For questions about how to cultivate the sort of transcendent leadership that our times require — for our homes, our communities, our organizations, nation and world — we must turn to the wisdom that has transcended history through the ages.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, to ‘transcend’ means to go beyond, to surpass, to exist above and independent of. Transcendent leadership means that we go beyond old concepts, beliefs and definitions of ‘leadership’; we surpass assumed limitations of what’s possible or acceptable; and we exist above and are independent from that which would contain us in or affix us to old, but no longer effective, ways.
“In a broad sense, and with some exceptions, traditional leadership seems to be lacking the transcendent qualities based on fundamental universal principles of behavior in action,” says Jeffrey Beach, author of “Ten Seconds to Peace: A Mindful Approach to Everyday Living,” a teacher of meditational Qigong, and a long-time student of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
“Image seems to be more important than substance, and a truly compassionate viewpoint combined with a passionate engagement in all walks of life has all but disappeared,” concludes Beach.
Ancient wisdom and indigenous knowledge offer us the opportunity to ‘come back to center and Self’ — essential if we’re to transcend the limitations of our history and current ‘dominant paradigms’, and resolve the serious issues facing us today.
Where do we look? At the universal tenets that all of the world’s wisdom traditions share in common — the true wisdom that moves under, in and through all.
For transcendent leadership, we require qualities that go beyond those commonly associated with traditional leadership. Transcendent leadership requires more substantial characteristics, the traits and abilities that are honed through means perhaps more in keeping with modern-day peak performers and Tibetan monks than your average CEO.
Such qualities include the cultivation of generosity, ethics or integrity, patience, humility, unselfishness, and wisdom. In most wisdom traditions, the right effort or ongoing practice helps one to cultivate these “higher” or transcendent qualities, and the practice ultimately leads one to greater Wisdom.
Principles of Transcendent Leadership
In various wisdom traditions, the lists of traits or principles may differ somewhat, but the underlying intentions are very similar. The very practice of cultivating these traits yields not only results that affect those around one, but also imbues one’s very life with a greater degree of meaning and satisfaction.
In the Christian tradition, for example, ‘the virtues’ of patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, integrity, sincerity, Love, and faith are often pointers to The Way.
In Buddhism, these are sometimes referred to as “the paramitas of the bodhisattva” or “the six paramitas”, which include generosity, patience, morality, effort, meditation, and wisdom.
“If one practices these six principles, one is a natural leader,” says Beach. “Others will automatically look to you for guidance, motivation, and hope. They will have trust. They will have faith. From this faith and trust, they will develop confidence in themselves to accomplish their goals. This is transcendent leadership, and this transcendent leadership can move mountains.”
Just as with many other mastery practices or traits, these principles in action have positive effects whether within one’s home, community, church, or business. In business, cultivating these principles “enables more decisive and sustained action in the continual unfolding of the corporation, the group, or community entities,” says Beach. “It also gives the strength and wisdom to meet any challenge in a thoughtful, embracing way.”
Six Principles for Transcendent Leadership
In the West, when we think of ‘generosity’, the first thing that comes to mind is making monetary or material donations. While this can be a display of generosity, what we’re really talking about here is a deeper generosity of spirit that is large enough to extend not just to other people, but to all beings, Earth, and future generations.
This is a true generosity of spirit that comes from our Heart-core and permeates how we are and what we do. It allows us to be compassionate, kind, and skillful in our communication. Such ways of being are consistent with all traditions, including the Buddhist ‘Bodhicitta’ or compassionate heart, for it is in the heart where Wisdom resides.
In a corporation, ‘generosity’ is often relegated to the ‘corporate giving’ or ’cause marketing’ department, and is rarely connected with a generosity of spirit. Indeed, as debates over ‘corporate responsibility’ show, there are some who say that the very expectation that corporations should be held to such standards is blasphemous to the Free-Market Deity.
And yet a lack of generosity appears in harmful ways that have a negative effect on morale, productivity, creativity, collaboration, and reputation. For instance, a lack of generosity might manifest in the hoarding of power or crucial information.
A lack of generosity might be reflected in a leader who delegates responsibility without authority, or withholds the necessary feedback and accessibility required for others to truly do excellent work. It might manifest in self-protective behaviors that ultimately result in losses for customers and the company itself. A lack of generosity might show itself in harmful, negative, unconstructive speech — gossip or meanness that has ill effects.
Generosity of spirit, on the other hand, fosters collaboration, creativity, idea-sharing, knowledge-sharing, camaraderie, trust, satisfaction, and constructive communication.
Generosity, as it turns out, is a beneficial and prosperous trait to cultivate at work.
In the age of ‘instant’, the very thought of patience can seem anachronistic! But all that’s really changed is our perspective — we’ve become impatient, because our technology has allowed us to do things and thus expect things more quickly. This, in turn, has bred a false and not always necessary culture of ‘urgency’.
But too often, what is rushed is sloppy and full of errors; it is wasteful and lacking in forethought; it ends up having unintended negative costs and consequences; and it disallows the time and spaciousness needed for both creativity and excellence.
Individuals who are rushed are more prone to error and miscommunication; they are more likely to be preoccupied when they need to be listening and observing deeply; they are curt or even abusive, which affects the morale and collaborative potential of the group, instead of communicating skillfully and sensitively; they end up fatigued and burned-out, which compounds the whole, negative cycle.
Leaders who are impatient and rushed are poor role models, and tend to foster cultures of anxiety, curtness, and urgency rather than of creativity, collaboration, and excellence.
Patience allows for greater creativity, care, collaboration, skillfulness, and excellence; it allows for thoughtful decision-making, so that people can act urgently when the situation truly requires it, and do so in a calm, high-quality manner.
