The Art of Leadership: Glossary

Explanation of key terms

Photo: 五玄土 ORIENTO/Unsplash

What is leadership? Why is this important? How do you lead successfully? The Art of Leadership provides timeless answers to these eternal questions. It is a modern reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching — a guide for leaders in ancient China. “Purpose is a surer path to productivity than pressure. Pressure keeps knocking you off the path. Purpose keeps bringing you back onto the path” Kent Beck (All Parts; Other reading and viewing formats).

Chinese language is highly contextual and many Chinese concepts are purposefully abstract, ambiguous and have multiple meanings; they seldom have precise definitions as Chinese are not fond of providing definitions or even of the idea of definition itself (Yuen).


Adapting to and Shaping a situation to take full advantage of the current conditions and to use the possibilities of the situation to succeed by fulfilling Purpose. This requires Agility and Foreknowledge.

因 (yīn) means avail oneself of, to make the best of, to rely upon.


為 (wéi) means act, to do; change; make; try; practice.

Action — Action without Coercion

A Correlative Pair; see Action and Action without Coercion.

Action without Coercion / Non-Forced Action

Conscious inaction so we can allow the most natural, effortless action to emerge; seek mastery through small, incremental actions (Goh). Not doing nothing or no-intervention, but doing useful things and intervening wisely so as to allow beneficial outcomes to emerge ‘naturally’ (Nonaka & Zhu). Doing things non-coercively and effectively in accordance with Purpose (Ames & Hall). Promoted solely in the expectation of tangible benefits purely on the grounds of its effectiveness … it is by refraining from action that we can best bring about what we desire (Jullien). We should not hurry to act, since most things in the world take care of themselves if left alone. And when we act, we should do so cautiously, or we might destroy more than we solve (Stenudd).

The favourite example for this is the growth of plants. One must neither pull on plants to hasten their growth (an image of direct action), nor must one fail to hoe the earth around them so as to encourage their growth (by creating favourable conditions for it). You cannot force a plant to grow by means of coercion, but neither should you neglect it. What you should do is liberate it from whatever might impede its development. You must allow it to grow. Such tactics are equally effective at the level of politics. Skilled leaders eliminate constraints and exclusions, makes it possible for all that exists to develop as suits it … they act in such a way that things can happen of their own accord. Even if the doing becomes minimal, so discreet as to be hardly discernible, allowing things to happen constitutes active involvement (Jullien).

無為 (wúwéi) means acting without coercion; spontaneity, spontaneous action governed by the mind and not the senses; letting things follow their own natural course; effortless action; acting naturally.


The capacity, condition, or state of acting or of having an impact.

People with agency ask … what can I do to contribute (considering my abilities and knowledge) to the Purpose … and see the results (Jabe Bloom).


The ability to adapt to and influence situations more rapidly than Competition including timely break out of successful — but non-sustainable — patterns.


An ongoing, dynamic achievement that requires constant monitoring and adjustment (Ames & Hall).

靜 (jìng) means balance, equilibrium; stillness, tranquility; still, calm, quiet, not moving; calmness of the heart and mind; enlightenment.

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Succeeding together with your Stakeholders — maximising outcomes while minimsing efforts.


The forces acting on the environment including patterns of days, nights, weather, seasons and human actions (Wardley); see also World.

天 (tiān) means climate; universe, world; nature; sky, heaven (non-religious).


The practice of forcing to act in an involuntary manner by use of threats or force.


  1. Conditions where an Organisation strives to gain advantage or Control over others using a constraint, i.e. a limitation of a resource or time or money or people.
  2. One or several Competitors.


An Organisation that desires the same as your Organisation.


