Daodejing Chapter 17: the invisible hand

Richard Brown
2 min readApr 1, 2023


The best ruler is
Unknown to his people.
The next best is
Loved and praised.
The next is feared.
The worst is despised.
If there is a lack of trust above,
There is a lack of trust below.
Remain distant,
Choose words carefully.
Whatever goal is accomplished,
Whatever job is done,
The people all say,
We did it ourselves.


This is my favourite definition of leadership. It perfectly encapsulates the true meaning of the Daoist concept of effortless action (無為/wúwéi).

The best leader acts like an invisible hand who trusts his people and creates the right environment for them to thrive in. Rather making rash promises that he has no hope of fulfilling, he speaks only when absolutely necessary and chooses his words very carefully so that they are not open to misinterpretation. And instead of trying to take credit for any accomplishments that occur under his leadership, he leaves it to his people to enjoy their successes.

The best leader is thus a facilitator — not a dictator. He focuses on achieving long-term results — not on gaining the short-term adoration of his people. Because he shows that he trusts his people, they in turn show their trust in him and willingly follow his leadership.

I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!



Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.