Says Jeffrey Beach, “With patience, one will discover the answers to our problems in the workplace, at home, with others, and within ourselves. Patience and generosity build vision and leadership.”
Patience, as it turns out, is a beneficial and prosperous trait to cultivate at work.
While the words ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’ apply here, I prefer the word ‘integrity’. Regardless of the word we prefer, the primary meaning is that we, as Jeffrey Beach says, intend and endeavor to “not harm others, or ourselves, through our actions.”
Whether we’re talking about integrity, morality, or ethics, all are rooted in an intention to ‘do no harm’ because we know that what we do to others, we do to ourselves; what we sow, we reap; what we do to the Web of Creation, we ultimately do to ourselves.
In business and government, particularly following the ethics scandals of recent memory, we’re more inclined to hear about an emphasis on law, as in “It may not have been ethical, but it wasn’t illegal. We didn’t break the law.” Law and ethics are not the same thing, just as law and justice aren’t necessarily the same thing. Laws are made by people, who may or may not be making those laws in a spirit of generosity, patience, and integrity or true morality.
So the cultivation of integrity — as individuals, and then in groups, organizations, companies, and governments — is paramount to cultivating individuals, organizations and governments that do no harm, particularly at the present moment in history, as we look at the burgeoning wake of destruction stemming from harmful and short-sighted actions.
Indeed, we might transcend the “do no harm” concept and instead intend to “do good” — to have a positive ripple effect that is evaluated based on the truly positive effect it has on all beings, and including our environment on which we depend for our very lives.
Ultimately, when we’re out of integrity, unethical, or immoral, we are corroding our own soul as well as harming others. That’s what’s meant by ‘making a deal with the Devil’ or ‘selling one’s soul’ — after one does it, one experiences the Hell of being out of integrity with one’s truest essence, and may also inflict that Hell on innocents.
When we’re in integrity, we say what we mean, and do what we say; we take others into account, we take accountability for our actions; and we see beyond our own short-term needs to assess potential consequences in the longer-term as well. As such, we are trust-worthy, and don’t spend our days cleaning up the messes of our short-sightedness.
Integrity, it seems, is a beneficial and prosperous trait to cultivate at work.
We’ve all heard people say, “I can’t do it,” to which someone else might respond, “You’re not making an effort!” Effort isn’t just about acting or ‘doing something’; you can flail around haplessly or dangerously and be within those standards.
“Right effort” or even “conscious effort” is perhaps an even better term, because it speaks to the care, the consciousness, the positive intention that is brought into one’s actions. By making an effort to cultivate these higher traits, for example, one becomes a more effective and inspiring human being or leader. One feels the joy and satisfaction of being in integrity.
While vision, ideals, and intentions are ‘inner work,’ our effort is where we meet the Universe half-way. We roll up our sleeves, follow our wiser inner-guidance, and take those actions and make those efforts that are purposeful and constructive, in ways that are aligned with our higher capabilities. And yet we are not overly attached to specific outcomes, aversions, attachments, or expectations, which allows us to be flexible and adaptable as circumstances shift.
Those who are known for conscious effort are typically the shining stars — not the shooting stars — whose light steadily illuminates the way for others.
Thoughtful effort, as we know, is a beneficial and prosperous trait to cultivate at work.
“Meditation is a practice,” says Beach. “The quiet moments of breathing, the quiet moments of reflection of the present moment, give us the ability to practice the other principles in a profound and lasting way.”
Though we might automatically associate meditation with Buddhism, there are many approaches to meditation, coming from all spiritual and wisdom traditions, including Christianity.
We might sit in quiet reflection, following the in-and-out of our breathing; we might do ‘centering prayer’, where we reflect on or repeat a word such as Love, generosity, patience, faith, or God; we might do a walking meditation, where we’re relaxed but very much aware of the present moment; we might use ancient mantras or prayers; or we might just sit quietly after a period of prayer, waiting receptively for Wisdom.
Jeffrey Beach references American Christian mystic Joel Goldsmith, author of The Thunder of Silence, who reminds us that “If you don’t empty yourself, you can’t receive the Grace of God.”
By calming and ’emptying’ ourselves of our worries, thoughts, aversions, reactions, and long-held assumptions, we are receptive to Grace and Wisdom, which result in greater ease, joy, conscious effort, and effectiveness, regardless of the specific wisdom tradition we draw strength and guidance from.
Regardless of the approach we choose, it’s crucial that we choose something. There is now an abundance of research available in the West as well as the East that meditation can make us more well, more relaxed, more mindful, and more conscious. And it can allow us to practice the other principles of transcendent leadership to a greater, deeper degree.
By practicing these principles or ‘paramitas’ — and others — we become more wise. In some spiritual traditions, we become more open to Wisdom and, like Solomon, are then able to receive all of the other experiences that bring joy and prosperity into our lives.
No more aimless or frantic clawing and striving; no more acting in ways that are ungenerous, impatient, unskillful, or immoral; no more angsting because we’re out of alignment with our higher values, truest essence, and greatest potential.
Instead, we feel and experience a new calmness, a new centeredness, a new skillfulness. We’re more kind and generous and patient. We release what Jeffrey Beach calls our ‘self-cherishing’, and feel lighter and less burdened. We see more clearly, and can decide more wisely and act more efficiently, in the best of ways. And we have a positive, rather than harmful, impact on the world around us.
As Beach noted earlier, one who practices and cultivates such principles or Ways becomes an inherent leader who shines from within and to whom others look for guidance on the Way.
Our times call for transcendent leaders, whether those who are in positions of formal leadership, or those who step up and through the gaps and cracks on the Way to our highest potential.
This article was originally featured at Ivy Sea Online and is reprinted with permission.
© 2006 – 2014, Jamie Walters. All rights reserved.