Posted on March 24, 2009 by Dennis Snow
I recently came across a verse in the Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Chinese Philosophy written over 2600 years ago, that caused me to take a few moments (over a great cigar) to reflect on the qualities of great leaders.
The verse states:
The best leader is one whose existence is barely known.
Next best is one who is loved and praised.
Next is one who is feared.
Worst of all is a leader who is despised.
If you fail to trust people, they won't turn out to be trustworthy.
Therefore, guide others by quietly relying on Tao. Then, when the work is done, the people can say, "We did this ourselves."
After reading this verse, I immediately thought of a favorite leader from my Disney career, Valerie Oberle. Valerie was a leader who got the very best from people, yet did it in a way in which we could confidently say, "We did this ourselves."
When a colleague and I launched a division of the Disney Institute under Valerie's leadership, she demonstrated complete trust in our ability to get the business up and running, although I'm sure she secretely cringed at some of the things we did along the way. But she supported us, quietly removed roadblocks, and allowed us to build a highly successful business that was also one of the great adventures of my career. I'll never forget that time and I'll never forget Valerie's leadership.
While I appreciate the first line of the verse cited above, Valerie's presence was known, but it wasn't the "Look at what a great leader I am" kind of presence. It was a presence of confidence, support, and trust. Valerie trusted us and we completely trusted her. And we accomplished things we never thought we could accomplish.