3 Observations About Compassion From the Dalai Lama That Could Change Your Approach to Entrepreneurship

When compassion guides how you do business you never have to lie to yourself about whether you're doing the right thing.

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By Ai Addyson-Zhang • Oct 30, 2018

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If you have worked in business as an employee or an entrepreneur, you have probably heard phrases such as "crying is for the weak" or "never let them see you sweat." What these phrases teach us is that emotions -- especially "negative" ones -- are not welcomed in the workplace. They are oftentimes perceived as being too emotional, weak, or unprofessional.

However, as Americans spend more time at work and the rise in entrepreneurship and "hustling" continue, today's business environment has become more competitive than ever. In fact, workplace suicides in the US are already on the rise. Entrepreneurs, in particular, work an average of 63 percent more hours per week than employees. In China and Japan there are even phrases coined to describe people who die at their desks due to overworking. Within this context, where do people decompress from their "negative" emotions and stress?

Expecting people to not show any vulnerability isn't just unsustainable -- it's nearly nonsensical. Suppressing our vulnerabilities is not conducive to long-term growth and success. It is time to introduce compassion into leadership and entrepreneurship and add an emotional touch to the contemporary business environment.

Dalai Lama is a well-known spiritual leader and teacher. However, his teaching contains profound business lessons that demonstrate how compassion can be incorporated into entrepreneurship and leadership. Below are three lessons from Dalai Lama that can help redefine "entrepreneurship" in a more sustainable, constructive and "blue-ocean" way.

Related: Dalai Lama's Lessons for New Grads on Global Responsibility and Compassion

1. "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." -- Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama embodies compassion and offers life lessons on happiness. Yet, the pursuit of happiness is almost a luxury concept in the business world. After all, isn't business all about pursuing the bottom line?

Yes and no. It is yes in the sense that no business or entrepreneur can survive without having money to pay its employees and bills to keep the business going. Apple is one of the world's most profitable companies, yet its factories in China are constantly dealing with suicidally depressed employees. Amazon has faced similar issues regarding its treatment of its warehouse employees and white-collar staff and Amazon has just raised their minimum wage due to public pressure.

These kinds of profit-oriented situations may be immediately beneficial for output, but they are long-term productivity killers for businesses. Long-term growth isn't just about short-term output. Businesses want to achieve profit, but also want the people who work for them to feel happy, fulfilled and engaged.

For example, the founder of MindValley, Vishen Lakhiani, once gave a powerful talk titled, Why Happiness is the New Productivity. Vishen shared powerful stories that demonstrated that happier employees lead to higher productivity and profitability. Vishen introduced "Love Week" into MindVallley's culture. During "Love Week" employees are encouraged to show each other love and appreciation via various compassionate deeds. Surprisingly, both employee productivity and company sales improved during this week.

Related: 10 Dalai Lama Quotes to Make You Happier, Stronger and More Successful

2. "Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back, and reasons to stay." -- Dalai Lama

A company is only as good as its team. Leaders need to invest in their people. If you are a solo-entrepreneur, invest in yourself. Don't use fear to control your employees; instead, use love to nurture your people and invest in their wellbeing and professional development. This new way of running "people operations" isn't just for small start-ups or quirky founders. Instead, the need for compassion and deeper meanings is starting to take hold in the private industry. Major companies are investing in developing more fulfilled and balanced employees.

Companies like Basecamp, a popular Chicago-based web development firm, offer paid sabbaticals to employees as well as extensive parental leave. These kinds of "perks" not only keep employee churn low but also help employees stay fresh and updated with their fields by encouraging them to take time for personal development. These compassionate deeds help infuse the company with fresh ideas and innovations.

Related: 7 Inspiring Traits of Compassionate Leadership

3. "Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life." -- Dalai Lama

Typical businesses are driven by the bottom line. How about a business that is driven by universal responsibility based on love and compassion, while serving the people within and without?

One primary example is Aetna, a major US health insurance company. Mark Bertolini, the chairman and former CEO of Aetna, was profoundly affected by a near-death experience and his subsequent recovery. By turning to traditional healing methods like yoga, meditation and chanting, Bertolini was able to overcome his extreme pain and disability, eventually rising to be the CEO of the company. Bertolini's experiences affected his outlook for both his customers and employees. It led to the company raising their minimum wage for all workers and offering free yoga, mindfulness meditation, and other wellness and therapy programs for employees. Aetna has since started focusing on "social determinants of health" -- a way to combat the social causes of health conditions -- to keep its customers healthier and reduce medical spending.

In a similar vein, Google is now starting to help customers "unglue" from their mobile devices through a new series of apps and features on its Android OS. This might seem a bit counter-intuitive since Google is a tech company. However, it's promotion of "focused" screen time is designed to help customers have a more satisfying experience while they are actually using devices.

By designing products and services with a long-term, compassionate and holistic approach, companies from health insurance to tech are finding alternative ways to be innovative and make happier, healthier customers. Compassion and profitability do not have to be mutually exclusives.

Ai Addyson-Zhang

Digital Learning & Storytelling Consultant, Speaker, Live Streamer

Ai Addyson-Zhang, Ph.D., is a community building expert who consults on digital learning and storytelling. She trains academic and industry leaders to leverage digital storytelling to humanize their brands, improve employee and community engagement, and maximize organizational effectiveness.

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