Theories of charismatic leadership present leadership as an influence process where part of the leader’s role is to attract followers through individual example and vision. Charismatic leadership acknowledges the potential dangers of narcissism in the leader and leader-obsession among their followers. Meanwhile, central tenets of Zen philosophy include that of non-attachment to self, interdependence of all beings, and impermanence. Interviews with four American Zen practitioner-leaders were analyzed for themes related to the influence of ego on leadership. This paper presents findings from the interviews, and discusses these along with observations from other Zen scholars and practitioners. The discussion is complemented by the author’s experiences in applying these principles to leadership practice in a higher education setting. The interviews illuminate several possible ways Zen philosophy and practice could inform leadership theory and practice, and vice versa. Readers are encouraged to consider their own sense of self and how it may influence their roles as leaders and followers.
The author has written a response to this paper, titled "Reflections on "To study the self is to forget the self': Zen lessons on ego and leadership in higher education."
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Fagan, Jody Condit, "“To study the self is to forget the self”: Zen lessons on ego and leadership in higher education" (2020). Libraries. 186.