The invisible art of leadership

The invisible art of leadership

Some things should remain invisible; a magician and his tricks, photos of your food on the internet and leadership.


Somethings simply work best when they remain hidden. However, the allure of personal ego can be more overpowering than the sanctity of these magical moments.

Using these examples:

A magician’s purpose is to make us believe in the impossible, to entertain and make us feel anything can be achieved; all of which is lost when the trick is revealed.

A great meal allows us to enjoy the moment, the company we share, invigorate the senses; smell, taste; allowing us to truly be in the moment- too often ruined by capturing and posting on social media.

I will get to leadership soon, but why do we feel obliged to ruin these otherwise magic moments?

Well the magician wants to prove how great he is; being able to trick you using such simple means. Whilst the instagramer wants to make you envious of their great meal; all for what?  A hit of dopamine from the thought that for a moment you are better than someone else?


Welcome to the evolution (or devolution) of leadership.

Leadership was a silent art.  Evidence of early theories found in the works of Lao-Tzu an ancient Chinese philosopher; so silent in fact it’s debated whether he lived in the 4th or 6th century. His views known as Tao Leadership are often reduced the concept that leaders should be invisible; acting without effort and teaching without words. Leaders don’t try to be someone else and simply teach through example.  Through his works one line stands out: “The best leaders are those the people hardly know exist”; the invisible leader.

A short hop away was another famous Chinese writer and strategist, Sun Tzu.  Whilst best known for the famous military handbook; “The Art of War” there are some correlations with regards to the perceptions of a leader advocated by Lao.  For example, the quote “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” This can in the modern day corporate environment be taken to mean; the leader who doesn’t seek praise, but is prepared to take accountability for loss whilst having the best intentions for the company is well; a keeper.

Again, this notion of the leader being there to support without necessarily being seen.  This was made clear by Sun Tzu as he states to regard your soldiers as your children in order to build loyalty.

The next leadership guru needs little introduction, Jesus had a view that doing good onto others and treating others with respect was, well the way of god.  Look I’m not going to argue with that.  So far leadership has been a covert and silent force of doing the right thing.  Thinking about it, leadership was elegantly simple.

The problem is when you research the history of leadership, none of this great stuff comes up.  The starting point for most search results in somewhere in the 19th Century by some muppet called Thomas Carlyle saying that the leader was a hero.  Well that kind of ruined things.  All those people doing good in silence, got their leadership egos out of whack and wanted to be recognised as such- Heroes.

To make things worse he advocated that not just anyone could be this hero leader as people were either born leaders or….not. Oh by the way the name for this theory is quite apt; the Great Man Theory.

I guess since not everyone was born a hero, there were some with nothing but time on their hands who set out to slam this Great Man Theory down, but most just went along with it, after all if you weren’t born a leader who were you to question?

Then some stuff happened that looked at analysing the traits of leaders to identify if they had certain characterises in common [Trait Theory]. In the 60’s when that became stale it was then thought that it was the behaviours which made leaders [Behaviour Theory].

Then what I believe to be some good work in situational leadership arose, stating that the behaviours of leaders where based upon the context they were leading and they should be adaptable.

Contemporary theories are a dime a dozen, but nothing to me has bettered the early and mostly forgotten works of the ancient gurus.

Leadership has become this complex beast; especially when you consider the amalgamation of works from motivational theorists; two-factor, scientific studies; it’s gets quite overwhelming.

The central issue is that more the theories grew the more they focussed on the leader as the figure of importance-  trust me leaders who takes this approach find it hard to gain the trust of their followers.


If you want to be a great leader, start by listening, be yourself, drop the ego and realise you are but a servant to your team; there to support, assist and be there when the shit gets real.

Ultimately, I think it’s time to go old school and revisit the early principles; the operation of a leader is often best when their efforts go unnoticed in success, but quickly appear to deal with the fall outs of failure.


Go on and be; the invisible leader.


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