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Are Buddhist principles the key to good leadership?

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
Are Buddhist principles the key to good leadership?

Thinking about leadership through the lens of Buddhist principles gives people a different perspective on what leadership is all about, and how to be good at it.

Talent and capability leader, Meredith Collins, discussed how she relates Buddhist principles to leadership on a recent episode of The HR Leader. Ms Collins caveated the conversation by emphasising that she isn’t an expert in Buddhism.

Ms Collins explained that Buddhism talks about “three poisons”. She named them as, “greed, ill will/hatred and delusion”.


Considering delusion in relation to leadership, Ms Collins posed: “How much of leadership, and the challenges that we have, is about delusion? Where we are deluded about somebody who is going to finish a task on time? Or we’re deluded about an outcome that we have a vision for but then it doesn't actually happen?”

“A lot of us have delusion about how something's going to look or how something's going to happen,” she added.

Ms Collins also discussed delusion in the context of an error or problem. She said it’s about considering: “How did I contribute: if I've got a problem here and somebody hasn't delivered what they were meant to deliver?”

Citing Brené Brown’s work on “boundaries” in The Anatomy of Trust, Ms Collins said: “If something's gone awry, rather than blaming, which would be not ‘right speech’ or ‘right thought’ [Buddhist principles], rather than blaming, what was my role in that?”

She continued: “And what I always talk to leaders about is that even if you're only 10 per cent in a situation and somebody else has gone rogue or off the rails, I hundred per cent own that 10 per cent.”

“And for me, it's very often about, ‘I didn't set really clear boundaries of what's okay, and what's not okay’," she added.

Ms Collins also shared Buddhist principles that fall within “the eightfold path”. She commented: “The first two focus on wisdom, and that is having a ‘right view and understanding’, and ‘right intention and thought’. What leader doesn't want, in a perfect world, to have right view and understanding, and good intention and thought?”

She went on: “The next one is about ethical conduct. I have never been in a room when I've said, ‘Who values integrity and ethics?’ and [not] everyone puts up their hand, but then we have to have [commissions] … And so ethics and morality doesn't always just flow on, does it?”

Ms Collins also spoke about the principles that relate to “mental cultivation”. She outlined: “...mental cultivation, so that we put in the ‘right effort’, and we have the ‘right concentration’. And so that's about meditation and leader wellbeing. And ‘right mindfulness’, that we're aware of our impact, what we are feeling, and then how we impact those around us through our actions.”

For more on this conversation about Buddhism and leadership, or to hear Ms Collins also discuss the “12-steps” and how they relate to leadership, listen to the podcast below.

The transcript of this podcast episode when quoted above was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Meredith Collins, click below:

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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