|A future leader of GDPT VN in America - Photo BXK |
Leadership at Vietnamese Buddhist
Youth Association (VBYA) - Also known as Gia Đình Phật Tử (GĐPT)
|Another future leader of GDPT VN in America - Photo BXK |
Phe Bach (a.k.a. Tâm Thường Định)
Abstract: This research paper examines the leadership at The Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association (VBYA), also known as Gia Dinh Phat Tu (GDPT) in Vietnamese, a non-profit organization that emphasizes not only virtue (moral, ethical, and inner values) but also focuses on physical education, character education, and spiritual education of the Buddhist youth. Its mission is to train Buddhist youth to be moral, courageous, and righteous, and to help build a positive society in accordance with Buddha’s teachings. Since its leaders are volunteer-based, the recruitment and retention is undoubtedly a challenge to firmly keep its vision. The author attempts to find a possible solution for recruiting and retaining its leaders.
At the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association, two leadership theories genuinely stand out: servant leadership and authentic leadership. Servant leadership implies that leaders primarily lead by serving others – employees, customers and community, whereas authentic leadership demonstrates these five qualities: understanding their purpose, practicing solid values, leading with the heart, establishing close and enduring relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline.
The author recommends that since the VBYA does not have the financial means to compensate and offer rewards, it must focus on training and development in order to recruit and retain its leaders. Additionally, leaders of VBYA must practice and implement the value of leading-by-example (Vietnamese: Thân Giáo); it is certainly essential for the success of the organization. The central Buddhist teachings help us transform mindful thought, speech, and actions into our daily lives. Buddha’s teachings have reached and transformed numerous people from all walks of life.
Like many other Vietnamese individuals and organizations, VBYA has made many achievements, and although its members also have had a significant number of obstacles, they have managed to adapt, assimilate, and contribute while keeping their distinctive Vietnamese Buddhist ethics and virtues. Vietnamese immigrants have preserved and flourished their unique Vietnamese Buddhist heritage while contributing positively to the cultural and spiritual needs of the Vietnamese and native communities in America.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents----------------------------------------------------------------------
Applied Leadership Theories at VBYA----------------------------------------------
Leadership’s Strengths and Weaknesses in VBYA--------------------------------
The Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association (VBYA) was established in Hue City, Vietnam in 1953. Sharing the fate of Vietnamese refugees after the end of the Vietnam War on April 30th, 1975, it came to this country and has flourished ever since. The first Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association in America, called Cuu Kim Son Buddhist Youth Association, was established in 1976 in San Francisco, CA. Today, there are over 250 chapters of Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Associations all over the United States. VBYA is a non-profit organization that emphasizes not only virtue and moral, ethical and inner values, but also focuses on physical education, character education, and spiritual education of Buddhist youth (GDPT Viet Nam, 2008).
Its vision and mission are to train Buddhist youth to be moral, courageous and righteous, and to help build a positive society in accordance with Buddha’s teachings. According to the GDPT’s constitution, its objectives are:
To instill in members Buddhist teachings and practice to enable them to live in mindfulness--with peace, joy, and harmony--and empathy with others;
To raise self-esteem and self-support of the spirit among members;
To lead and promote a meaningful and moral social life, healthy in spirit, mind and body; to foster philanthropy among members.
To develop leadership and management skills, creativity, and sense of responsibility in members.
To cultivate communication skills by practicing Right Speech and Deep Listening, and contribute to building strong, happy families and a productive, peaceful society (GDPT Viet Nam, 2008).
To lead and carry out such ambitions, Talent Management is needed to recruit and retain its manpower. Like any other organization or individual, VBYA wants to be successful. As Carroll (2007) suggests, rules for living our daily lives are relatively straightforward: “Focus on desired results and achieve them as quickly as possible.....Amass valuable possessions and avoid unpleasant experiences…. Protect yourself unless there is a reason not to.” (p. 152). Unfortunately, it is not that simple for any individual or organization. In fact, many organizations, for profit or nonprofit, including the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association, are struggling with “desired results” due to the lack of manpower and talent management resources. In other words, these organizations often do not have a defined, successful training, evaluation and retention program. In addition, according to Basarab (2011), there is a lack of reliable strategies and methods to measure what a successful training program and/or evaluation really is.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the prevalent leadership theories that are being utilized within the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association. Furthermore, it will suggest ways to evaluate personnel and talent management as well as offer advice to recruit and retain its leaders.
