Inner Peace, Leadership, and Learning

Once a Buddhist novice came to a Master and asked, “Master how do I achieve inner peace?” The Master replied “Go to where the ancestors are laid to rest and shout as loud as you can, ‘You are all terrible, You are worthless, We all hate you, You have never done anything right, and so on’.” Somewhat surprised the novice did as he was told. A few hours later he returned. “I have done as you said Master” he reported. The Master asked “Well, how did they respond and react?” The novice said, “Master, they did not for they are dead.” “Ok,” the Master said, “now go back to them and shout as loud as you can to them, ‘You are the Greatest who ever lived, You are wonderful, You are perfect, You have done great things that will be remembered forever, and so on’.” The novice did as he was told. After a while he returned and informed the Master he had completed the task. “Yes,” said the Master, “And what did they do? What was their response and reaction?” The novice said, “Master they did not respond or react for they are dead.” “Yes,” said the Master, “what was your question?”

Leaders are at their best when they make others feel inspired, cared about, and when they allow others to express their own passions. And yet some moments call for a leader to have an edge – to drive and demand excellence in the face of resistance. For me inherent in this tension is the fact that leadership means failing over and over again in the attempt to find the right leadership balance and style and learning lessons from each failure by being open to and listening to followers. The only way a leader can sustain a course, a vision, and continue to stand up again after each failure and not succumb to false pride or security is to learn the lesson of the Master taught the novice. Do not be deeply affected by harsh criticism or take praise to personally – learn from each without allowing either to disrupt your inner core and peace. This does not come naturally and is thus a hard discipline to cultivate.  

One thought on “Inner Peace, Leadership, and Learning

  1. Tim!!! was just looking up your address and found that you’d decided to return to teaching at Hendrix.
    will you have time to be in touch? we have such affection for you and such great memories of
    times in amherst and arkansas. can you send me an update about your life when you have a moment?
    I looked at your twitter(s) and there was your son sam!!!
    nick and I have a grandaughter…Ezra and his dutch wife Meike’s Hannah.
    we’ve just returned from seeing her, and them.
    nick had the winter off but returns to lots of teaching in september.
    come visit us! at least send an email to
    can I send you an exhibition card to hendrix, dept of politics?


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