Guide to Leadership


As you watch the presidential election unfold, I thought you might find it useful to read the qualities of a good leader as listed by an ancient Chinese emperor in the Tang Dynasty.

He starts off by saying a good leader must be a man of few words, must be modest toward the people, and must be able to suppress his emotions. He must be a good negotiator.

He lists the following qualities necessary for good governance: respect for those with wisdom and virtue; caring for the people as if they were your own children; promoting the development of industry; and establishing friendly relations with people abroad.

"As birds in a forest and fish live aplenty in wide rivers, with plenty of love and reason in governing a country, people will naturally come together. All the disasters of life come from lack of love and reason," the emperor wrote.

He warns that a leader must make the distinction between public and personal affairs and never give special attention to family or specific interest groups; he should be extremely careful of what he says in public; he should also be educated, as uneducated people involved in politics cannot make effective and rightful policies.

Here is some advice that might ring a bell with some of you. They are the four things a ruler must never do. He must never rule with falsehoods and lies. He must never forget public duties and responsibilities and instead pursue personal interests and desires. He must never lack restraint and self-control. He must never be materialistic, extravagant and conceited.

Just so you’ll know that free speech is not a modern invention, the old emperor, whose rule began in 626 A.D., warns: "To suppress freedom of speech is like blocking the flow of a river. Eventually the force of the water will lead it to overflow and flood the surroundings, causing a large number of casualties. It is best not to suppress the voice of the people and instead listen attentively to their criticism."

While noting that everyone is free to believe whatever religion he or she chooses, he warns that a ruler must not preach religion. He warns against reckless wars lest they wear out the army and lead to defeat.

"Looking back in history, those who irresponsibly sent troops to combats for no reason have been defeated. Armaments are a country’s weapons. Constant engagement in war can wear out the people of even the world’s largest nations," he wrote.

Knowledge is always time- and place-specific, and therefore can become obsolete. We no longer need to know how to fight with a sword, for example. Wisdom, however, is universal and timeless. The principles involved in good governing are the same today as they were 2,000 years ago.

These excerpts from the emperor’s writing are contained in a fine little book, Secret Tactics: Lessons From the Great Masters of Martial Arts, edited by Kazumi Tabata, a grandmaster in the Shotokan style of Japanese karate. The 138 pages of this book, published by Tuttle Publishing, contain a lot of sound advice and wisdom.

So there you have a few criteria by which to judge the candidates. I haven’t seen much humility — or reason, for that matter. With the exception of Ron Paul, all the Republicans seem to be competing to be the chief warmonger. The Democrats are following the script written for them by the Israeli lobby. You would think a nation of 300 million people could find a better slate of candidates, but unfortunately money is everything in American politics. Big money wants servility, not leadership, in its candidates.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.