Applied Leadership Theories at VBYA
At the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association, there are two leadership theories that genuinely stand out: they are servant leadership and authentic leadership. Servant leadership implies that leaders primarily lead by serving others – employees, customers and the community Greenleaf (1970). Servant leadership has strong links to major religions in the world. In Buddhism, the concept of “serving others is serving the Buddha” is written in the Kinh Đại Thừa (Thích, 2011). In Christianity, Arcay (2009) suggests that the root of servant leadership can be traced back to a discussion between Jesus Christ and his disciples as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22: verses 24-27. Again, according to Arcay (2009), servant leadership requires the full embodiment of serving God, which means serving with all your heart and soul.
Greenleaf (1970) first coined the term servant leadership in 1970 in his book titled The Servant As Leader. It has regained popularity in the last decade due to its strong altruistic and ethical overtones (Northouse, 2004). Greenleaf (1995) described his model as one that encourages “collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment” (p.1). He argues that servant leadership is serving first with dignity. Customers, employees, and the community as a whole have the highest priority. According to Greenleaf (1995, 2006) and Spears & Frick (1992), servant leadership implies that leaders primarily lead by serving others – employees, customers and community. They subjugate their personal needs and desires for the good of the greater community.
In authentic leadership, as George (2008) pointed out, leaders demonstrate these five qualities: 1) understanding their purpose, 2) practicing solid values, 3) leading with heart, 4) establishing close and enduring relationships, and 5) demonstrating self-discipline (p. 92). All of the VBYA leaders volunteer their time, energy and talents. They serve and lead to the best of their abilities. Thus, they are very authentic and sincere in carrying out their tasks. Duchon & Plowman (2005, as cited in DeVost, 2010), point out that spiritual leaders shape work units in a way that allows employees to participate in meaningful work, even in what constitutes “meaningful work” (p. 28) in modern organizational changes. According to Tepper (2003), any individual with a strong inner sense of spirituality will be more likely to find meaning, will be more satisfied with their work and will contribute significantly more than the non-spiritual one. Additionally, they are more likely to be open-minded,have the ability to experience gratitude for ordinary events, and seek meaning for their spiritual journey as well as having a high intolerance for inequity.
Leadership’s Strengths and Weaknesses in VBYA
The leaders in VBYA are all volunteers with a clear mindset to make differences in their lives and in the lives of others. As Alexander Norman writes in the introduction to the book Beyond Religion-Ethics For a Whole World by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, “(We need) to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values, which [the Dalai Lama] believes are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence, and happiness we all seek” (p. xv). In a similiar vein, Thich Minh Dat, a spiritual advisor for the Vietnamese Buddhist Community in Northern California, states that anyone of us is an educator because sooner or later, we are all brother/sister, husband/wife, grandfather/grandmother and “If a doctor makes a mistake, he or she can only kill a single person, but if an educator like us makes a mistake, we can kill a whole generation” (Thích, 2011). VBYA’s leaders are instilled with this doctrine.
The leaders of VBYA have a strong foundation and follow fundamental principles with defined obligations and responsibilities. The networking between the leaders is similar to a family structure, where they respect and nurture one another. Their minds and hearts are always serving others as well as preserving, protecting and strengthening the Association’s vision and mission. There is a strong relationship among the leaders within their organization and they share similar inner values such as selflessness, sacrifice, and harmoniousness. They also have a high sense of spiritualism and strong moral values. Some of these moral values include compassion, diligence, determination, joy, gratitude, love, integrity, honesty, mindfulness, harmony, perseverance, responsibility, trustworthiness, trust, understanding and wisdom.
