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Excerpted from Tao of Personal Leadership by Diane Dreher. Copyright © 1997 by Diane Dreher. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"The teachings of Taoism and Buddhism, as well as of Native American religions, affirm that we are all part of a larger whole."

  Diane Dreher, Tao of Personal Leadership, Part 2

Systems theory became part of psychology in the 1950s, when therapists Murray Bowen and Virginia Satir noticed that families, too, function as systems: A change in one family member precipitates a change in the entire group. More recently, organizational psychologists have recognized that people who work together take on the dynamics of families, and often dysfunctional families at that.

But the lesson of living systems was known long ago by societies that lived close to nature. The teachings of Taoism and Buddhism, as well as of Native American religions, affirm that we are all part of a larger whole. With classic precision and grace, the Tao Te Ching describes the essential principles of systems theory in nature and human society.

Throughout human history, people have been fascinated by leaders, describing their strengths and weaknesses in classical epics, popular dramas, histories, and biographies, as well as handbooks for self-conduct, the precursors of modern self-help books. In the Renaissance, people learned about famous leaders of the past from epics, chronicles, and Shakespeare's history plays, but access to leadership strategies and principles was limited. 

Handbooks for leaders were written for only a privileged few. Desiderius Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, Baldassare Castiglione, and Niccola Machiavelli wrote for kings; aspiring princes; and, at most, a small group of royal advisers. As we approach the twenty-first century, the complex challenges of our times compel us all to be leaders, men and women of vision, regardless of our professions or stages in life.

In the past few decades, people and institutions have been progressively unsettled by the rapid pace of social and technological change. In earlier eras, the world around us seemed more stable, and major changes in values, institutions, and technology occurred more slowly. It took centuries for the Middle Ages to become the Renaissance, yet many of us have experienced major technological revolutions in one lifetime. 

My father grew up riding a mule on a Kentucky farm that had no electricity or modern conveniences. In his youth he went barnstorming in biplanes and later became an air force colonel, flying jet airplanes and watching astronauts walk on the moon. What science made possible in his adult world would have been dismissed as the wildest science fiction when he was a child.

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