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3 Keys to Good Leadership According to the Dalai Lama

4 min read • Aug 21, 2019 • Elizabeth Aldrich

We all know the stereotype of the sly used car salesperson who rigs vehicles to appear fine on the lot only to break down on an unsuspecting customer a few weeks later. This scenario is an extreme example of a business attitude that’s pervasive in our society: the “me first” attitude. A highly competitive business environment leads us to believe that caring for others is a weakness and that the best leaders care only about themselves and their profit.

In an article written by the Dalai Lama for the Harvard Business Review, he makes it clear that this mindset is a mistake. After all, the business person who pushes to close a sale with no regard for others will be rewarded with a quick buck but, in the long run, will only see one-time customers, bad reviews, and a high employee turnover rate. On the other hand, a business person who works to ensure that others are satisfied builds long-term relationships with repeat customers who refer new customers, and they have a better shot at securing and maintaining talented employees.

If you want to be a good leader, the Dalai Lama has one simple piece of advice: prioritize the welfare of the people you lead. Here’s how to do that.

1. Recognize Your Dependence on Others

If you’re a leader, you may often feel that others are dependent on you, not the other way around. However, humans are interdependent creatures, and in all organizations, each level of operation is just as crucial as the next. While your employees might rely on you for their paychecks, you also rely on them for your paycheck, though in a more indirect sense. Their work is what keeps your business going.

According to the Dalai Lama, ignoring your interdependence on others as a leader creates an “us” versus “them” mentality. These harsh divisions will stifle your organization from achieving its true potential because they make it impossible to attain the next item on the list.

2. Profit Isn’t King—Cooperation Is

Cooperation is vital to success. Without it, organizations—and entire societies—fall apart. The Dalai Lama describes bee colonies and how seamlessly they work together to survive, all without the need for proper training, police, or a legal system. Humans must rise to this level of cooperation to combat stress and loneliness so they can thrive.

As the Dalai Lama explains, “Even though we are social animals, there is a lack of responsibility toward each other.” However, as a leader, you can promote a sense of responsibility to others within your organization—from there, cooperation will flow organically. 

Build teamwork into the workday and provide your employees with the tools they need to communicate and collaborate effectively, such as online chat systems and workflow management programs. Finally, lead by example. Display selflessness as a leader and others will follow.

3. Learn to Develop a Wider Sense of Compassion

First of all, what is compassion? Daniel Goleman, a friend of the Dalai Lama and author of the book A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, explains the answer in an article for the Harvard Business Review. While empathy gives us the ability to feel what someone else is feeling and understand their perspective, compassion takes it a step further by making us feel the suffering of others to such an extent that we’re compelled to do something about it.

The Dalai Lama describes compassion as “the ultimate source of a happy life” and identifies it as a tool for our very survival. When we pair our compassion with our intelligence, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence, it becomes a powerful constructive force. As a leader, acting out of a deep concern for others instead of reacting to greed, anger, or stress is the final step to realizing your organization’s potential. It allows you to widen your scope of vision past your organization’s most immediate, short-term problems to see the bigger picture.

Both the Dalai Lama and Goleman agree that this deep sense of compassion can be learned. Consider implementing meditation into your workplace, and hire someone who can focus on cultivating compassion to lead the practice. First, though, Goleman recommends trying this out on yourself. Once you’ve figured out how to cultivate compassion within yourself, try it on your loved ones. Then you can move on to your employees.

There are many different leadership styles, and what works for someone else might not work for you. The Dalai Lama recognizes this, but he states that there’s still one unifying quality that all good leaders share, and that’s the ability to put others before themselves.


Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth is a freelance writer covering personal finance, business, and travel. Her writing has appeared in The Motley Fool, Business Insider, Yahoo! Finance, LendingTree, Student Loan Hero, FOX Business, and more.