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The Eightfold Path of Buddhism for an Effective & Credible Leadership



The critical role of a leader in has become more crucial than ever before in the era of fierce competition and the challenge to compete ethically. The first step towards being an effective leader is winning trust of the followers which can easily be done by building credibility at the personal level. Skills, capabilities, strategies and practices will be void without an understanding of the essential human hopes and aspirations that connect leaders to the followers. It is in this light that this paper explores the possibility of following the Eightfold path of Buddhism for a balanced leadership through wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism for an Effective &
Credible Leadership
Sonal Shree
Assistant Professor, SIBM Pune (Symbiosis International University)
Lavina Sharma
Assistant Professor, SIBM Pune (Symbiosis International University)
The critical role of a leader in has become more crucial than ever before in the era of fierce
competition and the challenge to compete ethically. The first step towards being an effective
leader is winning trust of the followers which can easily be done by building credibility at the
personal level. Skills, capabilities, strategies and practices will be void without an
understanding of the essential human hopes and aspirations that connect leaders to the
followers. It is in this light that this paper explores the possibility of following the Eightfold
path of Buddhism for a balanced leadership through wisdom, ethical conduct and mental
"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where
we started and know that place for the first time."
-T.S. Eliot in 'Gerontian'
Buddhism is profound. It is in its philosophical depths that a lot can be explored as relevant
to the twenty first century management professionals. The teachings of Buddha are divided
into the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddhism is about the
understanding that mankind suffers and that excessive desire is the cause of suffering. The
positive aspect about it is that desires can be controlled through practice of the Eightfold
Path. The Four Noble Truths can be considered to be on the side of doctrine that is meant to
be understood whereas the Eightfold Path is the discipline that has to be internalized through
practice. In the context of a world characterized by trials and tribulations and for sustainable
growth, it is essential that the doctrine be implicit and the path be followed for unfolding the
reality and tackling the problems which the competitive world brings with it in the form of
either troubles or opportunities.
It is no coincidence that all the success stories about top organizations globally have been
written in the ink of the right visionary leadership, the presence or lack of which either make
or mar the prospects of organizational success. Most effective leaders, as suggested by
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
scholars of leadership, have a base which is values-driven (Kets de Vries, 2009; Greenleaf
and Spears, 1998). The basis of this argument is that the difference between dysfunctional
and effective leadership lies in authenticity which refers to traits such as being real,
transparent, truthful, and open. Further, authenticity is the quality that is attached to those
leaders who do not feel any necessity to please or impress others, who feel “good in their
skin”, and whose effectiveness comes from being authentic and open with themselves and
with others. Furthermore, such leaders not only inspire those around them, they also know
how to bring people together around a shared purpose and a common set of values, and
motivate them to create value for everyone involved. Moreover, they work hard at
developing self-awareness through persistent and often courageous self-exploration (Kets
de Vries et al., 2007; Kets de Vries et al., 2010).
The dependence of organizations upon capable leadership is crucial to guide them through
unprecedented changes. Clearly, in the context of organizational success, leadership has
always been the key ingredient. It is in this light that this paper examines the qualities which
must be present in a leader for personal as well as professional credibility and effectiveness.
It is in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism that the authors find an echo of the qualities a leader
must possess in order to lead and steer the organizational ship through the most troubled
waters of a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world!
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism
The Eightfold Path, or path as it's called, is a guide for areas to explore and practice. (Nourie,
The Eight fold Path of Buddhism can be divided into three groups. These three groups
represent three stages of training: the training in the higher moral discipline, the training in
the higher consciousness, and the training in the higher wisdom. (Bodhi, 1994).
(i)the wisdom group (paññakkhandha), made up of right view and right intention
(ii)the concentration group (samadhikkhandha), made up of right effort, right
mindfulness, and right concentration;
(iii)the moral discipline group (silakkhandha), made up of right speech, right action, and
right livelihood.
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism for an Effective & Credible Leadership
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
Retrieved from
Right View
The concept of Right View is about the awareness of what is true and right. In the context of
leadership, it amounts to having the right vision of seeing and analyzing the internal and
external environmental factors in the organization. Leaders have vision which differentiates
them from the mass. Vision is the beacon light for an organization as it serves as "a signpost
pointing the way for all who need to understand what the organization is and where it intends
to go" (Nanus, 1992). It has a future orientation, hence, only a leader in true sense of the term
can visualize the prospects of new policies or practices and also “how whole new sets of
expectations, relationships, accountability structures, etc., would fit together into a coherent
whole" (Seeley, 1992). Leaders with the right view have the power to actually represent the
vision amongst members of the organization in a dramatic manner which renders the vision
a form. Steve Jobs, for instance, had the vision to call Macintosh as an 'insanely great'
product, which will 'make a difference' and he described his co-workers as 'the people who
would have been poets in the sixties and they're looking at computers as their medium of
expression rather than language.' (Jobs, 1984: 18).The quality of a leader is characterized by
the fact that he has a shared vision in which all members of the organization have a stake. It is
this sharing of personal vision with the members of the organization that acts as the
differentiating factor between a leader and a manager (Manasse, 1986). "Vision comes alive
only when it is shared" (Westley and Mintzberg, 1989).
