Impermanence: Leadership and Life
I enjoyed a recent holiday in an area of Scotland called Assynt, one of my favourite locations in Scotland if not the world. Its scenery is breath taking and it is a peaceful lonely place even at the height of summer. Great for long quiet walks where you hardly, if ever, see another person.
I used some of my time there to meditate in different places. One of these places had a profound impact on me. The photo above is of an ancient broch near the settlement of Stoer. Broch’s are ancient structures that were built in Scotland between 390 BC and 100 AD. They were often two stories high, had walls 2 to 3 meters thick and would have offered warmth and protection from the harsh Scottish climate.
Some of these structures still survive, all be it in ruins after so much exposure to the elements. However, enough of the buildings still stand to give a good feel for how these buildings would have felt to live in.
This broch at Stoer is only 100 meters from the sea and has a backdrop of mountains disappearing south into the distance as you enjoy views right down the west coast of Scotland for almost 100 miles.
Impermanence is an important concept in Buddhism. Basically the Buddha pointed out that all things are impermanent and everything comes to an end. On first reading this it can seem bleak and pessimistic but I do not think this is the intention of this teaching. For me it shows the importance to live well, to lead well and make the most of your life.
As I sat meditating in this old broch, I wondered about the people who lived here. What did this place mean to them? Did they love their home deeply? How many meals were cooked here? How many children were born here? How many people died here? How many people told stories round the fires here? What would the inhabitants of this place say if they saw their home, all these centuries later, in ruins?
This led me to think about my own life, especially my leadership roles. When I was in my CEO role it felt like the center of my personal universe. I was involved in something important that I wanted to do well for my own sake but also for others. But then illness appeared out of nowhere and I had to relinquish my CEO role. Impermanence in action.
A favourite quote of mine is from Keido Chisan, a twentieth century Japanese Buddhist Zen Master. He wrote below a piece of calligraphy that he drew, the following words:
“This fleeting body reveals the light”
Sitting in the broch I thought how true these words are. If you experience the privilege of leadership you must enjoy it but use your power wisely. Treat people well, challenge people positively, help them to be the best they can be, ensure your organisation thrives but always gives something back to your community. This is important, really important. But realise that your leadership journey just like your life will be gone, possibly like my CEO journey sooner than you think. Let this thought spur you on to be the best leader/person you can be. When it’s time to let that role go, you can let it go with grace knowing that you have made your contribution and it was a positive one.