Mindful leadership isn’t easy. But Dr. Karma Phuntsho—an Oxford-educated scholar and founder of the Loden Foundation—believes this leadership philosophy can lead anyone down the path to success in life, business, and beyond.
Dr. Phuntsho is a proud native of Bhutan, a small kingdom located deep in the Himalayas. He first discovered the benefits of mindful leadership thanks to his unique backstory. After studying as a Buddhist monk for over a decade, he obtained a Ph.D. at Oxford, worked as an academic researcher at Cambridge, and was the first Bhutanese Oxbridge Fellow.
“These different perspectives combine in my scholarly work,” says Dr. Phuntsho. “I present both the traditional view of things as well as the modern view. Our world is rich with perspectives and diverse viewpoints. I’m happy that I can explore these two different ways.”
As a self-described “go-between” linking Western business philosophies with Buddhist traditions, Dr. Phuntsho contains fascinating insights on humanity, culture, business, and how leadership ties it all together.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than the Loden Foundation—his nonprofit organization for aspiring Bhutanese entrepreneurs built on mindfulness, innovation, and tradition.
At the Loden Foundation, Dr. Phuntsho’s mission isn’t only to create a thriving network of Bhutanese businesses. It’s also to shape tomorrow’s entrepreneurs as forces for good within their communities and throughout the world.
Creating a Future of Mindful Entrepreneurs
Until recently, entrepreneurship didn’t exist in Bhutan—at least in today’s sense. Closed to most outsiders until the 1970s, the tiny nation still primarily runs on traditional farming practices and a steadfast Buddhist culture.
As Bhutan slowly opened up, so did access to modern education. This shift created incredible new opportunities for the Bhutanese people, as well as some unforeseen challenges. “Because of strong school enrollment, many graduated and didn’t want to go back to work the farms like their parents,” says Dr. Phuntsho.
Initially, the Bhutanese government hired them to work for the state. But as more and more students graduated, every public role was soon filled. Without an existing private sector to hire them, these well-educated citizens couldn’t find a job.
“Youth unemployment became a new problem,” remembers Dr. Phuntsho. Not only did graduates struggle in the job market. With unemployment also came a rise in crime and substance abuse—something the Bhutanese people rarely faced before.
In 2008, Dr. Phuntsho—along with a small group of colleagues—launched the Loden Foundation to face this growing challenge. The nonprofit supports entrepreneurship in Bhutan through education, inspiration, and outreach. They also offer interest-free and collateral-free loans through the Loden Entrepreneurship Program, which ties repayment plans to the business’ structure.
To date, they’ve supported over 5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and funded over 200 businesses in Bhutan, 72 of which are women-run.
The Loden Foundation is also dedicated to the preservation of Bhutan’s culture and deeply rooted Buddhist beliefs. With this comes an intrinsic tie to mindful, compassionate business leadership and practices—cornerstones of Buddhist philosophy.
They’re also what Dr. Phuntsho believes should be cornerstones of every leader’s philosophy no matter where on the planet they live. “It is important for us to bring prosperity—to improve people’s ordinary standard of living,” says Dr. Phuntsho. “But we have to seek that without losing the overall meaning of life.”
And one wonderful way to never forget the joys of life is by remembering that every human, and every organization, is somehow interconnected.
Reflections on Interconnectedness and Intention
The interconnectedness of everything and everyone is a vital aspect of the Buddhist tradition. It’s also essential to strong, mindful leadership. To lead at our best, we need to grasp how we’re linked to our employees, our customers, our environment, and our society.
“Interconnectedness shows us how the company, the community-at-large, and even the world is totally interdependent,” Dr. Phuntsho says. “A holistic understanding of interconnectedness helps leaders make decisions with a wider impact while being mindful of the repercussions and implications of our business decisions.”
By focusing on our interconnectedness, business leaders can view their choices as the catalyst in a long chain of future consequences—both good and bad. With this bird’s eye view of our leadership, we can intentionally make smarter decisions that’ll positively influence your team, business, community, and maybe even the world.
“Intention is the most fundamental karma,” says Dr. Phuntsho. Then, leaders can take that mindset a set further by creating positive karma through action.
Building Good Leadership Karma Through Action
“We live in an era where we have to be socially responsible and engaged,” Dr. Phuntsho says. “I consider it very important to engage in exemplary actions.” Recognizing our influence is only part of the positive leadership equation—we have to act.
“Leaders have to be clear about their good, benevolent, and altruistic intentions,” says Dr. Phuntsho. “It’s an essential quality.” For leaders determined to support positive teams, business practices—and future positive leaders—it’s critical to communicate and execute those good intentions.
Imagine if Dr. Phuntsho held onto his positive leadership mindset yet never acted on launching the Loden Foundation. He’d still be a great influence to some, but not on today’s exceptional scale—a scale that is influencing an entire nation, and because everything is connected, it’s impacting the whole world.
In short, there’s no doubt that Dr. Phuntsho is truly building great karma.
The conversation with Dr. Karma Phuntsho continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. We talk more about mindful leadership, how he built his foundation, where Buddhism and leadership overlap, and so much more. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.