Four Noble
of Suffering
Cessation of
Path to the
Cessation of
Noble Eightfold Path
(divided into the
Three Trainings)
(Right View)
Right Thought
Right Speech Right Action Right Effort
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
Right Intention
In the era of cut throat competition, all business entities are facing, fighting or declaring a
war- sometimes in the form of war for talent, sometimes, for resources, and the like. A leader
cannot escape the fact that he has to lead from the front in such circumstances. For waging
and winning this war, the leader must have right intention which can only be possible
through managing of his emotions. He must have the right balance of rational and emotive
feelings when initiating an action. Awareness of one's intentions and managing them
positively is crucial. It takes practice! Researchers generally describe emotional intelligence
as the sum total of a person's mind capabilities that enable him/her to understand one's own
and others' emotions correctly, in real time, and to manage these emotions rationally so as to
produce personally and socially desirable transactional outcomes (Goleman et al., 2001;
Kunnanatt, 2004; Salovey and Grewal, 2005; Zeidner et al., 2008).
Right Speech
Literature on leadership research has shown that leaders can significantly influence
individual, group, and organizational performance (Gerstner and Day, 1997; Judge et al.,
2004; Lowe et al., 1996). As per a Harvard Business School study on factors it takes to
achieve success and be promoted in an organization, the individual who gets ahead in
business is the person who “is able to communicate, to make sound decisions, and to get
things done with and through people” (Bowman et al., 1964). It is evident that Right Speech
or communication has immense power to influence. Leadership communication consists of
three primary rings (1) core, (2) managerial, and (3) corporate Communication strategies are
included in the core, and managers need to use it effectively for leadership communication.
(Arsovski.and Nikezić, 2012). Speech must be clear, accurate and concise to avoid
ambiguity. It must have the power to motivate even the dead. The relationship between
leader's verbal skills and outcomes is clearly embodied within the motivating language
model (Sullivan, 1988). The role of language goes beyond being a mechanism for leadership
control. Language can be a means of motivating and conveying strategic vision to
subordinates (Conger, 1991). In addition, oral communication has been modeled as both a
form of managerial influence and mitigation (Drake and Moberg, 1986). Sullivan (1988)
theorized motivating language as a model of effective leadership speech. A strategic and
well delivered speech of a leader at regular intervals can act as a tactical strategy to bridge
the distance between leader's resolve and intent and employee understanding to favorably
influence employee outcomes and in the long run, organizational strategic outcomes as
well.Right Speech is also about talking, and includes communication through email or
through messaging, and taking care that it is done in a manner that does not hurt feelings, that
does not involve lying, gossiping or making people angry intentionally with one's speech
else it would lead to negative repercussions. Leaders should express their opinions by
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism for an Effective & Credible Leadership
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
learning to pay attention on the intention behind what is being said, and deciding if the
utterance would lead to positive or negative results.
Right Livelihood
It is concerned with ensuring that one earns one's living in a righteous way. The Buddha
teaches that wealth should be gained in accordance with certain standards like it should be
acquired only by legal means, it should be acquired peacefully; without coercion or
violence; one should acquire it honestly, not by trickery or deceit; and one should acquire it
in ways which do not entail harm and suffering for others. A leader should be ethical and
should not harm or exploit others. Yukl (2006) stated that effective leadership means
mobilizing and influencing followers in the required direction. It also suggests that ethical
leaders guide employees towards responsible goals and objectives which benefit the
organization and its members. A Leader's integrity plays a major role in the ethical choices
the followers make. They observe the Leader and imitate the behavior of the leader. Lewicki
et al. (2001) found that ethical behavior of supervisors wither positively or negatively affect
the ethical climate for workers. Robertson & Anderson (1993) too found in their study that
leaders create a climate that influences the ethical decisions of the followers. The followers
trust a Leader who exhibits ethical and honest behaviour. Integrity that a leader exhibits
leads to a positive working relationships and positive business outcomes (Becker 2003). A
leader following right livelihood should not only be ethical, but needs to treat people fairly,
should also demonstrate respect for other's values, appreciates the individuals contributions
and engages in reflective practice. Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) noted that transformational
leadership is only authentic when it is grounded on the leader's moral character, concern for
others, and congruence of ethical values with action.
