What can business learn from the Dalai Lama?

Recently I "spent" two days with the Dalai Lama at the EngageNow conference in Calgary.

Recently I “spent” two days with the Dalai Lama at the EngageNow conference in Calgary. Hosted by their University, the event's goal was to inspire active community participation.

I joined a global roster including F.W. de Klerk, Sir Richard Branson, Stephen Covey, and His Holiness. The organizers requested that I follow the Dalai Lama in speaking. “Why?” They felt that my life's work and message about the power of business authentically embracing social issues as a perfect bridge for the audience.

A request like that causes one deep reflection. I reviewed our work spanning more than 25 years guiding company's social issue engagement. Our client CEOs approached this strategy quite personally: Paul Fireman at Reebok; Jim Preston at Avon; Bruce Rohde at ConAgra; and more recently, Clarence Otis at Darden; Christina Gold at Western Union; and Steve Loranger of ITT. Each desired to authentically engage with a cause. Intuitively they knew this was a powerful way to build their organizations, internally and externally, while making a sustainable social impact.

While each explained their vision differently, they had one thing in common: compassion.

Compassion? Frankly, in the years of our work, I never thought it as an expression of compassion. That is, until I “spent” two days with this self-proclaimed “simple monk.”

The Dalai Lama has a broad definition of compassion: “We are the same human beings. I want a happy life. You want a happy life. We have a universal responsibility to work together and make a common effort for a better world,” he said in Calgary.

He made another critical point related to business: “Trust is the basis of harmony.” That is exactly how I planned to open my speech. The need for trust, especially today, is one of the primary reasons business must embrace its social responsibilities internally and externally. Trust is absolutely critical to earn a license to operate, attract and retain the best employees, relate to today's ever more skeptical consumers, communities, NGOs, and government officials. Trust is also critical for the innovative collaborations necessary to address the world's myriad problems.

His message of universal responsibility deeply touched my core. More importantly, it is one that business leaders must embrace for the mutual betterment of their organizations and society. Yes, a ‘simple monk,” with a very powerful message.

Carol Cone is chairman and founder of Cone, a Boston-based communications firm that specializes in cause marketing and CSR programs.

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