Leading as if people matter! Introducing an alternate approach to leadership

Who is your favorite Business leader?

Did I hear you say Elon Musk? Maybe Sam Walton? Or was it Richard Branson? Ah, you like Marissa Mayer.

Why did you choose these folks?

Because they do what leaders are supposed to do – and spectacularly at that. They built great products and made a lot of money.

This brings me to the day’s topic. Every few years, I revisit a tiny essay in a thin book from the mid-1970s. It’s authored by an unconventional German economist and titled “Small is Beautiful.”

And while some of the examples no longer may be relevant, there’s one piece on the definition of work and, therefore, on our duties as a leader that keeps me going back.

The idea is simple.

Capitalism says more is better. Ergo, the leaders who make more goods and more money are celebrated.

Buddhism celebrates work as a means for man’s liberation.

It follows a good leader following this approach is tasked with three things:

To give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties

To give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties

To enable him to overcome his ego centre’s ness by joining with other people in a common task

And to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence.

Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful (Vintage classics) (p. 39). Random House. Kindle Edition.

The main difference is that traditional western business focuses on the goods. The Buddhist view focuses on the worker.

And these lead to wholly different ways of viewing work and our role as leaders.

Take a minute to reflect.

Would you consider bringing in a couple of more role models given the Buddhist definition?

And how would you change your own leadership style?

Assumptions or facts?

We need to revisit a few assumptions that we have unconsciously accepted as facts.

The first is how we look at labor from the viewpoint of management and the worker’s standpoint. Schumaker explains:

The modern economist has been brought up to consider ‘labour’ or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a ‘disutility’; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment.

Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful (Vintage classics) (p. 39). Random House. Kindle Edition.

In the Buddhist view, since work is a means of liberation, it is integral to progress. You cannot separate work and leisure – both are equally essential and need to be in harmony for one to achieve real success.

Automation is another source of contention

From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.

From the Buddhist point of view, there are two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.

Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful (Vintage classics) (p. 40). Random House. Kindle Edition.

The Buddhist view appreciates the first and abhors the second.

And finally they look life and therefore work differently…

The Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

The Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.

Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man’s work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.

Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful (Vintage classics) (p. 40). Random House. Kindle Edition.

We come full circle. We have two-leadership models (note – the below quotes are slightly edited):

The traditional western one measures the ‘standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ‘better off’ than a man who consumes less.For the Buddhist, Consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption.

Schumacher, E.F. Small Is Beautiful (Vintage classics) (p. 42). Random House. Kindle Edition.

Should we go for extensively tailored suits with parts sourced from around the globe?

Or should we prefer a simple draped kimono or saree that aims to maximize well-being with minimal consumption?

There is no clear-cut answer. Both approaches have their merits. We would be committing a blunder by playing a zero-sum game here.

But as a leader, knowing alternate points allows us to define our own approaches better.

And perhaps our teams would appreciate it if we let the Buddhist leader in us arise once in a while!

Agree?

3 thoughts on “Leading as if people matter! Introducing an alternate approach to leadership

  1. Very interesting. There is no black and white for me. It is more shades of grey. I think kind of combine a bit of both, being a strong believer in the basic essence of capitalism. Try to achieve maximum well being and happiness thru affordable consumption :-). Of course it is a different matter as to how successful I am in that quest 😉

  2. Very interesting topic. The capitalist and spiritual views seem to be conflicting at first sight. One way to make them converge would be to have nobler / higher level goals (not just selfish goals) while working or leading within capitalist confines, which is inevitable for most of us today.

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