Use Setup to create suitable conditions for an advantageous Momentum to develop as a consequence. This condition-consequence approach is complementary to the classic Western ends (objectives) — ways (courses of actions) — means (resources) approach to Strategy (Echevarria) which, although valuable for initial planning, is far from optimal in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous Environments with Stakeholders having different, potentially conflicting Purposes. For an outcome to be realised effectively, it follows as a consequence of a process which transforms a situation rather than a goal that leads to actions. Unlike the ends–ways–means approach which involves a predetermined plan (course of actions) that is liable to disintegrate when put into practice facing stakeholders, the condition-consequence approach is designed to leave as little room for chance as possible. This is done by identifying favourable factors before they have developed and creating suitable conditions in advance, and, in this way enable evolution in a suitable direction. There are three distinct advantages of the condition-consequence approach to Strategy compared to the traditional end-means-ways approach when circumstances (Landscape, Climate, Stakeholders, Organisation, . . . ) change as they invariably will in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous Environment (Yuen):

  1. It helps avoid being locked into a predetermined course of actions.
  2. It helps avoid constant re-planning when there is too big a difference between reality and plan.
  3. It helps avoid being locked into bringing about one single, predetermined outcome.


The Organisation’s Purpose and Landscape.


The power or authority to regulate, restrain, verify, (usually against some standard) direct or Command. Comes from medieval Latin contrarotulus, a “counter roll” or checklist (contra, against plus rotulus, list) (Boyd).

Correlative Pair

A pair of opposite and complementary aspects used to understand relations, transcend, move beyond or integrate apparent paradoxes or trade-offs, or, embrace clashing, instructive perspectives, e.g. order — chaos, Strength — Weakness, courage — fear, Expected — Surprise, Devious — Direct, attack — defence, Resilient — Fragile, alignment — autonomy.

Far from being two irreducible or even mutually exclusive states, a pair consists of two consecutive stages that are part of the same continuum — influenced by the ever-changing reality, e.g. efforts by Stakeholders and changes in Landscape and Climate, and have a tendency to mutually influence each other in an endless cycle.

Finding ways to move beyond or integrate the apparent paradoxes or trade-offs requires deep analysis and synthesis and is an essential part of Strategy Development. The resulting pattern for understanding the dynamics of the correlative pairs serves as an important means for successful Strategy Deployment and Engagement, e.g.

  • Setup for Strength — Weakness
  • Shaping for Expected — Surprise and Devious — Direct

Skilled leaders employ correlative pairs for orientation as preparation for initiatives, decisions and actions to move beyond apparent trade-offs, and, as a stepping stone towards seeing and Harmonising the System (Yuen). If you want to understand something, take it to the extremes or examine its opposites (Boyd).

A modern example of a correlative pair where it is possible to move beyond the apparent trade-off is alignment — autonomy in organisations, where high alignment on intent (what & why) enables high autonomy in actions and decisions (how) by individual people and teams which results in higher speed, more innovation and higher engagement (Bungay, Schön).


欲 (yù) means desire, want, long for; intend.
See also Desire — Desire without Object and Desire without Object.

Desire — Desire without Object

A Correlative Pair; see Desire and Desire without Object.

Desire without Object

A Desire shaped not by a desire to own, to control or to consume, but by a desire simply to celebrate and to enjoy; objectless desire (Ames & Hall).

Deferential or respectful intention (Zhu & Nonaka).

無欲 (wúyù) means desire without an object; respectful intention; unselfish; disinterested; unavaricious, free of avarice.


迂 (yū)means tortuous, circuitous, crooked, roundabout, hidden. See also Direct and Devious — Direct.

Devious — Direct

A Correlative Pair used in Strategy Deployment and Engagement together with Shaping for inverting time and space, e.g. to make what looks like a time-saving shortcut ending up taking more time to follow than the standard route, or to create the perception that it is so; to make the adverse advantageous by giving the difficulty to Opposition; to offer advantages to confound Opposition’s perception of what is difficult and easy.

Synonyms: circuitous — direct, crooked — straight, tortuous — direct, plain — hidden.

See also Devious and Direct.


直 (zhí) means direct, straight, plain. See also Devious and Devious — Direct.


Ways of operating, communicating and organising that apply irrespective of Landscape and Climate, i.e. approaches which can be applied regardless of Context (Wardley).


Maximum outcomes, through suitable actions, decisions and behaviours in order to fulfil a specific Purpose (“doing the right things”), while minimising effort (“doing things right”). See also Integrity.


