This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 30, 1991

October 30, 1991 - Tao of management

Among the most popular materials in the collection of the Douglas Public Library District are those items relating to business and business management. Not only do we see a lot of activity in the BOOKS on this subject -- such as "In Search of Excellence," or the one I'm reading right now called "Odyssey," by Apple Computers, Inc.'s John Sculley -- we checkout a lot of business-related audiocassettes, presumably to those would-be executives who drive into Denver every day.

I understand the urge to better oneself, but I have a special problem with these kind of materials. You see, when I was growing up I developed a profound suspicion of anybody and everybody who happened to be in charge. There were a lot of slogans around in those days, and I believed at least two of them: "Never trust anyone over thirty," and "Question authority." Now I'm over thirty. Even worse, I'm a boss. So whenever my staff disagrees with me, I tend to want to side with them. It usually turns out that they're right anyhow.

I don't mind people disagreeing with me. It's just that when they do, I think they should at least have the good grace to be wrong.

Nonetheless, I do want to be a good boss. I've studied Theory Z, One Minute Management, Management By Objectives, even MBWA (Management by Walking Around). But none of them has quite captured the way I think things really work.

But I did finally find a book that really captures MY management style, and I think more people need to know about it. It's available in book or audiocassette format from the Douglas Public Library District, and I recommend it highly.

The book is "Tao te Ching," Chinese for "The Book of the Way." ("Tao," incidentally, is pronounced "Dow," as in the "Dow Jones Average.") The Tao te Ching was written sometime between 600 and 400 B.C. It is the basic text of a religion and/or philosophy known as Taoism.

Not much is known about the man who wrote the Tao te Ching. He was called Lao tzu -- a Chinese phrase that translates, more or less, as "Old Man." Legend has it that he was an archivist -- a kind of librarian.

The translation I recommend was published in 1988 by Stephen Mitchell, who has two unique qualifications as translator. First, he has had fourteen years of Zen training. Second, and perhaps as a consequence of the first, he has a remarkable sensitivity to what makes a good poem. His renderings of the Tao te Ching's 81 short verses are both plain and pure.

And in verse 17, I found everything I believe in as a manager. Here are the first two lines: "When the Master governs, the people / are hardly aware that he exists." This doesn't mean that just because you don't know where your boss is, he or she is Enlightened. It means that a boss shouldn't be too oppressive. Work should be as natural as play. It should be interesting, something you choose to do because it's fun - not something you're forced to do even though you hate it.

Here's the second stanza: "If you don't trust the people, / you make them untrustworthy." I've had too many bosses who hired me, then wouldn't let me do what they hired me for. This is not only counter-productive, it's humiliating.

And here's the last stanza: "When his work is done, / the people say, `Amazing: / we did it, all by ourselves!'" I know this for a fact: When I leave my staff alone, they astonish me with their creativity.

It seems that sometimes the best thing a boss can do is to stay out of his or her employees' way.

That Lao tzu, he was some librarian. Not only was he responsible for the shortest religious scripture in history - he wrote a business management classic.

No comments:

Post a Comment