One of the weaknesses of the Association, however, is the lack of a successful recruiting, training and retention program. Many non-profit organizations, including the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association, are struggling with defining the success of their training programs. It is very humbling for the VBYA leaders to carry out their clear vision and mission. Carroll (2007) contends that humility, simply put, is the absence of arrogance, which means that we engage our work authentically and communicate with others without self-serving agendas (p. 143). Yet, the lack of continuous training and evaluation is a dominant hurdle for VBYA to overcome. Russ-Eft & Preskill, (2009) points out that any training programs or investment in human capital or predictive return must be measurable. To them, evaluation is part of the assessment to improve any organization. Besides not having an adequate assessment process, the financial aspect of the VBYA is also an enormous problem. Without sufficient funding, it is very difficult to attract and retain talent. According to an article on the Talent Management website: “Retaining, Recruiting Top Talent Key Priorities for Employers, Survey Finds” (Buck Consultants, May 12, 2011): “Employers are using hiring bonuses to attract talent and retention bonuses to keep them.” Furthermore, the two most important components of recruiting and retaining talent are training and development, and compensation and rewards (SHRM Foundation, 2008). VBYA does not have the money to offer these incentives.
Since the VBYA does not have the financial means to compensate its staff and faculty or offer rewards, it must focus on training and development to recruit and retain its leaders. According to SHRM Foundation (2008) “It takes extensive analysis, a thorough understanding of the many strategies and practices available, and the ability to put retention plans into action and learn from their outcomes. But given the increasing difficulty of keeping valued employees on board in the face of major shifts in the talent landscape, it is well worth the effort” (p. 27). It offers the following advice: “Strengthening employee engagement in your organization can also help you retain talent. Engaged employees are satisfied with their jobs, enjoy their work and the organization, believe that their job is important, take pride in the company, and believe that their employer values their contributions.” (SHRM Foundation, 2008, p. 21)
SHRM Foundation (2008) also reveals that “research shows that certain HR practices can be especially powerful in enabling an organization to achieve its retention goals. These practices include (1) recruitment, (2) selection, (3) socialization, (4) training and development, (5) compensation and rewards, (6) supervision, and (7) employee engagement (p. 21). Lastly, SHRM Foundation (2008) concludes:
“To get the most from your retention management plans, you will need to: (1) analyze the nature of turnover in your organization and the extent to which it is a problem (or likely to become one); (2) understand research findings on the drivers of employee turnover and the ways in which workers make turnover decisions; (3) diagnose the most important and manageable drivers of turnover in your company; and, (4) design, implement, and evaluate strategies to improve retention in ways that meet your organization’s unique needs” (p. 27).
Additionally, to be consistent with Buddhist philosophy, leaders of VBYA must practice and implement the value of leading-by-example (Thân Giáo); it is essential for the success of the organization. According to Bach (2012), “Leading by example is just one invaluable lesson the Buddha taught us. It is based upon our mindful thought, speech, and actions in our daily life. His teachings have reached and transformed innumerous people from all walks of life. The peaceful development of humanity is in large part due to the enlightened teachings of the Buddha. Today, Buddhism can be a possible solution for the human crises” (p. 5). He suggests that Buddhist youth leaders should establish these guidelines: 1) Establish a Moral and Ethical Mindset; 2) Understand and Articulate the Principle of Cause and Effect (Law of Karma); 3) Think Globally and Act Locally – making a difference around you first; 4) Demonstrate Mutual Respect and Mutual Benefit; 5) Practice Being Present With Each Other (Presencing) - “ Presencing as in the Theory U” - Senge, P. M., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2005), 6) Engage In The Power of Unity or Collaboration With Other Organizations for Sustainable Change; and 7) Be a (Buddhist) Practitioner, Not Only a Learner (p.6).
As a leader, especially a leader in a Buddhist institution, one must be mindful and have a solid foundation in the Dharma (the teaching of Buddha). As Michael Carroll (2007) suggests in his book, The Mindful Leader, the ten talents of a mindful leader are: simplicity, poise, respect, courage, confidence, enthusiasm, patience, awareness, skillfulness, and humility. He continues that bringing our full being to work through synchronizing, engaging the whole, inspiring health and well-being in organizations and establishing authenticity, all combine to define a successful leader.
