Lead like Buddha: Ten Virtues of Humane Leadership

Leadership is a matter of inner attitude. But what attitude is that? In Buddhism, a good set of values is found in the ten virtues of a ruler.

Know thy­self. This is the first max­im at the entrance of the Apol­lo Tem­ple of Del­phi. This is also the first max­im regard­ing lead­er­ship, because only those who can lead them­selves can lead oth­ers. Lead­er­ship always begins with self-leadership.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is every­thing. What we think we become.


Lead­er­ship is a mat­ter of inner atti­tude. But what atti­tude is that and what does it mean to lead your­self well? A good, but unfor­tu­nate­ly less known in the West, canon of val­ues is found in Bud­dhism in the so-called Dasavid­ha-rājad­ham­ma, the ten virtues of a ruler:

  1. Char­i­ty (Dāna). Lead­er­ship does not end at the walls of the orga­ni­za­tion, but rather assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty beyond that for society.
  2. Moral­i­ty (Sīla). Gen­uine author­i­ty is not a ques­tion of posi­tion, but of exem­plary moral con­duct, because lead­er­ship is based more on imi­ta­tion than on sub­or­di­na­tion.
  3. Altru­ism (Par­ic­cā­ga). Lead­er­ship is about mak­ing oth­ers suc­cess­ful. While our actions today are often guid­ed by the ego-cen­tered ques­tion “What do I get out of the exis­tence of oth­ers and the com­mu­ni­ty,” the oppo­site ques­tion is more impor­tant: “What does the com­mu­ni­ty get out of my existence?”
  4. Hon­esty (Ājja­va). Trust is the foun­da­tion of lead­er­ship. Vol­un­tar­i­ly and with all our heart we only fol­low who we trust. And trust is based not only on empa­thy and log­ic, but also on authen­tic­i­ty.
  5. Gen­tle­ness (Mad­da­va). Good lead­er­ship means going about one’s work with hope and spark­ing hope in employ­ees.
  6. Self Con­trol­ling (Tapa). Ego­ma­ni­acs at the top are poi­son for coop­er­a­tion. A cul­ture of fear may lead to obe­di­ence, but in the long run it under­mines self-dis­ci­pline and creativity.
  7. Non-Anger (Akkod­ha). Lead­er­ship cre­ates safe­ty. Trust and coop­er­a­tion thrive best in a cli­mate of psy­cho­log­i­cal safety.
  8. Non-Vio­lence (Avi­him­sa). Lead­er­ship means less than ever to instruct and con­trol, but “to serve life, to elic­it life in peo­ple, to awak­en life in employ­ees.” (Anselm Grün)
  9. For­bear­ance (Khan­ti). Like a good gar­den­er, lead­er­ship patient­ly cre­ates a con­text in which life can unfold. “Per­se­ver­ing in effort, hum­ble in the expec­ta­tion of suc­cess.” (Götz W. Werner)
  10. Agree­abil­i­ty (Avi­rod­hana). Lead­er­ship appre­ci­ates diver­si­ty and encour­ages self-orga­ni­za­tion and emer­gence. It does not impede the result­ing progress.

Even after more than 2,000 years, these ten virtues are still ide­al­ly suit­ed as a moral foun­da­tion for humane lead­er­ship.

Lead­er­ship is a ser­vice — and not a priv­i­lege. The ser­vice for the employ­ee is to offer him or her the oppor­tu­ni­ty to grow.

Bodo Janssen in Impulse 7. Okto­ber 2016

Share This Post

Leave a Reply