Right Action
This part of the path is about being mindful of one's action or behavior around so that it leads
to helping the cause and does not result in suffering or harmfulness. Right intentions lead to
right actions. A leader must have the right understanding of whether his actions will affect
him or the others positively or negatively. The following table summarizes seven types of
action logic with strengths and weaknesses of each (Rooke.and Torbert, 2005)
A leader's credibility and trustworthiness are critical, and increasing numbers make the case
that character—as defined by qualities and the accompanying right action like one's striving
for fairness, respecting others, humility, and concern for the greater good which together
represent the most critical quality of leadership (e.g., Sankar, 2003).
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Source: David Rooke and William R. Torbert, 2005
Right Effort
Right effort consists of persisting efforts to abandon wrong and harmful thoughts, deeds and
words through self-schooling. The Buddha says that right effort helps the way one can
transform the whole structure of their lives. The right effort can be divided into four aspects
The effort to prevent an unrisen unwholesome states from arising, the effort to abandon the
arisen unwholesome states, develop the undeveloped wholesome states, Strengthen and
Type Characteristics Strengths Weaknesses
Opportunist Wins any way possible . Self-
oriented ; manipulative ;
“might makes right.”
Good in emergencies and in
pursuing sales.
Few people want to follow
them for the long term.
Diplomat Avoids conflict . Wants to
belong ; obeys group norms ;
doesn’t rock the boat .
Supportive glue on teams. Can’t provide painful feed-
back or make the hard
decisions needed to improve
performance .
Expert Rules by logic andexpertise .
Uses hard data to gain
consensus and buy -in .
Good individual contributor. Lacks emotional
intelligence ; lacks respect
for those with less
expertise .
Achiever Meets strategic goals. Pro-
motes teamwork ; juggles
managerial duties and responds
to market demands to achieve
Well suited to managerial
Inhibits thinking outside the
Individualist Operates in unconventional
ways . Ignores rules he/she
regards as irrelevant .
Effective in venture and
consulting roles.
Irritates colleagues and bosses
by ignoring key organizational
processes and people.
Strategist Generates organizational and
personal change. Highly
collaborative ; weaves visions
with pragmatic, timely
initiatives ; challenges existing
assumptions .
Generates transformations
over the short and long term.
Alchemist Generates social
transformations (e.g., Nelson
Mandela). Reinvents
organizations in historically
significant ways.
Leads society wide change. None
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism for an Effective & Credible Leadership
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
Table 1. Seven Transformations of Leadership
cultivate the existing wholesome states. It means that the right effort should be directed to
prevent bad conduct from arising at all in the life and also to prevent bad conduct which has
not arisen but which is liable to arise in the future. It should also be directed towards
wholesome states, where in one puts effort not only to attain the higher purities like love,
kindness and compassion and also to sustain, grow and develop them.
Leadership Member Exchange Theory also highlights that leaders develop different types of
exchange relationship with the followers (Gerstner and Day, 1997; Liden et al., 1997;
Sparrowe and Liden, 1997). A relationship based domain of Leadership is highly important
for effective management. It takes into consideration the Right Effort. It is characterized by
high levels of trust, interaction, support and formal and informal rewards (Dienesch and
Liden, 1986). In order to have effective leadership, the focus is not only on the task but also
to exhibit right conduct and attaining purities of kindness, compassion and love for the
Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is focused on having control over the mind. It means to be aware of one's
thoughts, feeling, and actions so that one is not controlled by them. It also focuses on the
awareness an individual must have to know the world around him and its operations.
Effective Leadership focuses on self-awareness as the key element for Right mindfulness.
Self – awareness is the ability to detect and feelings, in real time, as they occur within us.
Self-aware individuals are able to read and “link” their feelings with what they think and act
(Mayer and Salovey, 1993; McGarvey, 1997). A leader who is self –aware has a control over
his mind, thoughts and actions. The leader will be effective in setting goals and ensuring that
the goals aim at organizational effectiveness. Self-leadership (Manz, 1986; Manz and Neck,
2004) is a process through which individuals control their own behavior, influencing and
leading themselves through the use of specific sets of behavioral and cognitive strategies.
Research also suggests that self- managing work teams are those that engage in behaviors
that facilitate self-leadership strategies such as self-observation, self-goal setting and self-
reward (Manz and Sims, 1987). Hence leaders need to focus on the Right mindfulness in
order to achieve the desiredresults in the organization.