Emptiness brings usefulness, e.g. the emptiness of a pot. Emptiness gives things and thoughts room to move. See also Empty — Full and Full.

Empty — Full

A Correlative Pair; see also Strength — Weakness.


A vital field that the universe and its phenomena are perturbations that emerge out of and fold back into (Ames & Hall).

氣 () means energy, life’s energy, vital energising field, psychophysical matter. The Chinese sign combines the signs for “rice” and “steam”. Rice was and is the main food for the Chinese, but it needs to be boiled before consumption.


A collision of Organisations where each Organisation aims to fulfil their Purpose; a conflict where two Organisations desire the same thing;
戰 (zhàn) means specific engagement, military action, battle;
争 (zhēng) means conflict, dispute, fight;
兵 (bīng) means competition, war, weapon, soldier, force.


The Context and how it is changing (Wardley).


The totality of objects and events in the world.

萬物 (wànwù) means everything, everything happening, all living things.


正 (zhèng) means expected, correct, direct, ordinary, orthodox, proper, right, straight, straightforward, true. See also Expected — Surprise and Surprise.

Expected — Surprise

A Correlative Pair signifying contrasting types of Engagements used in combination in order to succeed. In Business, start with delivering the Expected, e.g. expected features, quality and performance; then positively Surprise your customers in order to secure delight and loyalty, just like Apple pursuits the “Wow” and “desire to use”. Users decide what is Expected and Surprising and this can change over time, e.g. based on Components’ Movement and Competitions’ moves.

Synonyms: direct — indirect, direct — oblique, regular — irregular, conventional — unconventional, orthodox — unorthodox, normal — exceptional, ordinary — extraordinary, regular — irregular, overt — covert, straightforward — crafty;

See also Expected and Surprise.


情 (qíng) means feeling, emotion; passion; situation.

Feeling — Unmediated Feeling

A Correlative Pair; see Feeling and Unmediated Feeling.

See also Thinking and Feeling, Thinking and Feeling — Unmediated Thinking and Feeling.


Knowledge about the Environment for estimating Momentum to secure the Organisation’s safety and success. It is gained through careful observation and intelligence operations. It is a recognition of relevant patterns and relations understood holistically as part of a System in the light of their Environment. It is knowledge with uncertainty since it is an interpretation of the situation.


The opposite of having a Setup; without a discernible Setup, or, a perceived lack of Setup, e.g. by means of a hidden Setup; being more adaptable and ready to seize opportunities.

See also Formless — Setup and Setup.

無形 (wúxíng) means formless, invisible, imperceptible, intangible, unfathomable, unreadable, without form.

Formless — Setup

A Correlative Pair; see Formless and Setup.


See also Empty and Empty — Full.


An emergent sense of order that begins from the coordination of concrete details, maximises diversity and avoids sameness; the quality of the combination at any one moment created by effectively correlating and contextualising the available events or entities (Ames).

The etymology of the character is culinary, harmony being the art of combining and blending two or more ingredients so that they enhance one another without losing their distinctive flavours … Harmony … entails both the individual integrity of the particular ingredient and its integration into some larger whole (Ames & Hall).

The Chinese word for harmony is written with the sign for a grain or sprout, and that for the mouth. That’s indeed an image of things in a delightful setting. The food meets the mouth. The resource meets the need (Stenudd).

Harmony incorporates specific personal goals, in the plural, in the making. Strategy is about adjusting and coordinating such personal goals into a shared common good appropriate to particular situations. Since situations are ever-changing in unrepeated and unpredictable ways, the more diverse the community’s capacities to act, the more chances it will have to sense, seize and realise emerging opportunities (Nonaka & Zhu).

和 (hé) means harmony, achieved order, peace, union, united.

Heart and Mind

In the ancient Chinese tradition, almost all human intelligence, thinking and understanding, as well as emotion, intention and determination is associated with the Heart and Mind.

心 (xīn) means heart; mind, intelligence; soul, spirit.