Furthermore, the leaders should live a spiritual life and lead by setting positive examples. Another study by Andre L. Delbecq (2008), a professor of Organizational Analysis and Management at J. Thomas and Kathleen L. McCarthy University and Director of the Institute for Spirituality and Organizational Leadership at Santa University’s Leavey School of Business suggests that the managers who are working with him exhibit these positive changes through meditation and spiritual disciplines (p. 495):
Improved capacities to listen—less need to dominate
More patience with others—less judgmental and self-asserting
Great adaptability—less desire to control events and others
Great focus—less distraction and anxiety
Greater ability to devote self to service through work—less frustration with burdens and irritants at work
More hopefulness and joyfulness even in times of difficulty—less cynicism and pessimism
Greater overall serenity and trust
More confidence in using personal competencies—deeper knowledge of self-limitations, more trust that things will work out
Persistence and diligence—less withdrawal and self-occupation when under stress
To Delbecq, nourishing the soul of the leader and the inner growth certainly matters. Thus, the spiritual dimension of leadership is particularly crucial and vital for success in any organization. To emphasize this point, we will examine the work of Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a peace activist, a writer, a poet, a scholar, and a Buddhist monk, and is the champion of mindfulness. His work has carried mindfulness practices into mainstream culture. His wisdom and practice of mindfulness have provided guidance and a practical approach, which benefit individuals, families and organizations. Thich Nhat Hanh (1993, 2007) emphasizes: “With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others.” He continues: “Mindfulness protects us, our families, and our society, and ensures a safe and happy present and a safe and happy future. Precepts are the most concrete expression of the practice of mindfulness” (p. 2).
Precepts (or Sila in Sanskrit and Pali – the ancient language of India) is a “code of conduct that embraces a commitment to harmony and self-restraint with the principle motivation being non-violence, or freedom from causing harm” Bodhi (2005). It can be described in various ways as virtue (Gethin, 1998, p. 170; Harvey, 2007, p. 199), right conduct (Gethin (1998), p. 170), morality (Gombrich, 2002, p. 89; Nyanatiloka, 1988, and Saddhatissa, 1987, pp. 54, 56), moral discipline (Bodhi, 2005, p. 153) and precept.
In the book, For a Future To Be Possible: Buddhist Ethics For Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to practice the precepts that we have abided to. The five most basic precepts of ancient times (i.e. do not kill, steal, perform sexual misconduct, lie or use alcohol/intoxicants) still apply for all Buddhists today (Bodhi, 2005; Thich, 1993, 2011). Thich Nhat Hanh (Thich, 1993, 2007, 2011) skillfully and compassionately translated these precepts for our modern time and called them “The Five Mindfulness Trainings”. According to him, they “represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethics. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world.”
In addition, Thich Nhat Hanh (Thich 1993, 2007, 2011) points out that “to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.” The five ancient precepts were adapted to our modern time under Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision as the Five Mindfulness Trainings. They are as follows:
The First Mindfulness Training - Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
The Second Mindfulness Training - True Happiness (Generosity)
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.
The Third Mindfulness Training - True Love (Sexual Responsibility)
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
The Fourth Mindfulness Training - Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training - Nourishment and Healing (Diet for a mindful society)
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.
Another seed of strong leadership is leading by example. Venerable Thích Minh Đạt (2011) believes leadership influences by: 1) Example: Teaching through your actions or behavior. One must live a moral and ethical life. Benefit yourself and benefit others, and then influence and contribute positively to our community and society. 2) Teaching by loving speech: seek understanding and wisdom. 3) Teaching by practicing the Eightfold Path: The first one is Right Thought: your thinking must be constructive and always be based on the teachings of the Buddha, with Compassion and Wisdom.
Thich (2007), a PhD scholar at the University of Florida, concludes that Vietnamese Buddhists are adapting to, interacting with, and assimilating into the American mainstream culture with their Buddhist values. They have made many achievements, and although they also had a significant number of obstacles, they managed to adapt, assimilate, and contribute while keeping their distinctive Vietnamese Buddhist ethics and virtues. He concludes that the Vietnamese immigrants have preserved their unique Vietnamese Buddhist heritage, and indeed, their heritage has flourished, while contributing positively to the cultural and spiritual needs of the Vietnamese and native communities in America.
This paper offers the
reader an opportunity to look deeply into the leadership at the Vietnamese
Buddhist Youth Association and a possible solution for recruiting and retaining
its leaders. To fully benefit for the organization, we must know our strengths
and weaknesses and seek solutions betterment of the organization. We, as Vietnamese refugees, immigrants, and American-born Vietnamese,
have preserved, developed and flourished our unique Vietnamese Buddhist culture
and heritage while contributing positively to the cultural and spiritual needs
of our communities as well as the native ones. Our contributions to
the greater good need to continue to make America a better place to live for our
children, grandchildren and for all, not only in this generation but many generations
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