A Buddhist Theory of Organizational Leadership

Reference work entry


The intent of this chapter is to create the foundations for a Buddhist theory of organizational leadership. The objectives are threefold: (1) to identify the principles of leadership embedded in Buddhist psychology and philosophy; (2) to understand how representative Western-based theories of organizational leadership, including authentic, value-based and servant leadership, have been predated by a Buddhist theory of leadership that has existed for 2600 years; and (3) to identify the implications of a Buddhist leadership theory for organizations in the twenty-first century. We find that a Buddhist theory of organizational leadership offers significant insights into how individuals and organizations can effectively adapt to change not only at the individual level, but also at the group and organizational levels. To illustrate the theory, we present two founder-leaders of profit-making firms who have espoused and strived to lead by Buddhist principles.

Buddhism is not only a religion, but also a way of life, as welll as a scientific approach to understanding the nature of the mind via meditative inquiry. As a religion, it proposes a way to reconnect human beings and society to the nature of reality through the role model of the Buddha and the Way (Dharma) that he taught. As a way of life, it states that there are ethical norms and values for living with wisdom in harmony with oneself and others. As a science of mind, Buddhism lays out an integrative theory of consciousness that practitioners can use to investigate their lives and the causes of suffering. It counsels the individual to discard any aspect of Buddhist theory if direct experience does not concur with theory. In summary, the objectives of Buddhism are: (1) to create enduring happiness, cessation of suffering and abiding balance in all areas of self and society, and (2) to create a harmonious society based on equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and reciprocal joy for oneself and others. These objectives have major implications for engaged spirituality in the workplace.


Spiritual leadership Buddhist philosophy Factors of enlightenment Multiple-linkage leadership theory Authentic leadership Servant leadership Responsible leadership Mindful leadership Values-based leadership Loving-kindness Compassion Equanimity Reciprocal joy 



Heart-felt thanks are extended to Professor Barbara Gray of Pennsylvania State University (USA) for her contribution to an earlier phase of this research. Also thanks extended to Professor Heidi Høivik of the Norwegian Business School BI (Norway) for her permission to use the John Mackey mini-case. In addition, the first author authors wishes to thank the Reverend Suzanne Semmes; Dr. Andrew Olendzki of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies for his instruction in Pāli; Suzuki Roshi, John Daido Loori Roshi, and Maureen Freedgood Roshi for their instruction in Zen Buddhism; as well as teachers in Theravada Buddhist meditation, too numerous to mention individually, but especially noting Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein for their instruction in the dharma beginning in the 1970s. The second author extends special thanks to Michael Carroll for his engaged humility; a deep bow to the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and Jeffrey Hopkins for their generous sharing of time and teachings.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Strategy and EntrepreneurshipBI Norwegian Business SchoolOsloNorway
  2. 2.School of BusinessWoodbury UniversityBurbankUSA

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