See also Thinking and Feeling, Thinking and Feeling — Unmediated Thinking and Feeling and Unmediated Thinking and Feeling, Feeling, Feeling — Unmediated Feeling, Unmediated Feeling.


The wholeness or completeness of a given entity. It represents the selfhood of every being in the universe. Integrity may also have a moral dimension in the sense of adherence to a set of values (Mair).

The most valuable ways of getting the most from our personal lives as members of a thriving community in relation to a common Purpose; a characterisation of the most valuable relationship between leader and followers including mutual compassion, mutual respect, involvement and participatory agency (Ames & Hall).

德 () means integrity, character; effectiveness, efficacy; charisma; ethics; excellence, goodness; inner potency; kind, kindness; morality, power; virtue, virtuosity. The Chinese sign contains the signs for “walking”, “movement” or “behaviour”; “an eye looking straight ahead”, and “heart-and-mind”; we would call it walking the narrow road of righteousness (Stenudd).

善 (shàn) means good, virtuous, charitable, kind.


Knowledge dependent upon the assumption that there is an unchanging reality behind appearance. Assumptions include rules of thumb, habits of mind and action, established customs, fixed standards, received methods, stipulated concepts and categories, commandments, principles, laws of nature, conventions. Having stored past experience and organised it in terms of fixed standards or principles, we then recall, anticipate, and participate in a world patterned by these discriminations (Ames & Hall).

See also Knowledge — Unprincipled Knowledge and Unprincipled Knowledge.

知 (zhī) means knowledge, perception, comprehension, wisdom, awareness, understanding

Knowledge — Unprincipled Knowledge

A Correlative Pair; see Knowledge and Unprincipled Knowledge.


Naming with fixed references is a way of making distinctions in order to function effectively that can distort the way in which we understand the world by institutionalising and enforce an overly static vision of the world, and in doing so, deprive both language and life of their creative possibilities (Ames & Hall).

See also Labelling — Labelling without Fixed Reference and Labelling without Fixed Reference.

名 (míng) means label, labelling, name, naming, noun, place, famous, noted, distinguished, rank, title, position.

Labeling — Labeling without Fixed Reference

A Correlative Pair, see Labelling and Labelling without Fixed Reference.

Labeling without Fixed Reference

A way of labelling or naming without assigning fixed references. It is dependent upon an awareness of the indeterminate aspects of things. The ongoing shaping of experiences requires a degree of imagination and creative projection that does not reference the world as it is, but anticipates what it might become. Labeling or naming that does not arrest or control; labeling or naming that appreciates rather than depreciates a situation (Ames & Hall).

See also Labelling and Labelling — Labelling without Fixed Reference.

無名 (wúmíng) means without fixed reference, nameless, obscure, unnamed, anonymous, unsigned.


A description of the Environment including positions, distances, space and obstacles (Wardley).

Lao Tzu

Born 6th century BC, died 6th century BC. Chinese sage, philosopher and writer. Lao Tzu (“Old Master”, Lǎozǐ 老子) is traditionally credited as the author of Tao Te Ching.


A set of actions, decisions, choices and Gameplays based on Purpose, Landscape, Climate, Doctrine and Capabilities — guided by knowledge, trust, compassion, courage and fairness (Sun Tzu).

The authority of leaders is measured by their success in drawing the hands and hearts of people together to realise common goodness (Ames & Hall).

“Leaderless leadership” is a different form, away from an archetype of heroic leader. It could be many, transient or even a different role — more nurturing / gardening / servant — concept. It’s one where it becomes difficult to identify who the leader is … The leader is transitory i.e. it’s constantly changing. You can’t say “this person is the leader” as it’ll vary from moment to moment according to the situation we find ourselves in. (Simon Wardley, swardley).

Leadership is beyond what managers or people in formal leader roles do: it is a service provided by — potentially all — people in the Organisation.

The Chinese character 聖 (shèng) consists of two characters: 耳 (ěr) which means “ear” or “to listen” and the character 口 (kǒu) which means “mouth” or “to speak” which indicates that the legitimacy and power of leaders are not God-given but achieved via talking and listening to people, sharing their visions with others and taking their views into account (Nonaka & Zhu).

