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The power of being powerless

That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances. That which offers no resistance can enter where is no space.

---- Lao Tzu

It has been a while since the last time I raised a topic about mindset and self-development. 1/3 of my article is about building the right mindset. Strategic thinking and creative thinking will help us build a more sustainable business. But if you are not ambitious, having the right mindset will make you much happier than your peers.

Power is a big word. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, power is the ability to control people and events. When you read this definition, what is your feeling? Do you want the ability to control people and events? Or do you feel resistant to this kind of ability?

Think about one of the most influential people you know in your life, and try to retrieve the memory of how much happiness they possessed. Probably not so much. More power comes with more responsibilities. People can easily get lost in restlessness and responsibilities with a weak mind. To be clear, I am not suggesting that being ambitious is terrible and will make you unhappy. My key statement is that people can be successful without chasing power.

When you see the most successful leaders in the world, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, you will find that they all have a characteristic of softness and the desire to serve their people. Power had never been a symbol of their leadership. Being powerless could be a better method to connect with your people and listen to their needs.

Lao Tzu said, “The highest good is like water, which benefits all of creation without trying to compete with it. Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it.”. The ancient wisdom teaches us that we don’t need the power to be powerful. And that’s the truth. Research shows that showing vulnerability in front of a group audience with a high profile by giving a powerless or self-deprecating remark could build a closer connection with the audience in a presentation.

When I asked my mentor what is the key takeaway for him to step forward and become a general manager in a corporation with 1,000+ employees, he said, “Shut up and listen.” Leaders spend more on listening than giving orders. And how good you are at listening determines how good you make your decisions. All profound things and emotions of things are proceeded and attended by silence.

The quieter you are, the more you hear.

Some practice tips:

  1. In the next conversation or meeting, keep silent, and focus on listening to other people’s statements.

  2. If you can, tell your colleagues or friends about an experience of failure in your life.

  3. Lend a hand to a stranger if you can. Helping people without any expectation of return feels amazing. People barely realise that.


Book to read: ”Give and Take” ------ Adam Grant

Tao Te Ching” ------ Lao Tzu

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