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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

The Dalai Lama and your leadership development

A few years ago I told my partner at the time that I was very much like the Dalai Lama. A kind of mild-mannered beacon of kindness.

You may be wondering what my self-image possibly has to do with your leadership development. I promise I’ll get to that. But first let me assure you my partner didn't take my comments about my similarities with the Dalai Lama very seriously at all. Instead, she burst out laughing and listed a number of reasons why I was completely off my rocker that caused me to blush. And not because she said some things I wasn't already deeply aware of, but because she said some things I would rather not admit. I barely managed to contain my need to explain to her that the examples she was referring to were, in fact, exceptions and did not reflect my true benevolent and spiritual qualities.

These explanations would have undoubtedly adapted the situation to my liking. If I had succeeded in this act of self-deception, I would have been able to continue to live contentedly in my own fantasy world. But that would lead to the small problem of my personal development grinding to a halt. And so we come to the concept of explain and explore.

Explaining is the act of focusing on what we already know and, if you will, clinging to an existing narrative. Explanations are safe and secure and won’t challenge you in any way. In the context of personal development it is irrelevant whether the explanations are true or not. For example:

“You were being mean.”

“Yes, but he started it.”

To explore means that we embrace the unknown or things we’d rather not admit. Exploring requires courage and that you rid yourself of feelings of pride.

“You were being mean.”

"Yes, you’re right. I wonder why I allow myself to behave that way.”

My experience from in-depth conversations in individual leadership development sessions is that clients oscillate between explaining and justifying on the one hand and exploring and discovering new things about themselves on the other. It is a state of ambivalence that you can almost touch. So how can you increase your ability to explore, and in doing so lay the foundations for continuous development? One method is to become actively curious about yourself – and I mean that literally. For my own part I have had the privilege of being trained by some really skilled psychologists to whom I owe a lot. When I’ve been at the crossroads of explaining and exploring, where the strong forces of embarrassment and reluctance have taunted me, my trainers took a truly non-judgemental approach and encouraged me with the simple phrase: “Stay curious Mike!"

I needed to hear those words, because underneath all the embarrassment I was busy criticising myself. When you feel embarrassment or shame it’s easy to turn away and revert to explanations and justifications instead. To avoid this you should talk to yourself with the same consideration and willingness to understand that my trainers did to me. This attitude will help you venture out into the unknown and learn something new about yourself. Apart from being profoundly edifying and relieving, it's really exciting too. Stay curious!

Best regards,

The Dalai Lama


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

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