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Doing by non-doing

Non-doing doesn’t exactly sound like a productivity spell for today’s leaders. But it can be. Where does it come from and what does it even mean? It’s an ancient idea that’s certainly stood the test of time, having first appeared...

What can Taoism bring to your company culture?

Non-doing doesn’t exactly sound like a productivity spell for today’s leaders. But it can be. Where does it come from and what does it even mean? It’s an ancient idea that’s certainly stood the test of time, having first appeared in the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s writings. And although wu wei literally means non-doing or non-action, it’s anything but a form of passivity. Think of it as effortless action: getting the greatest outcome possible by doing the least possible. But why should we embrace this very concept in an age of constant competition and pressure to perform?

For starters, because in many company cultures, leadership is still synonymous with rigid hierarchy and authoritarian management. The problem is that in the golden age of the knowledge society, this is hardly ever a good strategy. The most successful companies out there aren’t the ones that always follow the rules but the ones that don’t think twice before completely rewriting them. And they expect the same from their employees. In a game where creativity wins it all, good leadership isn’t about instructing, dictating or checking. It’s more about asking, inspiring and supporting. In other words, non-doing.

Here are four don’ts from Codecool’s soft skill expert, Dávid Nádas, for collectively mastering the art of non-action.

1. Don’t be a know-it-all

A company culture based on non-doing is built on the fact that no one holds the Philosopher’s Stone. Meaning that no leader or team member has the ultimate truth. Why is this important? First, because it hardly ever exists. What’s more, if you obsess about such truths, you’ll again encourage autocratic group dynamics. Whether you’re in a meeting or in a classroom, if your feeling of being right shoots up, so does your feeling of authority. When building a supportive environment instead of a domineering one, finding the right solution shouldn’t be the only point. It’s just as important how you search for it: that you remain open throughout the process, and dare to experiment and take risks if needed.

2. Don’t put people in boxes

Aka the number one rule for a strong feedback culture: try not to stick labels on people, be they positive or negative. For example, if you say “You’re smart!” to someone, nobody, including them and those around them, will know what exactly was good about their work. Similarly, if you tell someone they’re slack, you basically imply that there’s something wrong with them as a person. That’s why labelling is the biggest obstacle to development both for individuals and the company as a whole. “The point of organizational culture is to highlight the behaviours that the firm values so these can be transferred among people, supporting learning at the company level,” the Codecool expert points out.

3. Don’t offer ready-made answers

In a non-doing organizational culture, employees value attention more than solutions. So if someone has a problem, others shouldn’t tell them how to deal with it but help them find the answer instead. Even if this means that a task will take longer or require more attempts. “If you hand ready-made solutions to someone on a plate, you also take away something crucial: the opportunity to learn. This is just as true in a coding school as in an organization: if you want someone to grow, you need to assist them with creating new cognitive schemas themselves through trial and error,” Dávid recommends.

4. Don’t take away responsibility from others

Or no pressure, no diamonds. The saying rings as true as ever: people can only improve if they’ve got responsibility, if what they do is meaningful and has consequences. Autocratic leadership withdraws this power, as it takes away the possibility from others to become and remain in charge of their own learning. So just because you think you’re better at a task, don’t take it over from others. “If a student, say, would like to change something at the school, we always let them do it themselves. It’s key that every project is run by whoever is the most motivated. This is also a great way of creating a sense of ownership,” the Codecool mentor explains.

Written by
Dávid Nádas