。
"He that can bear the problems and disasters of the world can be its ruler"

正言若反。
The right sayings seem wrong [at the surface].

The Power of Water
How is water powerful? When we see the great waves and the great waterfalls, we know how powerful water can be. Water is used to generate electricity. Water in compressed form is used cutting steel plates. However, I think this is not what Lao Zi meant here. There are the other characteristics of water that Lao Zi wants us to think of. It is its flexibility and adaptability. Water has no fixed shape. It takes the shape of its container.  It is able to flow through whatever holes or gaps there are in the concrete floor or roofs. Water leaking in a flat roof is very difficult to fix. Because it is very difficult to trace its flow through the concrete. Sun Zi's also use such water characteristics to describe how an army should move.  【6】夫兵形象水,水之形,避高而趋下,兵之形,避实而击虚。水因地而制流,兵因敌而制胜。故兵无常势,水无常形,能因敌变化而取胜者,谓之神。
An army should shape and move like water. Water will skip the high terrain and move downward and an army should bypass the strong positions and attack the weak positions. Water flow shapes itself according to the shapes of the terrains. So an army must attack according to the enemy deployment to win against him. Hence, an army has not fixed deposition like water with no fixed shape. He who can change according to the enemy and win against him is called super intelligent like a god.

The Key Characteristics are:

  1. Flexible Form and No Fixed Shape. It is not easily detectable nor predictable.
  2. It adapts to the situation. It does not insist on its own ways but flows according to the needs.
  3. It bypasses the strong positions and exploits the gaps of weakness.
The Attributes for Leadership

Flexibility does not mean there is no principle.  In fact, it is principle centricity that gives its flexibility. The mission and values are fixed but the methods to achieve the mission can change with the situations. Lao Zi tells us that a good leader is like Dao, who bring benefits to all living things. So leadership is not about doing our own things and benefiting oneself at the expense of others. On the contrary, leadership is about knowing the needs of the people and be willing to take on the problems and the garbages(shit) that no one wants to do. Leadership is bearing the responsibilities that people are afraid to do. In simple words, leadership is solving people's problems and hardships. With multiple demands of multiple interest groups. we need to have an open mind and much wisdom to find the right balance. Be like water that flows to whatever needs there are. 

Is is Paradoxical?
Lao Zi says wise sayings seems paradoxical. Isn't a leader, like a king, is meant to be served? Lao Zi says no. Leadership is about serving others. Serving others gains the support and respect of the people. It is not by force but by engagement. It is servant leadership is that taught by Jesus -  Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.


Lim Liat (c) 26 Oct 2016
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