The Chinese character 君 (jūn) consists of two characters: 尹 (yǐn) which means “to oversee”, “manage”, “order” or “regulate” and 口 (kǒu) which means “to talk”, “express” or “persuade”. The Chinese character 群 (qún) which means “to gather” or “be together” combines 君 (jūn) with the character for “sheep” 羊 (yáng). The implication is a person gathering people, acting together with and leading them.

聖 (shèng) means leader; sage; master and is related to sensitivity and wisdom.

君 (jūn) means leader; ruler; monarch, lord; gentleman.

君子 (jūnzǐ) means leader; exemplary person; nobleman, person of noble character.

Military Strategy

See Strategy.


A mirror accepts whatever is presented to it without interpretation, judgment, or desire. A mirror applies no interpretations; it simply reflects any new image put before it. A mirror makes no judgments on rightness or wrongness; it impartially reflects a child killed or a child saved. A mirror possesses no desire to pursue or to grasp what passes before it; it just lets desirable objects come before it and then pass away. Mirrors accept; they do not evaluate or cling or seek (Yearley).


The quantity of motion of a body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity in a particular direction.

An abstract field formed by tangible factors such as equipment and logistics and intangible factors such as timing and psychology that constantly shifts according to what is happening in the Environment; making the most of favourable conditions and tilting the scales in our favour (Ames).

Momentum of a particular situation is changing as a consequence of shifting conditions. It is as if we were placing weights along abeam whose balance point is always in motion. From assessments and foreknowledge, the fulcrum is more easily found (Denma).

Momentum is like looking at a chessboard: the effectiveness of a position is read in terms of the relative power of certain pieces, the strength of their Setup, their relationship to the opponent and also their potential to turn into something else. Add the particular psychological disposition of the opponent. All these are aspects of momentum. They are analytically distinguishable and a chess players sees them all at once. The world is more complex than multi-dimensional chess (Denma).

勢 (shì) means momentum, authority, circumstances, conditions, energy, force, latent energy, influence, inherent power or dynamic of a situation, military strength, outward appearance, outward shape, patterns of influence, positional advantage, potential, potential energy of the situation, power, situation, strategic advantage, strategic advantage within a particular configuration of space and time, strategic configuration of power, tactical power, tendency, trend.


A group of people with a particular Purpose and Doctrine.


A higher meaning or reason that keeps people united, supporting each other without fear through success and failure (Sun Tzu).

The Chinese character is etymologically constructed out of the elements “foot” hence “to pass over”, “to go over” and “head” (hair and eye together), therefore “foremost” carrying the meaning “to lead” in the sense of to give direction, so combined, “to give direction to your steps”, “to give direction to life”, hence “purpose”, or even, “ultimate purpose”. A fundamental idea is that the greater can be reached through the lesser.

Purpose is related to Momentum.

道 (dào) means (ultimate) purpose, to give direction; path, road, way; commands, guide, method, principle, steps in a process; morality, reason, truth; say, speak, talk, tell, verbalise; courses in a meal.


The characteristics of a System capable of coping with a wide variety of physical extremes with the entire System rapidly adapting to a changing Environment in order to exist (Holling).


Organisation of oneself or itself, often in relation to Purpose. Spontaneity thus conceived entails both self-creativity and co-creativity. Spontaneous social and political order emerges under non-coercive actions by effective leaders (Ames & Hall).

自然 (zìrán) means self-organisation, spontaneity; nature, natural, naturally


The ability to sense things as they are — mirroring — without upsetting our hearts and minds — helping us to promote the flourishing of our world (Ames & Hall). See also Unprincipled Knowledge.

明 (míng) means sensitivity, acuity, brilliance, enlightened action.


Going about your business or serve stakeholders in fulfilling purpose.

See also Serve — Serve without Interfering and Serve without Interfering.

事 (shí) means (do) business; to serve; affair, matter; thing; fact; accident, incident.

