9 Leadership the Buddhist Way

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Chapter 9

Leadership the Buddhist WayLaurens van den Muyzenberg

This paper describes the main conclusions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and me, reached over a 10-year period, about the Buddhist principles useful for leaders of organizations with as its main focus of business organizations (Dalai Lama et al., 2009). We took as a starting point the many severe problems in the world still to be solved and the contribution business can make. Ven. P.A. Payutto also contributed with important insights. We examined not only Buddhist principles but also the ideas from prominent modern thinkers about leadership, amongst others, Peter Drucker, Chester Barnard, Jim Collins and the economist Friedrich van Hayek. It also includes the examination of my experiences of 50 years of leadership and international management consulting.

Pursuit of Happiness as the BaseLeading the Buddhist Way is based on two principles. The rst principle is that the purpose of all of us is to seek happiness, and the second principle is that nothing exists that is permanent on its own, independent of causes and conditions. The rst principle is frequently referred to by the Dalai Lama as one of the central teachings of the Buddha. Aristotle expressed the same view. It is also one of the most important statements in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of July 6, 1776: All men are created equal. . . with certain unalienable Rights, and among these are. . . the pursuit of Happiness. The second principle of impermanence is presented in different ways in Buddhism. For example nothing exists without a cause and a cause has (an) effect(s) in endless chains of change. These change cycles are sometimes referred to as dependent origination or conditioned arising. Conditioned arising differs in two ways from cause and effect. First, the emphasis is on the process of arising and not on the steady state of the effect. Second, an effect is not only dependent onL. van den Muyzenberg (B) http://www.leadersway.org e-mail: laurensvanden@wanadoo.fr

L. Zsolnai (ed.), Ethical Principles and Economic Transformation A Buddhist Approach, Issues in Business Ethics 33, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-9310-3_9, C Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011



L. van den Muyzenberg

a cause but also on conditions. For example a seed becomes only a plant with conditions such as soil, water and light. The term dependent in dependent arising refers to dependent on conditions. Therefore, solving problems requires not only nding the cause(s) but also the condition(s) that allowed the cause(s) to become a process leading to (an) effect(s). Impermanence, or constant change, is in a way obvious, we all change, we are born and die. Even though it is obvious that people do not like impermanence. People prefer that once things are pleasant it would remain the same. The pursuit of happiness is as therefore a dynamic process considering impermanence. Happiness in this context does not mean pleasure as pleasures come and go. Happiness refers to peace of mind, having a feeling that you are doing the right things, using all the capabilities and energy you have. Buddhist leadership is based on facilitating and producing happiness in a constantly changing process. To be able to function in this process you have to act based on Right View. Right View can also be referred to as Right Vision or Right Intention. Acting based on Right View is referred to as Right Conduct. Having the Right View but not acting upon it is without merit. This is often a problem; people have good intentions but do not act accordingly. We will look together in the next sections Right View and Right Conduct at three levels of leadership: Level One, Leadership of your own mind and behavior. Level Two, Leadership of an organization. Level Three, Leadership of an organization as an integral part of an everchanging society.

What Is Leadership?We are concerned with the leadership of organizations. What are organizations? An organization consists of a group of people that have joined the organization on a voluntary basis, because they believe that as a member of the organization they can reach goals they cannot reach alone. For example designing and producing an aircraft requires a large number of people with different skills that cooperate, the same for an airline, or a hospital. The rst task of the leader is to see that the organization survives in the face of rapidly changing circumstances, with economic ups and downs, competition, innovation and growing and declining markets. The second task is to see that the organization makes a positive contribution to the well-being of the members of the organization and of the buyers of their products and services, their shareholders and all the other members of society with which they are in contact. Leaders lead organizations by making decisions. We will examine the decisionmaking at three levels: from the perspective of the leader as an individual, from the perspective of the organization he or she leads, and from the perspective of society at large.


Leadership the Buddhist Way


Leading YourselfThe Buddha said, The best way for a ruler to reign over his country is rst of all to rule himself. That is why we start by describing how to lead yourself.

Right View and Right ConductDecisions can have two causes: an external impulse or an internal impulse (that is an initiative you want to take). In both cases the rst step is to ask yourself, what do I want to achieve and why, what is my goal, my intention, are the consequences good? Good is an action of which the consequences are positive and healthy for you and for those effected by the consequences of the decision. A decision that is only good for you but not for others is bad as is a decision good for others but not for you. Determining the effects of a decision are requires often a great deal of analysis and thinking. What are the short-, medium-, and long term effects? What is the effect on our employees and our customers, what are those risks involved? You will also nd situations where the effects are good for some but bad for others. What do you do if even after many attempts you cannot eliminate all negative consequences? There is no easy answer to these questions. First, you have to consider the intensities of the good and the bad in total and by individual. Second you must make sure that the good effects are far greater than the bad. What a good leader should never do is taking a decision that will be benecial to himself but harms others. In arriving at Right View you will face many obstacles. One of the obstacles is wrong motivation. The rst question many people ask when looking at the effect of a decision is what is in it for me, and they show little interest in the consequences on others. Another mistake is to look only at the materialist effects and not at spiritual effects, like will I earn more money and if I will earn more, is it good. Many other motivations will lead to the wrong results, for example if the desire for prestige, jealousy, hatred, fear, anger, ego centeredness, greed, lack of selfcondence, revenge inuencing your mind, that will lead to Wrong View. These motivations are referred to as negative thoughts and emotions. Therefore to make the right decisions you have to reduce or eliminate these negative thoughts and emotions from taking control by training your mind.

