Leading with Virtue not Beliefs

Jaro Berce

Jaro Berce

associate professor at University of Ljubljna
In the course of his life Jaro Berce has lived, been educated and worked in many different places of culture – Europe, Africa, USA and China. He was an entrepreneur, project manager, member of board of directors and performed many more other long and short term tasks. Half of his life he dedicated to martial arts. He merged all his diverse knowledge and passion into a different approach, leadership. By teaching and coaching he widely spreads his ideas. He currently holds an associate professor and a project management position within the Center of Social Informatics at the University of Ljubljana, Faculty for Social Sciences.
Jaro Berce


My book *Leadership by Virtue* is about: Strategy & Martial arts & East / West Philosophies & Organization & Culture & Changes http://t.co/ifOBE6iCdR
Jaro Berce
Jaro Berce

Leading with Virtue not Beliefs

There are probably more studies, articles and books on “how to lead a team and building a team” than you can ever read. Therefore, I’m not going to or daring to repeat the same matters. But I would rather post a challenge – “Have you ever been a part of an international /inter-cultural team”? If yes, what kind of experience did you get? Where there any obstacles to leadership, any misunderstanding because of different perceptions of team members coming from different cultural background? Well, I had such an opportunity to work in and lead a multicultural environment.

In this post I would like to show and compare western approaches to team leading with eastern ones. They are so different in styles and philosophies that it is interesting to demonstrate and to share them with you.

Western beliefs mostly always describe “five/seven/ten… keys to leading a team”. You are probably very much accustomed with them and have read about those as well as other instructions dealing with leading, team and expected characteristics of a leader. Most of the time authors offer some of the great (repeated) suggestions and topics shown below which are then further appropriately elaborated into strong rooted beliefs of properness:

  • Keep things in perspective / define the purpose of the team;
  • Establish team objectives / focus on results and productivity;
  • Keep the team focused / align people with the stuff they are good at or passionate about;
  • Get the right people on-and-off the bus / demonstrate your commitment;
  • Be a team player or allow others to shine / a leader must mobilize team members;
  • Leading by example means following rules / leader cannot exempt himself from the rules;
  • Leaders people will follow are accountable and trustworthy / leaders of teams take the responsibility;
  • Characteristics of a successful leadership is to trust your people — and let them know it;
  • Don’t provide all the answers — make your employees think;
  • etc.

On the other side, Eastern beliefs are much more subtle, more in anthology with different notations and analysis in describing what is important when leading a team. The mission, goal and leadership are described in a way that opens a field for thoughts. It is much more related and connected with the Nature and ourselves. Let me show some examples:

  • “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow” says Chinese proverb about leadership role.
  • Chinese ancient sage Zhuang Zi describes the role of a leader by a story. “King Yao asked Xu You ‘Can Nie Que be the king? I’ll ask Wang Ni to invite him.’ Xu You replied ‘Alas! The kingdom will be in danger! As a man, Nie Que is a man of intelligence and understanding, sharp-witted and quick-minded. His talents are far above others and he knows how to comply with nature through human efforts. He is good at preventing errors but does not know the source of those errors. Let him become the king? He would resort to human wits and ignore nature. He would be self-centered in dealing with everything; he would worship knowledge and run after it; he would be driven by affairs and be indulged in things; he would be a slave of circumstances and things; he would meddle with things without and fix ideas. How can he be fit to become a king? He can be a minister, but he cannot be a king. His way of government would be the apple of discord, a disaster to the ministers and peril to the king’s position and the state’.”
  • ‘When the archer misses the center of the target, he does not blame the bow or arrow. He seeks for the cause of failure within himself’ or ‘a great martial artist will never make a show of being great; that is how his greatness is achieved’ is how far east martial arts wisdom explains the character of a leader.
  • Another way of describing how to lead a team thought by Chinese ancient sages is:

o   A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves – Lao Zi.

o   Mastering others is strength but mastering yourself is a true power. To lead people walk behind them – Lao Zi.

o   Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death – Sun Zi.

In a global word where we all are connected one way or another, only one approach, which is also above cultural dependence, is hard to apply. Not understanding the differences or even negating them could hardly lead to fruitful results in leading multicultural teams. We should understand and learn principles and ways from each other, although they are poles apart, how to fruitfully lead teams.

If we don’t follow this path, differences will not narrow but broaden. I have a feeling that when leading teams (and companies and states and ….) we follow the wrong path, the one long ago predicted by Lao Zi: ‘When virtue is lost, benevolence appears; when benevolence is lost right conduct appears; when right conduct is lost, regulation appears. Regulation is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.’

To conclude this short demonstration of culturally dependent issues in team leading I would like to offer two ways of thinking about the same subject:

  • Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it (Lao Zi).
  • A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way (John C. Maxwell).

Can we start to co-work, lead and understand each other?


  • F. Jaouën says:

    This confrontation with eastern cultures could as well apply to ours. The image of leadership you describe at the beginning is for those who are self-convinced of their leadership and believe that they make the things happen because of the implementation of some simple rules and the shining glance of their superiority…
    Basically, I prefer getting inspiration from this eastern approach.

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