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Leadership is an Ancient Skill

By Jim Mikula, President/CEO

My first overseas role was Director of Marketing for The Regent Taipei. It would be not only my first time living in a foreign country, it was also my first time opening a new hotel. Nothing like experiencing two firsts to challenge one’s leadership. It was important to learn quickly about the culture of a country you’re working in, and in the first few months I made a few cultural faux pas.


One of the first books I read was by Lao Tzu a Chinese philosopher from the 6th century, B.C. The book had maxims that were unexpected as the recommendations were so similar to the principles of leadership I had previously been taught. I was anticipating some ancient Chinese wisdom and learned that human wisdom is universal. Here are some excerpts.


The intelligent leader will be careful not to speak as if he doubted or distrusted his followers’ ability to do the job suitably. When the work is done, and as he wanted it done, he will be happy if the followers say: ‘This is just the way we wanted.’”


This quote speaks to trusting employees, inspiring them, allowing staff ownership, and avoiding micromanaging which can give the impression that the leader doesn’t think the team can accomplish a task or project. 


“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”


I wonder if Bruce Lee’s philosophy of “Be Like Water” was inspired by Lao Tzu?


Effective leadership calls for collaboration by taking the team’s thoughts and experiences into consideration rather than making unilateral decisions. Working with leaders that create a culture of compassion and understanding can lead to the team enjoying their work.


“A good leader guides by good example. A bad leader resorts to force and intrigue.”


“Being calm and contented himself, he sets an example for his people”


Back to a key element of effective leadership: Lead by Example. The leader sets the tone for the organization. Is the tone frazzled or stressed? Is the tone calm and focused? It is difficult to have an organization that can be strategic when it is constantly stressed.


You might wonder how someone in the middle or even in the lower levels of an organization can lead in this manner. We can all model the behavior and actions that demonstrate collaboration, compassion, responsibility and focus.


After studying Lao Tzu and other philosophers I realized how much the human experience is so similar around the world. I also realized that being authentic, humble, respectful and owning my mistakes is the effective way to integrate into a new culture.

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