RSPA Recommended Read: Tao Te Ching

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

You can keep Tony Robbins and his modern-day ALL CAPS bravado. I choose instead to learn from Lao Tzu, the ancient (500 BC) Chinese philosopher and writer. Lao Tzu’s words – ever since I purchased the updated version of his Tao Te Ching for under 10 bucks 15 years ago – have guided me as a business leader more than any Robbins’ thousand-dollar seminar could.

Perhaps my favorite Lao Tzu quote, adapted for the modern work world, is, Leading an organization is like frying a fish. You spoil it with too much poking. If you are too hands on and overly reactionary, you’ll ruin the spirit of your team and, ultimately, your organization.

Let’s dive into some more of Lao Tzu’s simple wisdom from his book, and then I’ll offer thoughts how this applies to VAR and ISV leaders:

  1. The Master stays behind; that is why he is ahead. He is detached from all things; that is why he is one with them. Because he has let go of himself, he is perfectly fulfilled.
  2. When you are content to simply be yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.
  3. Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?
  4. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”
  5. Express yourself completely, then keep quiet.
  6. He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm. He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far. He who tries to shine dims his own light.
  7. The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast. Let your workings remain a mystery. Just show the people the results.
  8. True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering.
  9. He is good to people who are good. He is also good to people who aren’t good. This is true goodness.

Don’t miss the retail IT channel’s #1 trade show, education conference, and networking event July 28-30 in Las Vegas! Visit the RetailNOW 2024 website and register today.

10. Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.

11. If a country is governed with tolerance, the people are comfortable and honest. If a country is governed with repression, the people are depressed and crafty.

12. The Master is content to serve as an example and not to impose his will. He is pointed, but doesn’t pierce. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

13. A Great Man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.

14. Confront the difficult while it is still easy; accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

15. Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe. Therefore the Master takes action by letting things take their course. He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning.

16. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

17. Presuming to know is a disease. First you realize that you are sick; then you can move towards health.

18. He acts without expectation, succeeds without taking credit, and doesn’t think that he is better than anyone else.

19. The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows this is true, but few can put it into practice.

20. By not dominating, the Master leads.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 10/10
Lao Tzu’s teachings are both the best and the simplest I’ve received about leadership excellence – but they are completely at odds with what the modern world wants us to believe.

To illustrate this, I’ve listed a few additional passages from Tao Te Ching side-by-side with excerpts from Tony Robbins’ website:

  • I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.
  • His constant practice is humility. He doesn’t glitter like a jewel.
  • Fame or integrity: which is more important? Money or happiness: which is more valuable? Success or failure: which is more destructive?
  • If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.

Are you leading with MASSIVE FORCE or are you instead investing time teaching your people and then trusting them to achieve the results? Are you concerned about yourself first – ensuring you speak first, insisting your orders are followed, and focusing solely on your bottom line?

Or do you follow the words of Lao Tzu: The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is.

Purchase your copy of Stephen Mitchell’s New English version of Tao Te Ching here.

Don’t forget to register for RetailNOW 2024, July 28-30 at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. It’s Where The Industry Meets!

Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by The CannaTech Group, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact