Metta Leader, ‘Betta’ Leader

In a post today on Fast Company, Daniel Goleman reminds us how to turn compassion into action. He’s calling us to practice “metta.” Here’s my post on the topic from the archives (July 2017).

If you’re a leader, people watch how you treat those with less power than you. How do you treat direct reports, waiters, cab drivers, front desk clerks, receptionists? Our behaviors with others tell the true story of how fully we have developed a capacity for caring. Just because we are leaders or people managers with deliverables to an organization doesn’t mean we are excused from being caring human beings.

The Dalai Lama of Tibet wrote a marvelous book a few years ago called Ethics for the New Millennium. The Dalai Lama suggests that the foundation for our ethics is our common right and desire to be happy.

Thoughts and actions that contribute to another’s happiness or at least do not infringe on another’s happiness are ethical thoughts and actions. We need to ask ourselves if we value the happiness of others and desire to use our gifts for the service of others – especially if we are leaders!

Want to be more caring? Think about the many people who have cared for you over the years. Spend some time remembering how these people have touched your life. Be grateful and offer thanks. As a leader, you have a chance to pay it forward every day.

Here are two simple ways we can become more caring people and better leaders:

1. Practice Metta. Metta, or loving-kindness, is a Buddhist practice of projecting love to those we encounter. Metta can be done by yourself as you are meditating or sitting quietly. You can practice metta walking the halls in your office, sitting waiting for the next meeting to start (whether it is in-person or virtual), or on your commute to/from work. There are four phrases usually used to practice metta. Simply think one to yourself as you encounter others.

  • May you be free from danger.
  • May you have mental happiness.
  • May you have physical happiness.
  • May you have ease of well-being.

It is hard to keep hateful or negative thoughts toward a person and practice metta at the same time. Practicing metta we expand our capacity for caring and become “betta” leaders.

2. De-bug. Who bugs you? What about this person bugs you? Think about this person and all his or her characteristics or habits that really bug you. Now strip them away one by one until you are able to imagine a connection with this person. Every time you see this person, try to relate to them at this level and not through all the things that bug you.

Why bother?

Why is being caring a good attribute for leadership? Organizational health is always important. It is especially critical in times of business transformation. In Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Competitive Advantage, Keller and Price shared their research that 70% of change efforts failed due to poor organizational health, the symptoms of which include negative employee attitudes and unproductive management behavior. Those companies that focused on performance and health were “twice as successful as those focusing on health alone and nearly three times as successful as those focusing on performance alone.” (“What successful transformations share” McKinsey Global Survey, March 2010). So extending our circle of concern from the bottom line to include the people around us (aka caring) and the health of the organization makes sound economic sense. Additionally, it’s the right thing to do.