Many people that start to meditate and follow the Dhamma become more tolerant, less attached to reputation, more "easy going" and treat all with loving kindness, this can create an opportunity for people to abuse them, miss deadlines, reduce the quality of the work etc...

That said, how should a Buddhist behave to balance loving kindness with leadership skills that sometimes requires you to be not so "nice" to get the work done, imagine if you have tried loving kindness before but it did not work, only made the person abuse you more and take advantage of your compassion.


3 Answers 3


From a more practical position, here are some reflections. I am sure others have their won approaches.

First of all, place importance on one's own practice. Kindness can be applied in situations that call for firmness or other actions perceived as unpleasant. Being kind to the person or people one is leading is always possible (even though we all fail at times), and important to distinguish from approval. We can accept the person without approving of their actions.

Another suggestion is to avoid speaking and acting out of anger (or any type of aggression). This is where the practice becomes so important, because the more, the deeper, we practise, the more we are able to accommodate.

To quote the Dalai Lama

Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.

As they say, ´Being a pacifist does not mean being a passive-ist´ - there is nothing stopping correction of behavior (coming late, abusing others, and the rest of the long list), but the opportunity is always there to do it with kindness towards the person. Even if you have to fire somebody for not doing their job properly, you can have compassion for them and try to be helpful.

Should you be presented with anger from the person or people you lead, trying to see their view also helps, especially in discovering the underlying cause of the anger (the attachments, and so on).

On the practice part, specifically on handling ill-will (anger and other), here is a note from the Pali Canon (Access To Insight):

Six things are helpful in conquering ill-will:

  1. Learning how to meditate on loving-kindness;
  2. Devoting oneself to the meditation of loving-kindness;
  3. Considering that one is the owner and heir of one's actions (kamma);
  4. Frequent reflection on it (in the following way): Thus one should consider: "Being angry with another person, what can you do to him? Can you destroy his virtue and his other good qualities? Have you not come to your present state by your own actions, and will also go hence according to your own actions? Anger towards another is just as if someone wishing to hit another person takes hold of glowing coals, or a heated iron-rod, or of excrement. And, in the same way, if the other person is angry with you, what can he do to you? Can he destroy your virtue and your other good qualities? He too has come to his present state by his own actions and will go hence according to his own actions. Like an unaccepted gift or like a handful of dirt thrown against the wind, his anger will fall back on his own head."

  5. Noble friendship;

  6. Suitable conversation.

    — Commentary to Satipatthana Sutta

These things, too, are helpful in conquering ill-will:

  • Rapture, of the factors of absorption (jhananga);
  • Faith, of the spiritual faculties (indriya);
  • Rapture and equanimity, of the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).

As a summary, I would like to reiterate that we can always have kindness for the person, for the situation, and for our own reactions (they are based on conditions, after all) - allowing for increasing acceptance with more practice.


I think there are a couple of assumptions implicit in this question that I would like to respectfully challenge as I answer it

Buddhists are 'nice'

This is a live issue in the sangha where I practice. Buddhists aim to be compassionate and also they try to align themselves with the world as it really is. That's not necessarily the same think as nice. I've read many stories about grumpy and even confrontational Zen masters. I could also quote Chögyam Trungpa on this point

When we talk about compassion, we talk in terms of being kind. But compassion is not so much being kind; it is being creative to wake a person up

So not necessarily nice

Leaders are nasty

Again this is a common opinion in the workplace but one I think we need to challenge. When we look at Alan Sugar pointing with (mock) anger at an unlucky apprentice on TV and shouting 'You're fired' there is a tendency to assume that is the only way to get things done.

Honesty, hard work, commitment and talent are the not the preserve of the nasty. I really thinlk that if you are a practicing Buddhist in the workplace it's one of the most amazing thinks you can do to model another way. Think Aung San Suu Kyi and Dame Stephanie Shirley not Machiavelli and The Art of War.

How does Buddhism help?

