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Cultivating Leadership Through Followership— Insights from Lao Tzu's Philosophy

Leadership through followership

Qualities we often associate with great leadership might be confidence, decisiveness, and a clear vision of the future—people who take charge and lead their teams to success. But what if there is another side to leadership? One that is often overlooked and underappreciated. The philosophy of Lao Tzu, believing the best leaders are also followers, might hold the key to unlocking the secrets of leadership society has long needed.

One of Lao Tzu's central themes is the idea of "wu wei," which translates as non-action or effortless action. It is a way of leading that emphasizes the importance of allowing things to unfold naturally without forcing them. True leaders understand that they are not in control of everything and that sometimes, the best course of action is to let things be.

This doesn't mean that leaders shouldn't take action when necessary, but rather that they must be attuned to their environment and fully understand what is happening before making decisions. By being receptive to the world around them, leaders—and each of us, for that matter—can make better choices and avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Here are a few other key attributes of leadership according to teachings of Lao Tzu:


Humility forms the bedrock of Lao Tzu's philosophy. To him, one can only emerge as a true leader by staying humble and not allowing ego to overshadow one's judgment. Being a follower cultivates humility as it encourages listening to others and understanding diverse viewpoints. This humble disposition enables leaders to make empathetic decisions.


Followership necessitates adaptability, an essential trait for leaders. Leaders must be flexible and willing to alter their strategies to cater to the group's needs. This adaptability plays a critical role when dealing with intricate scenarios and making decisions that favor the collective interest.

Promoting Growth

Successful leadership demands promoting collective growth. This requires a certain level of vulnerability and a willingness to learn from others. By being a follower, you learn to trust others and give them the space to grow and develop. This trust is essential for creating a supportive and collaborative environment where everyone can thrive.

Leading by Example

Adhering to the principle of "wu wei," which emphasizes non-interference, the approach of leading by example fosters change without the need for coercion. By embodying the changes you want to see, others are inspired to emulate your actions. This method sifts out those who are not in harmony with your vision, leaving behind a team that shares a common purpose.

The wisdom of Lao Tzu provides us with a powerful framework for understanding what it means to be a truly great leader. In a world that is full of noise and distraction, leaders who can embrace the principles of non-action, humility, compassion, and leading by example are the ones who will stand out and achieve lasting success.

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