Leave them alone

These days it’s rare that I bump into something that’s genuinely refreshing and makes me go, “wow, that’s deep.” And one of those rare moments occurred last evening when I bumped into this beautiful paragraph from the English version of the Tao Te Ching.

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.
Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

75, Tao Te Ching

Laozi was an intelligent man, for he knew that governance comes with responsibilities towards the people that cannot be overseen or taken lightly. Most rulers during that era didn’t care less about the people than money, power, and winning wars, all of which required sweat equity of the very people they were ignoring.

The big idea is to have a people-first approach out of a sense of service and responsibility. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s what leaders are supposed to do in the first place.

As you know, little has changed over the past two thousand plus years. The advice still holds for leaders worldwide, industries, and domains — act for people’s benefit, trust them to do their best, and most importantly, leave them alone.

The last bit is significant because most leaders don’t know what it means to leave others alone. Because they’re insecure (or “hands-on,” as they put it) and are afraid to let go of control since that might mean expecting different results they’re not equipped to deal with.

And strange as it may seem — we’re okay to deal with our messiness but can’t handle someone else’s mess. At least most people can’t do so; leaders aren’t any different.

The antidote is to trust people and leave them to do their best. If something breaks, fix it and teach them how to do so in the future. If something goes well, appreciate them.

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