Leadership Lessons from the Dalai Lama

Leadership Lessons from the Dalai Lama

The word “compassion” is synonymous with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. While his teachings are used more in conversations around personal growth and enlightenment, the leadership traits can be applied to growing a business or building a career.

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, the best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, talks about his decade long relationship with the Dalai Lama and how a leader expressing compassion and emotional intelligence can foster trust, loyalty, and build strong relationships.

Below are three lessons Goleman learned from his “extended-dialogues” with the Buddhist spiritual leader and how to apply them to your leadership style.

Create an Ocean of Compassion
Some may view expressing empathy and compassion in business or the workplace as a weakness. “I think too often there’s a muddle in people’s thinking that if I’m nice to another person or if I have their interests at heart it means that I don’t have my own interests at heart,” Goleman tells HBR. “The pathology of that is, ‘Well, I’ll just care about me and not the other person.’ And that, of course, is the kind of attitude that leads to lots of problems in the business realm and in the personal realm.”

The Dalai Lama’s core beliefs are rooted in compassion. While Goleman’s concept of emotional intelligence teaches leaders to use empathy and compassion, he says, “takes empathy a step further. When you feel compassion, you feel distress when you witness someone else in distress and because of that you want to help that person.”
Compassion makes the distinction between understanding and caring. Goleman says cultivating that attitude in the workplace has a hugely positive effect, whether it’s how we relate to our peers or how we are as a leader, or how we relate to clients and customers, “A positive disposition toward another person creates the kind of resonance that builds trust and loyalty and makes interactions harmonious. And the opposite of that — when you do nothing to show that you care — creates distrust, disharmony, and causes huge dysfunction at home and in business.”

Gather Information
As a leader you need to let go of your biases and gather information across multiple channels. According to Goleman, the Dalai Lama opens his heart and mind to gathering information from everywhere. “He meets with heads of state and he meets with beggars. He’s getting information from people at every level of society worldwide. This casting a large net lets him understand situations in a very deep way, and he can analyze them in many different ways and come up with solutions that aren’t confined by anyone.”

Grow Your Vision
As world peace teacher, the Dalai Lama is not a politician or has stake in a particular party or company. As a leader, he’s “a citizen of the world at large. And this has freed him to tackle the largest problems we face. I think that to the extent that a leader is beholden to a particular organization or outcome, that creates a kind of myopia of what’s possible and what matters; focus narrows to the next quarter’s results or the next election. He’s way beyond that. He thinks in terms of generations and of what’s best for humanity as a whole. Because his vision is so expansive, he can take on the largest challenges, rather than small, narrowly defined ones.”

The lesson: is to ask ourselves if there is something that limits our vision —that limits our capacity to care? And is there a way to enlarge it? The results could be enlightening.