On Leadership

Augustus sat at the feet of his teacher, Takygulpa Rinpoche. “Tell me Master, about leadership. What is the quality that most helps someone exemplify leadership?’

“True leadership emanates from a sense of inner strength and equanimity. You know how that is attained for that has been the subject of our practice for many years.”

“Yes, of course. It comes from having a robust sense of self. This comes from mindfulness and an ability to put aside the ego. But how does this work in practice?”

“Perhaps it might help if I tell you a story about leadership.”

Augustus smiled. He loved the colourful little parables the old man related to reinforce his teachings.

“The governor of Chou Lin Province was a vain and arrogant man. When the province was prospering he would tell himself and the world at large what a great leader he was. But when things went wrong he would blame those around him, calling them, dolts, imbeciles and incompetents.”

“The adjoining province was Zou Ching. The governor of this province was a thoughtful, humble man. In contrast to his neighbour when the province was prospering he would say to himself, ‘How blest I am to have such wonderful people. How hard they work! How loyal they are! No wonder we prosper’. But when things went wrong he would become introspective and ask himself, ‘What am I doing wrong? Is there more support I could give my people? I must seek out the answers from them.’”

“Now which do you think was the greater leader?”

“Well, of course the latter. His people will feel supported and as a result be more committed to their leader and his demands of them. They will as a result be more productive. Moreover because this leader has few ego needs, when things go wrong they won’t have to run around trying to assuage the leader’s ill-feelings but will be able to attend to the issues at hand.”

“That is true, pupil. Because of his self-awareness he will be able to apply a great leadership maxim.”

“What is that, Master?”

“It is simple. Good leaders know when to look within and when to look without. As we saw the governor of Chou Lin didn’t have this perspective at all, whereas the governor of Zou Ching understood it thoroughly.”

“Furthermore good leaders in many ways serve their followers. This is a difficult concept for those with strong ego needs to accept. Good leaders show the way. Followers learn most by their example. It is often said that demonstration is far more powerful than exhortation. Such leaders seldom need to rely on directives because they are able to influence their followers to do what is required willingly.”

“Then you too, must be a good leader, Master, because you demonstrate to me every day how I should behave with your mindfulness and equanimity. But you also inspire me by telling me stories, just as you have today. Do good leaders tell stories?”

“Yes indeed, but whereas I try to demonstrate concepts by telling stories about the past, leaders engage their followers by telling stories about the future. They need to be able to articulate to their followers what their desired future world will look like. That helps to recruit followers to the journey towards that desirable future.”

The Master paused a moment in thought before continuing. “But the past is important to the leader as well. For the past contains many lessons. Indeed some of the ancients in the past had important things to say about leadership which remain just as true today.”

“And what were they, Master.”

“There are numerous references to leadership from the past. But let me give you a couple of sayings from old Lao Tsu. He said, ‘True leaders walk in the rear and carry the water.’ He also said, ‘When the best leader’s work is done, the people all say we did it ourselves.’”

Augustus clapped his hands because he had enjoyed this lesson and particularly the quotes from the old sage. He turned to Takygulpa Rinpoche and exclaimed, “A true leader then, seeks out a new future but is guided by the wisdom of the past!”

The old man just smiled and nodded and resumed his meditation position signalling that today’s lesson was complete.

One Reply to “On Leadership”

  1. The definition of leadership I like is:
    A leader
    (a) Shows the way
    (b) Help people get there
    (c) Says thank you once you arrive

    Perhaps a different way of expressing your well presented thoughts.

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