Leadership theory – 4 types of leaders

Here I’m briefly introducing the 4 types of leaders introduced by Lao Tse in the Tao Te Ching.

The 4 types of leaders
(relates both to him and her)

  1. The becoming invisible leader. The most accomplished leader inspires people to be leaders of their own destiny. She encourages others to learn to be completely responsible for their own happiness and as such their motivation to accomplish things exists independently. In this way her presence is eventually not even required.
  2. The revered leader. He represents what others aspire to be. Therefore the revered leader inspires others to follow his path towards their own greatness. However, when he is no longer revered, people are inclined to lose faith in his message and seek others to follow.
  3. The angry leader. She can only rule people by fear. People are not independently motivated to contribute to her plans – they are simply motivated  to avoid her anger and the personal punishment that entails. Essentially, the more fear used by this leader to control people, the more time and energy it takes to maintain that control. This consumes the time and energy that could otherwise be put into productive or creative accomplishments. For that reason alone, so much less is achieved through a fear based leadership.
  4. The despised leader. The worst leader is he that is despised. A despised leader is like a ticking time bomb. It is only a matter of time before he is overthrown.

The basic premise is that the ultimate leader moves towards invisibility. This leader has no motivation for personal greatness, he is simply motivated by the understanding that people are at their most effective when they are themselves self-responsible and self-empowered. Lao Tzu uses the analogy of the ocean – by taking the lowest position, everything moves towards it. He also states that people influenced by such a leader find success to their own merit – they would say: “we have done this – thanks to ourselves”.

Take the lowest position – the most effective leader is also the most vulnerable…

One of the errors of leadership also has a lot to do with perception. Because we want our leaders to be perfect, we set up unrealistic expectations of them. As leaders, to fulfil this, a lot of energy gets devoted to maintaining the appearance of perfection. Self-exploration, being honest with who we are and understanding the emotions behind our behaviours threatens this appearance of perfection, so we avoid these things. This often makes the situation worse. Self-avoidance makes our emotions become unconscious and this is where they assert a much greater control over our behaviour – precisely because we push them away from the forefront of our consciousness. To change this we need to start re-imagining what leadership is.

Harry Spence, Lecturer on Education at Harvard Kennedy School believes that rather than perpetuating the myth that good leadership equates with being invulnerable, we need to allow for vulnerability. In a culture that acknowledges vulnerability as an essential quality of leadership, self-exploration for leaders in our organisations is more likely to occur:

“Leaders feel pressured to be to know everything, to be in charge to be as close to perfect as they can be, to not have flaws and so on… [However] one of the things that leadership studies is discovering is the huge importance of vulnerability in leaders. In fact the invulnerable leader does not support an organisation in advancing… It sets a tone in the organisation that everyone has to be invulnerable.. [and] people don’t collaborate as well, don’t acknowledge mistakes as well, they don’t learn as well because in order to be invulnerable, you have to know everything… The emphasis in recent years with the notion of the learning organisation does at least acknowledge the importance of vulnerability in leadership. The extent that an organisation supports vulnerability in leadership, I think it helps with this question of self-exploration.”

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, studies a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She has pinpointed this quality as one of the main foundations of very happy and successful people. Wholeheartedness comes from embracing our own vulnerabilities:

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone; I am enough.

It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Living consciously is much like wholeheartedness as contrary to what we may believe, it requires being true to our emotions and this is not an action of the mind. The ego on the other hand is a production of the mind. We can delude ourselves that we are being rational but in fact this false rationality is how we often protect ourselves from dealing with emotions we don’t want to face. To be conscious of emotions we need to reconnect with them – it requires connecting with our hearts. When we do that we accept our vulnerability. This also makes us humble human beings. A humble person is the first to admit they are not perfect and because of that becomes much more capable of learning and improving the way they do things.

Being authentic with our emotions does make us vulnerable as others will directly understand what drives us. On the other hand when we say and do things which is disconnected or opposes the way we feel, this makes us insincere to others and even ourselves. Insincerity eventually leads to others losing faith in us and this is a platform that disqualifies us from any leadership role. In truth, being vulnerable makes us coherent individuals as what we feel, do and think are synchronised with each other. Such coherence leads us to much greater capacity to perform in all our endeavours as our energy is not absorbed by own on internal conflicts.

Conscious leaders are therefore those who are vulnerable, humble, and wholehearted. They are also have an enduring capacity to learn, respond to change, improve, connect with people and become highly influential.

Further reading:
Part 1: http://theconsciousenterpriseproject.com/2010/11/supporting-conscious-leadership-in-enterprises-part-1/



2 thoughts on “Leadership theory – 4 types of leaders

  1. deberigny

    Look at the idea of the servant of the servants of God. The first shall be last and the last be first. The Lord washes the feet of his disciples. See what Napoleon said of the leadership qualities of Our Lord.

  2. Pingback: The road to happiness « 3MA Corporate Happiness

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