The Necessity of Training Your MindMany books have been published about training the mind, under the heading of meditation. The objective is often given as becoming calm, getting rid of stress, to relax. In the context of leadership the purpose is to make the mind ready to work effectively. The Dalai Lama says the purpose is to discipline the mind so it does what you want. The Dalai Lama often compares the way your mind works to a


L. van den Muyzenberg

monkey that swings in a tree from branch to branch, from subject to subject, unable to concentrate. This section does not contain a complete guide to training the mind, but given the mystique and many misunderstandings I will present two training methods I use that you may nd helpful too. The simplest method is walking meditation. You just walk back and forth and instead of letting your mind jump around you try to concentrate on the feeling in your feet as the heel lifts from the oor, moves forward, touches the oor again. Just concentrate on the feeling of moving touching and no other thoughts. You may think this to be ridiculously simple but you will nd it very difcult. Inevitably your thoughts will start entering your mind. When that happens classify the thought as pleasant, unpleasant, neutral and drop it. It can help your concentration by pronouncing, aloud or silently, the word corresponding to each movement. For example say heeling (lifting your heel while the toes are still on the oor), moving (moving the foot forward), touch (your toes touch the oor), weight (moving your full weight on the foot as the heel goes down). You can go one step further by bringing your breath consciously in harmony with the movement of your feet by breathing in after weight when heeling starts. The words like heeling and weight have been chosen after a great deal of trial and error. For example touch and weight are stopping words, heeling and moving are movement words. The movements should be carried out in slow motion. No faster than you can say the words calmly. Start with 5 min every day, at any time. Make it a habit. Over time you will nd that your ability to control your mind will improve. The second method is sitting meditation. You sit down on a chair or on the oor with your back straight and unsupported, where instead of concentrating on the feeling of your feet moving you concentrate on your breath going in and out. This training helps you to improve your mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to the ability to see an emotion or a thought starting to develop in your mind and recognize whether it is a good one or a bad one. For example you will be aware that you are starting to become angry and have a possibility to stop it from taking control over your mind. This is not easy. Many Buddhists texts say that you should be grateful if someone offends or severely criticizes you because it presents you with the opportunity to train your mind to stay calm. The following very simple example shows the difference in how the trained and the untrained mind work. Imagine, you are the head of an organization and you have scheduled a meeting of the Executive Committee starting at 9.00 AM. You are entering the meeting room at 9.00 and notice one person is missing. That initiates immediately an unpleasant feeling. Then you have to choose between many options, get angry, calmly wait until the person arrives, call him on his mobile or his secretary. The leader with the trained mind will, with mindfulness, immediately recognize that an unpleasant emotion is entering his mind, that immediately rings an alarm bell, be careful do not act under the inuence of a negative emotion. Therefore he stays calm, and makes one of two decisions: start straight away or wait until the person arrives. If he chooses to wait and it takes too long until the missing


Leadership the Buddhist Way


person arrives, he will start anyway and when the missing person arrives, he will summarize what would have been discussed so far. In both cases, after the meeting, he calls the latecomer to nd out what the cause of his absence was. If that was not an acceptable cause, he reaches an agreement with the latecomer about what would be a valid cause. He will always stay calm. Buddhism proposes a useful list of the seven character traits of an ideal leader. This list is a good bridge to the next section leading an organization.

The Ideal Leader Understanding Principles and CausesLeaders are aware of what duties and responsibilities are involved in their role, and of the challenges they face. Leaders should be able to identify the causes of problems and the principles that should be applied to solve them. For example a problem can be caused by a lack of self-discipline. If that is the case, the leader should know the steps to take to correct it.

Understanding Objectives and ResultsLeaders know the meaning and objectives of the principles they abide by; they understand the tasks they are undertaking; they understand the reasons behind their actions. They know what may be expected in the future as a result of their actions and whether these will lead to good or bad result. This kind of foresight is important for a leader when they are taking an action now that will only lead to results in the longer term, or are insisting on taking an action that is not popular.

Understanding OneselfLeaders know their strengths, knowledge, aptitudes, abilities and virtues, and are able to correct and improve themselves. They also have to be aware of their limited knowledge of the operations of the company and how the company in turn affects its many stakeholder-groups. They must be very eager to learn.

Understanding ModerationLeaders know moderation in speech, work and action. They do everything with an understanding of the objectives and the real benets expected. They do not act merely for their own ends, but also consider the effect of their actions on the benets for the organization for which they are responsible.


L. van den Muyzenberg

Understanding the Occasion and Efcient Use of TimeLeaders know the proper occasion and the proper amount of time for actions and dealings with people what should be done and how and they act punctually and at the appropriate time. This includes knowing how to plan ones time and organize it effectively. Additionally leaders must have discernment, the ability to identify the issues that matter most and concentrate on them. It is very important not to waste time on trivial matters.

Understanding the OrganizationLeaders know that the organization should be approached this way: people within it have rules and regulations; they have a culture and traditions; they have needs that should be dealt with, helped along, served, and beneted in the proper way. They need to have an understanding of the character of the company and their responsibility for developing that character and should be aware if some aspects of the character need to be changed.

Understanding PeopleLeaders know and comprehend differences among individuals. They know how to relate to people effectively what can be learnt from them, how they should be praised, criticized, advised and taught.

Leading Your OrganizationThe three main tasks of the leader of an organization are (1) to see it that it survives, (2) that the members thrive (3) and that it fullls a useful function in society. Most people that do not have any experience of leading a business often do not know how difcul...