The venerable Tao Te Ching employs the metaphor of the oak tree versus the weeping willow. The oak is firm, rigid, upright and proud. The willow, by contrast, is slouched, rounded and bent over. Yet, it is the willow that endures a hurricane wind, while the oak is uprooted – an apt paradox for true and effective leadership.
A leader must project vision, ethics, values and principles. If these are rigidly in place, however, they may not survive the winds of growth and change. On the other hand, if these qualities are completely malleable, then what good are they? It seems to me that a leader should be an artist, creating something real and palpable, but that creation must allow the breezes of change to carry though – without a collapse of its essence.
This is not an easy task. Authoritarian leadership may partly achieve its vision, using power and control, but contained therein will always be the seeds of destruction. Participatory and inclusive leadership requires the balance between passion and detachment. Passion for the veracity of the ideals, and detachment for the ability to adapt and evolve by means of effective conflict resolution skills and ego management.