Guest Lecture — “Ethics and Transformative Leadership”

3rd April 2014

“Ethics and Transformative Leadership”

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, founder and director of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT.

According to intro by a UAH Associate Dean, Priyadarshi founded a nonpartisan participatory think tank; local Buddhist monk at MIT; attended first university in India (studied traditional Indo-Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism), observed Mother Theresa’s work with the poor, met Pope John Paul II in 1997, met Desmund Tutu.

Began teaching at MIT 12 years ago, Prescriptive Reflective Discourse on ethics, new amongst nonreligious students, but slowly getting away from ethical conversation topics (“overall, we’re still good,” he quipped).

The global financial meltdown happened because of greed.

Thus, business schools changed to say their are training leader rather than managers?  In 2-year MBA programs, one afternoon is spent on compliance-based ethics, focused mainly on “what can we get away with?”

How do we transition the next generation to better behaviour?


How do we demonstrate our internal belief in honesty when in public?

— Students, when questioned about what makes a good business leader, took 1.5-1.75 hours to put honesty and integrity on the list; first was ambition, visionary, etc.

Currently, we face many global problems/challenges: climate change, poverty, food security, repercussions from the financial meltdown.

These are not thought of when business leaders are focused on shortterm goals one or two quarters down the road…

— how to build trust in leaders thinking of longterm challenges?

For instance, the university’s vision statement — how many people know it?

Ethics cannot be taught — not descriptive, must be self-reflective.

— 1st attempt through case studies, best business practices ==> NOT IDEAL

Steer away from cookie cutter leadership (sell your soul to the same ol’ system)

Need deeper self-reflection, become familiar with yourself.

For example, do you believe in kindness when others are not kind to you?

At divinity school, students were asked to study Good Samaritan story, told to cross field from one building to another and none stopped to aid person visibly moaning in field.

If we don’t train good social leaders, then we’ll repeat the past.

Ethics give you a sense of meaning — Priyadarshi asked students, “Write your epitaph,” if it includes riches, remember that wealthy people are forgotten.  Lead with vision and values that are ethical.

Leadership is a trait for those who take responsibility — do you have the will to do that?

Many kinds of kindness such as fairness, empathy…

— can we train ourselves to be more?

Some generosity is to stroke our ego.

— can we be kind simply for the sake of kindness?  Keep our egos out?

What is doing something for the “common good”? “Common good” for whom?

What is ethical, the notion of meaning in the defense industry?

— what are your values?  Don’t rationalize.  Critique yourself.  Do you jeopardize your longterm sense of wellbeing for wealth accumulation?

— defense is necessary in today’s world and is needed.  What is your tradeoff of personal values?

There is a net cost to everything we do.

Introspection/contemplation is a human part — does not belong to religion alone.

What do you with with self-awareness of mortality?

— what do you do to enhance your happiness and happiness of others?
— how does this extend to organizations like national government?

There are no universal values — everything is consensual/contextual.

Previous generations were taught to be complacent to support current system, even with costly corruptions.

— how many people in this, will future generations speak up?
— easy to be self-righteous rather than be reflectively ethical.

In an episode of a TV show starring Louis C.K., we are different people in our cars.

— we validate ourselves in different ways, like cyberspace: has anyone validated the pictures we post in social media?

Typical approach to ethics in today’s academic world: retreat of corporate board members/stakeholders to examine mission/vision statement

— instead of real vision, they concern themselves with how they look to the world
— no buy-in from faculty/students/alumni
— best to include both things to be proud of and view toward the future

Ethics and trust

Preoccupied with symptoms/legal management of economy networking

CEOS apologizing for financial meltdown, giving up bonuses

Question to educational institutions: how do you solve it?

Values of a leader — practice/train honesty, integrity; visionary

Do you have a firewall?

— different set of values at work vs. home
— comfortable with holding two diametrically-opposed values within ourselves

Let others voice disagreement to arrive at consensus in wholesome dialogue, to put yourself into the change you want.

What is at stake?

— The notion of the individual depends on self-view, the individual does not exist

Short attention span affecting our decision making, do we base our decisions on getting a large number of “Likes”?

— it’s all relative; in India, a million likes is nothing in a population of a billion

In our current times, we are dependent on our second “organs,” our gadgets.  Each generation changes it values.


Bottom line: how do we teach ethics to people of all ages?  How do we allow ourselves to change our behaviour patterns?  We are contagious.  It’s a civic responsibility.

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