What can Western leaders learn from the Balinese?

Susan S Freeman Blog

Susan in BaliWelcome to the dog days of summer.  My intention is for this newsletter to offer you refuge from the heat as well as solace for your inner leader. As the last vestiges of my jet lag depart, I invite you to join me in learning what leadership looks like in Bali….

I just returned from a trip to Bali, a tiny island (one of 17,000) in Indonesia.  Bali had been on my list of places to visit for many years, having first learned about it while in college.  The culture and eclectic blend of spirituality, combining Hinduism and animism fascinated me.    About the size of Rhode Island, Bali is the land of the thousand temples; every home and village have three.   The roads, businesses, and hotels have offering stations and they are all always being used.  There is no separation between work and spiritual life in Bali.

Aside from the exquisite beauty (think Hawaii on steroids), Bali can best be understood in connection to its people.  This is evident from the way they handle daily personal greetings.

Om SwastiastuIn Bali, no matter who you are speaking to, the Balinese will place their hands together in prayer position, look you firmly in the eye and utter:  “om swastiastu.”

Loosely translated it means, “May God shower grace upon you” / “Prayers for auspiciousness & well-being of all”

Om refers to The Supreme, God, Swasti refers to well- being, Shanti means peace.

I know it sounds a bit strange to the Western ear, but these words shower a kind of grace upon the receiver.  When accompanied by quiet, direct eye contact, it is as if a Balinese is establishing a connection to your true self; not the one that is a confused, tired, and very sweaty tourist!  They connect to the one that longs to understand how an entire island of 4 million people can exude happiness, peace and contentment no matter what.

I set out to learn these words and to master the Balinese art of greeting.  Every single encounter in Bali is preceded by this, so I got a lot of practice.  What I discovered was that in the repetition of the act, I myself began to transform.

I observed differently.  I saw every single person, even if just for a moment, as my most important connection.

For them it was normal; for me it was transformational.

What does this have to do with you as a leader?

Imagine the receptivity you would have if with each conversation you felt seen and heard.  How much attention are we paying to those with whom we interact and depend upon?  What would you say?  What would you keep to yourself?  How would this change the way you converse and act?

Once the relationship is established at this level, the business at hand just “happens” as an outgrowth of the relationship.  In fact the “business” becomes the vehicle by which to develop the relationship and not the other way around.   Business happens organically and without any struggle or strain.

BaliUpon return to stateside, I miss Bali terribly.  I miss the exquisite beauty of the landscape, the beautiful gamelan music, (not the equatorial heat), but most of all the people.  I am committed to bringing back some of what Bali gave me and sharing it with others.  I have been practicing, albeit non-verbally.  It is my own way of sharing Bali with the world.

As we leap from one harried moment to the next, practice taking your leadership to a new level as you experience your own, “om swastiastu” moments each and every day. 

I invite you to share your comments and let me know how it goes.

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