Spiritual Leadership: the Dalai Lama on Being a Good Leader

Spirituality is a human resource that fuels personal and professional success. Whatever a leader’s faith, spiritual practices offer a foundation for authenticity, inspiration and transformation.

Leadership from a spiritual base, whatever the faith, establishes a foundation of consistency and integrity rooted in the values of a particular worldview. It’s a kind of authenticity that inspires best when faith is about doing, not simply being religious. It’s not about praying publicly, talking about faith or even creating a business plan based on core principles. It’s about living the truth of our deepest beliefs.

This is the first post in a series about of leadership theory and practice seen through faith tradition.

Leadership Lessons from the Dalai Lama

According to Inc.com the Buddhist perspective is about gratitude at the core: “It’s no secret running a business is hard. It’s easy for a small business owner or entrepreneur to worry about what could go wrong and prepare for the worst. But, instead, the Dalai Lama encourages a more optimistic approach to business. “Appreciate how rare and full of potential your situation is in this world, then take joy in it, and use it to your best advantage,” he tweeted last month. Every problem has a solution, and having the right attitude from the beginning may help you find it.

The Dalai Lama’s book, The Leader’s Way explores the ways understanding the importance of  cause-and-effect, interdependence, and  impermanence (constant change). The source of a positive attitude, the power of finding a solution comes in part from an understanding of karma as a result of actions — so that there is always hope if people remember that “good actions make a person good, bad actions bad. The effect of bad actions can be reduced by subsequent good actions.”

Humility and Right Action are core practices that help leaders create sustainable organizations responsive to change.

In Buddhism, meditation is the practice that grounds and sustains a leader’s ability to support healthy relationships and organizations. With a calm mind, it is  possible to have the humility to take right action.

“HUMILITY EJECTS UNJUSTIFIED PRIDE, INFLATED SELF-ESTEEM, CONCEIT, AND ARROGANCE.  Humility may appear to be the opposite of self-confidence. However, for people who experience continued success, self-confidence can escalate into unjustified (or false) pride. When leaders start to think that all their successes are due to their own brilliance and decisiveness, they have lost a sense of humility and instead have inflated self-esteem. They forget that their success depends on many other people—and probably on some luck as well. The important point here is to remember that no success is solely yours and to remain humble in the face of it. People can recognize humility instantly in a leader and find it an inspiring trait.”


Buddhist leadership practice not only develops the individual, but shapes an organization’s goals and values. Right action and right relationship change the ways we understand profit, innovation and transformation.

“In the Buddhist tradition we have a very clear view of profit—that it is a fine aim (as long as it has been earned honestly) but that it is not the purpose of business. To say that the role of business is to make a profit makes as much sense as to say that the role of a person is to eat or to breathe. If a company loses money, it dies, as does a person without food or oxygen, but that does not mean that profit is the business’s sole purpose for being. My preference would be for businesses to define their goals in terms of meeting the needs of their customers (while acting responsibly), rather than making money or maximizing shareholder value alone.

To make profit the single most important objective is not only at odds with Buddhist philosophy. It is dangerous to the organization. Certainly, employees do not want to work for a company that is losing money, for that imperils their job security. On the other hand, they want to work for a company of which they can be proud, a company that has a solid reputation as a supplier of high-quality, useful products and services. That is why defining the organization’s role in a motivating and positive way is very important.”

Because we live and work in a Western culture dominated by a dangerous level of individualism, any leader living by principles that understand profit in relationship to service must model the successful practice of these principles in order to create and maintain their company with integrity and abundance. That means leadership that understands success as community, not individual achievement.

“The basis of Maslow’s theory is to satisfy the needs of the individual, of the self. According to Buddhist thinking, in contrast, there is no independent, permanent, unchanging self. The self consists of relationships with other people and other aspects of the physical environment. All people, not least in Western society, are obsessed by the “self”: “This is mine,” “I am being offended,” “I do not make enough money,” or “People are not nice to me.” In the Buddhist concept, it is not other people who have to satisfy the needs of an individual; it is the reverse. People can be happy only if they satisfy the needs of other people as well as their own.”


  1. […] Spiritual Leadership: the Dalai Lama on Being a Good Leader […]


  2. […] Dalai Lama’s book on leadership (supplemented by tweets and talks and much thought and blogging) comes out of a life of discipline, […]


  3. […] Second, a sustainable “problem space” grows out of a philosophy of unattachment. In that space, all participants need to balance their experience and their curiosity. They must resist holding on to the ideas that will demonstrate their expertise, cement their roles in the company, and prove that theyʻre right, clever, wise and good. Quick solutions inevitably come out of these ego-centered ideas; sustainable solutions are unattached to ego. […]


  4. […] set ourselves up for failure. Leadership is based on relationships, and not self-centeredness. The Dalai Lama, in his book The Leader’s Way: The Art of Making the Right Decisions in our Careers, Our […]


  5. […] consider the power of a leader like the Dalai Lama. He is able to bridge cultural boundaries and create alliances in part because of his considerable […]


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