Visionary leadership

The Buddhist Channel, November 2, 2008

The core challenge of leadership is for all of us to have visions and to come up with the tools and systems to get there

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia -- Datuk Dr. Victor Wee is a keynote speaker for the forthcoming WACANA conference, to be held on December 7 in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. In the following interview, Datuk Dr Wee gave his views on Buddhist leadership outlook in the country, core challenges faced by Buddhist leaders, three main pillars of leadership

Can you give us a brief overview of the Buddhist leadership outlook in the country?

Buddhist leaders now are more mature compared with leaders of the past generation. They have become more exposed and skillful, and generally run organizations in a very competent way. But we are also saying that it is important for leaders to come together in order for us to focus our energies, so that we are able to do something really wonderful for the country. The Buddhist community for the future begins right now. Buddhist leaders must adopt good methodologies and mechanisms to produce competent future Dhamma workers. We must not think about ourselves for the present only; we should try to build the Buddhist community for the future.

What would be the core challenges for Buddhist leaders in Malaysia?

The core challenge of leadership is for all of us to have visions. We need to be able to know what we want in the next 5, 10 or 20 years' time. We need to think for ourselves about the ideal state for Buddhism in the future. The next thing we really require is to come up with the tools and systems to get there.

One of the challenges that we face is that people running Buddhist organizations are quite happy with the present state of affairs in their own organizations and temples, because the crowds come in every Sunday or Wesak Day! But in reality, sometimes the activities we run do not produce leaders. The (present) leaders happen to emerge because of some intrinsic abilities that they have, in spite of the system! Honestly (at the moment) we do not have a system to develop Buddhist workers and leaders in a very structured way. If we do not start developing that, it is unlikely that we will achieve whatever vision we set for ourselves. So this is the challenge Buddhist leaders coming together for WACANA 2008 would have to face: having a shared vision on what we want to see happen, and coming out with a system of operationalizing it and making things work.

Can you briefly explain the three main pillars of leadership, i.e. vision, values, and vitality?

Firstly, I think this topic is very appropriate for our situation right now. The first principle is having vision. When you have vision, you can see very far ahead. We need our leaders to have that kind of vision to see the way forward for our community.

Values are important because without them, your integrity may be questioned; then the whole basis of Buddhist leadership is in question. Values are to ensure that as we move towards our vision, things do not go astray, that we are actually going the way we envisaged.

Vitality is the ability to generate that kind of creative energy to make things move. It is the force that provides the action for us to move from where we are right now into the shared vision. If you have a vision, it is not good enough if you do not have the vitality or you do not have the right values.

So, I believe it is very ideal that for this WACANA, we are getting speakers from neighbouring countries - from Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore - to come and share with us some of the situations which are occurring within our region that we may not know of.

And of course it is a great opportunity for our local Buddhist leaders, as well as those who are interested in the subject of leadership development, to attend WACANA 2008. We must begin to think of ourselves as a community. We should identify some things on which we can actually work together, so that it is not with just one pair of hands, but many pairs of hands working collectively towards a common goal.

As Co-organiser of WACANA 2008, what do you hope to achieve from the conference?

Well, I would like this conference to not only come up with a nice publication, and to hear people saying, "Oh, this has been a fantastic conference!" Actually this conference should have some kind of an impact. Five years from now when we look back, we say, "things have actually changed for the better because we had a WACANA."

Maybe 10 years from now, we can say WACANA itself has stimulated many other things which grew from this original idea. Perhaps a generation later, the Buddhist community will be different from what it is now, and we can say that we have reached a higher level because people with ideas have put together a mechanism and agreed to work together in order to produce this new situation.

Of course, if it happens, that would be ideal and something truly wonderful. If not, people will at least go back satisfied and say, "Wow! There were some very good ideas that we've picked up at WACANA!"

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Dr. Victor Wee is the Co-organizer of WACANA 2008 (as the Buddhist Gem Fellowship's President).