Serve — Serve without Interfering

A Correlative Pair; see Serve and Serve without Interfering.

Serve without Interfering

Going about your business serving stakeholders — without interference and without coercion.

無事(wúshí) means serving without interfering; safety; peace; quietness.


The arrangement of an Organisation or a part of an Organisation and the Capabilities and behaviours of its people. A setup can be

  • visible: consisting of factors that can be observed, e.g. organisation charts;
  • invisible: consisting of unobservable factors, e.g. informal networks.

It is possible to understand the visible setup without understanding the invisible setup.

形 (xíng) means setup, (military) deployment, disposition (of force), form, formation, manifestation, patterns, positioning, shape, system.
See also Formless and Formless — Setup.


See Yin.


Influencing Competition in order to erode their Resilience by hiding intentions, creating false impressions, and, unsettling Competition to discover a potential advantage, encourage its impetus, push it to the extreme to get them into a weak position (or get them to get into a weak position by themselves) before exploiting the impetus when it reaches the tipping point, i.e. creating the conditions for success before Engagement starts (Schön).

Also, influencing customers and other Stakeholders in order to succeed together, e.g. by positively surprising them.

詭 (guǐ) means anomaly, bluff, concealment, confusion, cunning, deception, deceit, delusion, dissimulation, distraction, feint, illusion, lie, manipulation, oddity, paradox, weirdness.


A person or Organisation who can affect or is affected by the fulfilment of the Organisation’s Purpose, e.g. a customer of products and services that the Organisation provides, people in the Organisation, suppliers and partners to the Organisation, owners and other financiers of the Organisation, trade associations, standardisation bodies, trade unions, people and communities in the society where the Organisation operates, and, other Organisations including Competitors (Freeman).


Governed by Sun Tzu’s five fundamental factors: Purpose, Landscape, Climate, Doctrine and Leadership.

The essence of strategy . . . is to force or persuade those who are hostile or unsympathetic to act differently than their current intentions . . . it is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power (Freedman).

Individuals, teams or organisations fulfilling their Purpose in situations outside their direct control, sometimes engaging with others desiring the same thing — consisting of the intricate interplay of Strategy Development and Strategy Deployment (Schön).

Strategy Deployment

Making Strategy happen by everyone everywhere in the Organisation taking initiatives, decisions and actions in a Harmonised direction.

The following Doctrine is often used (Echevarria):

  1. Purpose. Ensure every action contributes to achieving it.
  2. Manoeuvre. Gain positional advantage.
  3. Surprise. Move in unexpected ways using Gameplays.
  4. Focus. Concentrate Momentum to achieve success and ensure secondary efforts receive only as much Momentum as needed.
  5. Initiative. Secure higher tempo or more variety in the rhythm of the OODA Loop than Competition
  6. Security. Ensure that the Organisation is well-protected.
  7. Simplicity. Simplify Gameplays and communications.
  8. Unity. Place the direction of Strategy and Engagement under a single team to avoid conflicting interests

Strategy Development

Preparing Strategy by making choices for a Harmonised direction for the Organisation based on regular assessments of Stakeholders’ Needs and the Organisation’s Purpose (Schön).


A condition of high value in a sense beyond the physical, e.g. a well-defended position, or, a poorly defended position where the Organisation has an influential Purpose and skilled Leadership.

實 (shí) means strength, brave, concentrated, energy abundance, full, many, prepared, relaxed, solid, strong, substantial, well-nourished, well-ordered. See also Strength — Weakness and Weakness.

Strength — Weakness

A Correlative Pair used in Strategy Deployment and Engagement together with Setup and Shaping, e.g. causing Competition to see our Strengths as Weaknesses and our Weaknesses as Strengths, converting Competition’s Strengths into Weaknesses, being fully aware of Competition’s Weaknesses and using this to strengthen our own Setup. See also Strength and Weakness.


爭 (zhēng) means strive for, vie for; argue, debate, dispute; fight; contend

Striving — Striving without Competing

A Correlative Pair; see Striving and Striving without Competing.

Striving without Competing

無爭 (wúzhēng) means striving without competing.


