Sakyong Mipham on Leadership

Ray: You write about people being leaders in their lives and communities. What are the most important qualities of a good leader?


Mipham: I would say courage first; then wisdom, which is a sense of knowledge and confidence; and also the wish and desire to uplift.

The underlying notion is “How do I help?” That attitude really is a spiritual journey and a path.

Then, you have to have the courage to be able to do it. We can talk about compassion, but we need the courage to do it.

The difference is somebody can have the good idea and the level of compassion but not the courage. You will not always be received in a particularly positive way in terms of what you are trying to do.

Courage here means overcoming obstacles and having the ability to sustain.

Ray: As the son of Chögyam Trungpa, you had a lifetime of training before you became the head of Shambhala, Rinpoche. What has surprised you most as a leader — about yourself and about leading this community? With all that training, what hadn’t you anticipated?

Mipham: I think … it was … that you can’t make people happy! (Laughs.) At a certain point, it’s about their happiness, but at others it’s not. It’s about what they’re willing to do.

People can be trained in certain principles, but then they actually have to apply them and try them out. I found out for myself in my own life that if you do the principles — like if you try to be genuine — it actually works.

As a leader, people push you. They really want to keep pushing you until you get aggressive. Then they say, “Oh, see, it doesn’t work.”

But, really, the teaching here says you need to become more gentle. You need to become more genuine to who you are. So people pushing you can help take you to the level where you really understand the principles and enter them into action.

A good surprise for me was if you maintain certain principles — such as being genuine and true — then people see that. They realize.

They know inside that being selfish and aggressive is not a good thing to do, but they may not always be able to stop themselves. But when they see a leader trying to do it, then they can draw inspiration from the leader.

What is amazing is how stuck people are in their own habits. It’s really hard to get people out of their habits. But once they shift, it also is amazing how rapid the progress can be.

The Shambhala community includes a lot of baby boomers, people who got involved in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s — people who are very well-educated and intelligent. They want things to happen. They expect results.

I keep saying, “You know, you guys have to put the effort in.” This generation of people has had some of the best teachers ever. So a better teacher is not going to do it. That’s not the fault, although they may need different varieties of teachers.

Ultimately, as individuals we each have to ask ourselves to be courageous and apply certain principles.

*Read about Sakyong Mipham and Shambhala Buddhism at his website,, and read this full interview at I did the interview for New Age Retailer magazine.

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