Right Concentration
The Buddha focuses on Right concentration as an important aspect in Leadership. It is a way
of avoiding distractions and disruptive emotions and directing the mind toward productive
action. The Buddha taught specific practices to cultivate right concentration, forms of
meditation that encouraged either tranquility or insight. A Leader has multiple roles to play
and they are multitaskers hence need to focuson the Right Concentration. A leader has to be
Vol. VII, No. 1, March - August 2014
focused on the task and mediation helps a leader to focus on the goals and achieve desired
results through the team member. Research shows that the Japanese leaders have
theadvantageon focusing on the tasks because of the Buddhist philosophy and training in
concentration and achievement. (Genestre et al. 1995). An excellent method for leaders to
cope with the stressful situation and tasks is through meditation (Foo, 2012). Arias (2008)
demonstrated a relationship between meditation practice and stress reduction, change
assimilation, conflict management and leadership performance. His research highlighted a
positive relation between meditation and executive stress levels and the executives'
capabilities to managing conflicts within business organization environment.
Organisationstoday are focusing on mindful leadership and use of mindful practices like
meditation, introspection and journaling thereby ensuring effective leadership at workplace.
Right concentration is becoming an extremely important element for effective Leadership in
the present business environment.
Conclusion & Future Research
An article in CEO Magazine (Martin, 2003) observed that “the age of the imperial CEO is
waning. In its place, a crop of new CEOs – humble, team building, highly communicative –
are rising” (p.25). On similar lines, one of the interesting findings in the book Good to Great
(Collins, 2001) was of the universally modest and self-effacing nature of CEOs in the good-
to-great companies. This paper assumes that the interest in the characters of leaders will not
wane in near future and more studies are required in the years ahead for gaining a greater
clarity of concept about these subtle notions if they are to play a prominent role in leadership
development practices in organizations. Effective leadership is required to achieve
business excellence. It is in this light that the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism can show
the way in highlighting the qualities for improving the leader's performance, credibility, and
his ability to lead others. It highlights the most integral characteristics like self-reflection,
compassion for one's staff, peers and managers, integrity required for effective leadership.
The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism can be used as a model and be further tested to
provide inputs to organizations to identify and train managers in the eight paths for being
effective leaders, thereby developing a positive and rewarding work relationship in the
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... This leader will reach out to communities, make reconciliation possible, enable development and assist communities to overcome oppression. In their article, Shree and Sharma (2015) quotes: ...
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Motivation theories, when viewed from the perspective of one versed in organizational communication, focus on language that informs and that reduces worker uncertainty. An extension of current theories to include the impact of three kinds of speech acts-uncertainty-reducing acts (perlocutionary), meaning-making acts (locutionary), and human-bonding acts (illocutionary)-on motivation is proposed.
This book deals with how coaching interventions can drive a journey of transformational change at individual, team, and organizational levels. As a result, coaching interventions serve to create more reflective people, who in turn, create better organizations. The group coaching methodology, used by the INSEAD Global Leadership Center (IGLC) and adopted by the Center for Leadership Development Research (CLDR) at the European School of Technology and Management (ESMT), Berlin, is the basis for developing the theoretical assumptions behind the chapters. Through sharing research methodologies, and describing intervention and change techniques used in the leadership development and education of executive coaches, the book sheds light on how the 'magic' of coaching works, what coaches actually do, and how their clients respond. This book is a joint project between the IGLC and the CLDR. In compiling it, we have involved academics who conduct research, teach, and consult; leadership development coaches; change consultants; and executives who adopted IGLC methods for reflection on leadership development opportunities and challenges. We have also included people who have experienced IGLC methods in the process of their developmental journeys. They have collaborated, consulted their research and practice notes, analyzed data from inquiry projects, and shared their personal experiences in individual essays.
The leadership crisis in ethics in many organizations partially stems from the crisis in character of our leaders. The character of the leader is grounded on such core values as integrity, trust, truth and human dignity, which influence the leader's vision, ethics and behaviour. The moral literacy of the leader and the essentials of an ethical culture are connected to his/her character and not to his/her charismatic personality. The quest for leadership excellence is based more on character than charisma. The leader is also empowered through his/her character to serve as a mentor.
The objective of this research was to determine the effects of a firm's control system and dimensions of the work task environment upon ethical judgments made by salespeople. Industrial field salespeople are likely to encounter ethical conflicts on a daily basis in their dealings with customers, competitors, and their own management. How they resolve such conflicts is believed to be a function of both individual characteristics and factors in the situation. This study focuses on situational factors in the form of organization design variables, particularly control system and task environment. The firm's control system includes its method of monitoring, supervising and compensating salespeople. The study develops fourteen ethics-related selling scenarios and assesses, via projective questioning, how 446 salespeople would react to them. Findings indicate that organization design does influence the behavior a salesperson considers appropriate to cope with ethical conflicts. In particular, salespeople operating under a more bureaucratic, input-based control system advocate more ethical behavior than do salespeople operating under a more output-based, laissez-faire control system. Also, salespeople who perceive the market to be competitive recommend less ethical behavior. However, the proportion of salary versus commission in the salesperson's compensation system does not have an effect on response. Differences are also discovered with respect to the salesperson's seniority, rank, and certain features of the task environment.