Just from my own experience here's how Buddhist practice has helped me deal with difficult workplace situations and understand people's motivations as you work with them and potentially lead them

  1. You're just a bit less stressed. It's not the point of meditation but it's a happy side effect that it just helps manage stress without resorting to shouting at your colleagues, computer or vending machine.

  2. You can spot and work with your own reactions. When you become angry you might be able to spot this quicker before you really raise the temperature of a difficult situation. Or even if you do get visibly angry the come down is quicker and it's easier to apologies and make nice. I have had cause to make nice on quite a few occasions rather then descend into self-justification.

  3. You understand people more. Previously I found workplace behaviour baffling. But when I understood that people were defending their own (misguided) sense of self then that made things a lot more tractable. It was illuminating really.

  4. You've a code of ethics. This helps when faced with dilemmas such as perhaps being asked to lie to clients etc... You've got a really useful backstop to prevent you just going down the wrong path. Business is based on trust and you'll find it easier to maintain that trust.

  5. The job isn't everything. You've got another life and set of principles to guide you. If you lose you position or even job then things will be difficult but I really believe that practice will help.

  6. You will be driven less out of fear and more from an authentic connection with the task and the people you are working with. It's easier to make the right decisions in those circumstances.

I could go on but I won't bore any further.


I think the problem isn't that Buddhists won't make good leaders but they might not want to. From my experience leaders are highly driven people and one of the things that drives them is ego. But if a Buddhist could step up I really think they'd find their practice a real help.

  • 1
    The final words of your answer were great, most business leaders are driven by ego and money, 2 things not so appealing for a Buddhist...but do you think a Buddhist should give a bad feedback that can hurt someone but is true?
    – konrad01
    Aug 22, 2014 at 11:35
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    @konrad01 I do really. Of course ones owe motivations need to be examined and it needs to be done from a compassionate mind if at all possible but I personally wouldn't lie to save someone's feelings. I think we have a duty to truth and also to other people in the workplace. If someone for instance needed to stop slacking off then i would tell them as hard as that is. Dependant origination shows us that we are all connected. One persons unhelpful actions at work will affect others Aug 22, 2014 at 11:45
  • @konrad01 it's a very hard situation though and takes a degree of fearlessness on the managers part. I'm assuming you are in a similar (managers??) position. If you are then really good luck with it - it's not an easy thing for anyone Aug 22, 2014 at 11:46

I have never found a "not so nice" leader to be a very good leader. A good leader knows how to lead without having to resort to not being nice to his or her followers.

A great example of a Buddhist leader would be Siddhārtha Gautama.

  • 1
    but remember, Buddha only led the people that decided to come to him, We at work must lead people that may not want to be there or is not happy at all with the situation, people that want to be somewhere else but is there to make a living
    – konrad01
    Aug 21, 2014 at 18:03
  • Maybe one should lead in a way that helps people become happy and want to be there in the present moment. Not everyone who followed the Buddha liked him or wanted to follow him initially.
    – Thien
    Aug 21, 2014 at 18:04
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    Friend, it sounds nice, but not 100% practical, sometimes you face hard decisions in this modern world, I am not sure there is always a way to conciliate the Buddhist view with the executive view, people simply abuse you if you are very nice with them. I think sometimes you need to make a choice.
    – konrad01
    Aug 21, 2014 at 18:19
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    I do not see how you can not merge the two. I work in software development in Florida. What exactly do you have trouble with? Hard decisions and Buddhism go hand in hand. In fact I would say that the practice of Buddhism is all about facing hard decisions. If people are abusing you for being nice then you probably should seek a less hostile environment, in my opinion. I find most people do not abuse people who treat them with respect and compassion. I guess my point is that there must be some underlying issue here besides Buddhism and leadership. It sounds like you are suffering at work.
    – Thien
    Aug 21, 2014 at 18:24
  • Hi, I am not talking about myself, it is more a general question, I have been to Florida, people are very professional there, maybe it is easier, but imagine a Company with a lot of competitivity in a country with just a few jobs, perhaps in this scenario people will abuse you for being nice and not so competitive in the traditional way
    – konrad01
    Aug 21, 2014 at 18:29

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