See Yang.

Sun Tzu

Born c.544 BC, died c.496 BC. Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher. Sun Tzu (“Master Sun”, Sūn Zǐ, 孫子) is traditionally credited as the author of The Art of War.


奇 (qí) means crafty, extraordinary, indirect, oblique, odd, rare, strange, surprise, unique, unorthodox, weird, wonderful. See also Expected and Expected — Surprise.


A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. A whole which is defined by its function in a larger system of which it’s a part. Every system is contained in a larger system. Its role or function in that system or the service it provides is what defines it. For a system to perform its function it has essential parts. A system is not the sum of its parts, it is the product of their interactions (Ackoff, Meadows). We are one with all things (Chuang Tzu). (Strategic) issues are multifaceted, reciprocal and mutually determined (Nonaka & Zhu).


Following Henricks:

The Tao resembles an untended and uncared-for (“uncultivated”) field, and the varieties of wildflowers that grow in such a field represent everything in the world. Were you to go to such a field in the winter, you would see only brown soil or white snow. The field appears to be one in essence, undifferentiated, and “empty” of all forms of life. Nonetheless, should you return to that field in May or June, you would discover that a marvellous transformation had occurred, the field now being filled with all kinds of wildflowers. There are, as it were, “ten thousand” different varieties of flowers, with each species (dandelions, nightshade, chickory, etc.) and each individual in each of the species being somehow unique in colour and shape. And you now know that what had appeared to be devoid of life in the winter was in fact a very fecund womb, containing within itself in its oneness the seeds and roots of all different things.

Moreover, the work of the field does not end with springtime creation. For the field continues throughout the summer to care for and nourish each of its “children”, supplying them with the water and nutrients that are vital for life. And in this nurturing work, the field cares for all of the flowers without discrimination, and it takes no credit for all that it does. The brown soil is always in the background and “unseen”, our eyes being dazzled by the colours and forms of the flowers. Finally, the field accomplishes all that it does “without coercion” (wuwei); that is to say, we never see the soil actively doing anything; all that happens seems to happen on its own “by nature”.

For any individual flower … to be what it can be — for a sunflower to realise its “sunflowerness”, its genetic makeup, and … to live out its natural lifespan (which varies with wildflowers from species to species), there is only one requirement that must be met — it must keep its roots firmly planted in the soil.

As the Tao is to everything in the world the leaders are to their people. Skilled leaders work to make it possible that all people will grow to maturity in good health and will feel free to be who or what by nature they are, yet they claim no credit for all that they do.

See also Taoism and Ultimate Purpose.


A combination of tradition, religion, philosophy and practical wisdom for living and leading Effectively in Harmony with Ultimate Purpose — avoiding coercion; see also Wu-Forms.

Being human is to act in the world. The purpose of mastering Tao is to cope wisely with life problems (Nonaka & Zhu).

Tao is made in the walking of it (Chuang Tzu).

Tao Te Ching

A Chinese classic text (Dàodé Jīng 道德經) dating from the 6th century BC attributed to the Chinese sage and philosopher Lao Tzu. It is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism. It also strongly influenced other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion, including Legalism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, in particular Zen Buddhism.

It advises us to interact wisely with life contexts (Nonaka & Zhu).


See Taoism and Effectiveness.

The Art of War

An ancient Chinese military treatise (“Military Methods”, bīngfǎ, 兵法) dating from the 5th century BC. The work, attributed to the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is composed of 13 chapters. Each chapter is devoted to an aspect of warfare and how it applies to military Strategy and tactics.

The Art of Strategy

A modern reading of The Art of War and how it applies to business, conflicts and Strategy in general (Schön).

Thinking and Feeling

Using your Heart and Mind to make sense of the universe.

The mind cannot be divorced from the heart. The cognitive is inseparable from the affective … there are no rational thoughts devoid of feeling, nor any raw feelings altogether lacking in cognitive content (Ames & Hall).

Thinking and Feeling — Unmediated Thinking and Feeling

A Correlative Pair; see Thinking and Feeling, Unmediated Thinking and Feeling and Heart and Mind.

