Leaders live an examined life
Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”
Classic literature on leadership
My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.
Siddhartha on leadership
In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.
The search for Siddhartha
After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha. I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.
Part I: The Brahmin’s Son
Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.
With the Samanas
Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.
Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.
A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.
Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.
Part II: Kamala
Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.
Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.
Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.
Amongst the People
Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.
Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.
Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.
By the River
Leaders need both knowledge and experience.
Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.
Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.
Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.
Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.
Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.
Leaders have nothing to fear, conquer, or be saddened by since they are aware, understand, respect, and except all that consists of life.
Leaders find rather than seek; the former allows you to be free and receptive.
Leaders do not consider themselves greater or less than anyone else; they find and learn from all experiences in living things and through this process acquire both knowledge and wisdom.
About the author
As a Conflict Alchemist and Human Systems Accelerator Jean-Pierre transforms discord in organizations. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.