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What is ‘Leading by Being’?

September 2, 2013

The Arahant has invited me to post some material on Leadership Development according to the teaching of the Buddha. Our leadership program is aimed at university-age and professional Buddhists, both laymen and monks, who wish to assume a leadership role in their communities. It is based on material from the Theravāda Suttas, but would be appropriate for members of other schools as well, even members of other religions.

The principles of dhamma (Dharma) are universal law, applicable at all times, everywhere and to everyone. It is time now to move beyond the old decaying systems. Here is the beginning of a path towards that goal. — The Editor

We live in a time of accelerating change. This acceleration of change has not yet reached its peak. Old structures are crumbling, and that is a good thing. It creates the opportunity for something new.

The field of Leadership 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 this from personal experience. I was the leader of a hierarchical faith-based 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.

We already have a perfect example of this kind of Leader and Leadership in the Buddha. A humble monk, he gave up all external advantages of position and authority to realize enlightenment for himself. Sitting peacefully under a tree, all alone, he discovered a solution to suffering in his own mind. He dedicated the rest of his life to helping others, freely sharing his knowledge.

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 the 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.

“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.

From → Leading by Being

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