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Leading by Being

September 1, 2013

Q: How would you teach or reform Buddhist leadership?

The Arahant: I would eliminate all official titles and positions, and have would-be leaders engage people in the Buddha’s teaching by authentic leadership. That’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime, but it could happen by force in a generation or two, if Buddhism in general keeps on the same course. The existing leadership will lose all credibility, their organizations will fail and they will have to start all over again, without the advantage of ecclesiastical titles and positions. I think that would be a good thing, because it would select out the phony leaders and leave the genuine ones.

Contrary to most people’s assumptions, it’s perfectly possible to lead without an official position. After all, the Buddha himself did it. He gave up his family political position, and rejected two offers to become a leader in his teachers’ groups. He went off alone, attained a state of enlightenment that met his unprecedented high standards, and began to lead others to that state.

Instead of leadership by fabricated designation or organizational position, what we need is actual leadership, leading by being. Not only in Buddhism, but everywhere. We need a revolution, not of violence but of thought. The field of Leadership in general has been stuck for a long time. Organizations of all kinds have become static hierarchical bureaucracies, rife with corruption—sociopathic, abstract corporate entities whose only real purpose is power and self-perpetuation.

This is not just a theory—I know it from personal experience. I was the leader of a hierarchical religious organization until 2011, when clearly seeing the fallacy of considering one human being better or more valuable than another, I resigned. Since then I have been facing the challenge of developing a new kind of Leadership: without hierarchy, not based on authority or tradition, without using fear as a motivator—open-source structures, led by focus instead of force, inspiring by conviction, experience and example.

The Buddha cared enough to take responsibility without demanding authority. He had enough confidence in his discoveries to trust that honest men who looked within themselves would find <bthe same things he did. He was skillful enough as a leader that he could convince many people to try his methods, and inspiring enough that many of them made the concentrated effort necessary to reach success. He didn’t teach so much as inspire people to learn.

“Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’—then you should enter & remain in them.” — Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65)

The Buddha didn’t demand authority; he led by communicating his conviction: offering a vision of a way of life transcending the heavy care and suffering that marks our human existence. He didn’t conjure up a dream of another, perfect world; rather, he showed by example how to lead a noble and satisfying life in this world, with all its imperfections. He demonstrated how to create satisfying meaning in your life, and be of real benefit to others without compromising your integrity.

Leading by Being starts from Four Foundations:

  • Being Integrity — being able to keep your word to yourself and others
  • Being Authentic — being truthful about who you are & your intentions
  • Being Committed — being dedicated to a purpose beyond yourself
  • Being Change — being willing to be at cause over change

Each of these is a deep study in itself, demanding profound personal growth to master and implement successfully. The Four Foundations are only the first dimension of the complex name-&-form of Leading by Being. In addition there are Leader and Leadership each as Ontology, Phenomena, Concepts and Terminology.


From → Leading by Being, Q&A

  1. I think that many commentators would agree that ‘leadership’ within a structured organisational setting is a falsehood. I wish you well on your journey and look forward to sharing your experience.

    • Nicholas, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The Buddha admitted that even his Eightfold Noble Path is a fabrication; what then to speak of modern corporations and other abstract entities? However, structural and organizational designations do give unenlightened people being, energy and action in the present as they strive toward some desirable future goals. We want to explore structures that embody spiritual truths such as the equality of all beings, while still giving wholesome and useful structure to experience. To that end we will gradually post all our material on Leading by Being as we develop our coursework. Your input and suggestions are always welcome. — The Editor

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