Ultimate Purpose

See Purpose.

Unmediated Feeling

無情 (wúqíng) means unmediated feeling; pitiless, ruthless, merciless, heartless.

Unmediated Thinking and Feeling

無心 (wúxīn) means unmediated thinking and feeling; unintentionally; innocence.

See also Thinking and Feeling, Thinking and Feeling — Unmediated Thinking and Feeling; Feeling — Unmediated Feeling, Unmediated Feeling.

Unprincipled Knowledge

Knowledge without the assumption that there is an unchanging reality behind appearance, i.e. knowledge without fixed principles, categories and labels. The acceptance of the world on its own terms without recourse to rules of discrimination that separate one sort of thing from another. This type of knowledge gives the ability to mirror the world at each moment in a way that is undetermined by the shape of a world that has passed away, or by anticipations of a world yet to come (Ames & Hall).

See also Knowledge, Knowledge — Unprincipled Knowledge and Sensitivity.

無知 (wúzhī) means unprincipled knowledge; innocence; ignorance.


Water is not fixed in any definite aspect, never immobilised in any particular place. It is the least thinglike of things — the most alive, the most alert … The Chinese tradition expresses admiration for the continuous flow that so resembles the great process of the world, the source of which is inexhaustible … since its course never stops proceeding, water represents effectiveness … The uninterrupted flow of variance, so well illustrated by the course of flowing water, is regarded as constituting the very course of reality (Jullien).


虛 (xū) means weakness, dispersed, disorderly, empty, energy exhaustion, exhausted, fearful, few, hollow, hungry, insubstantial, unprepared, vulnerable. See also Strength and Strength — Weakness.


All that exists under heaven or between the ground and the sky. See also Climate.

天 (tiān) means world, universe; nature; sky, heaven (non-religious).


Behaviours that seek to optimise relationships through collaborative actions that, in the absence of coercion, enable one to make the most of any situation (Ames & Hall); the art of making changes ‘natural’, workable, beneficial (Nonaka & Zhu)

  • Action without Coercion, Non-Forced Action, 無為 (wúwéi)
  • Respectful intention, or Desire without Object, 無欲 (wúyù)
  • Labelling without Fixed References, 無名 (wúmíng)
  • Serving without Interfering, 無事(wúshí)
  • Striving without Competing, 無爭 (wúzhēng)
  • Unmediated Feeling, 無情 (wúqíng)
  • Unmediated Thinking and Feeling, 無心 (wúxīn)
  • Unprincipled Knowledge, 無知 (wúzhī)

Lao Tzu (and Chuang Tzu) encouraged engaging the world with proper intention, contextual knowledge, subtle competence and, above all, consequential experimentation appropriate to situated particulars. They are a million miles away from thoughtless, mindless, intentless ‘strategies’ (Nonaka & Zhu).


陽 (yáng) means positive, active, male; sun; open, overt; originally: sunny side (of a mountain). Characterised as fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active. Associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. See also Yin and Yin — Yang.


陰 (yīn) means negative, passive, female; moon; covert, concealed, hidden; negative; originally: shady side (of a mountain). Characterised as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet and passive. Associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and night time. See also Yang and Yin — Yang.

Yin — Yang

A fundamental Correlative Pair consisting of two opposing forces into which Energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the world into being; every phenomenon, every process, is viewed as a particular blend of these two forces. Since yin — yang was originally derived from observations of nature, they offer a way of describing the interactions of natural physical forces. Yin — yang can be thought of as complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic System in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. Because of this, yin — yang can also deal with biological Systems like the human body and social Systems like Organisations and Engagements between Organisations like war and business. See also Yang and Yin.

Photo: © Adobe

The Art of Leadership: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of all parts
Introduction: How to make a difference

Glossary: Explanation of key terms
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more
Other reading and viewing formats




From hacker, software researcher and system engineer to leader, executive and strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy

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Erik Schön

Erik Schön

From hacker, software researcher and system engineer to leader, executive and strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy

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