The influence of mindfulness on ethical leadership: A study of Buddhist mindfulness practices among organisational leaders in Thailand

  • Kunkanit Sutamchai

Student thesis: Phd


This research aims to augment empirical understanding of mindfulness practices in the Eastern Buddhist context, with a particular focus on the extent to which Buddhist mindfulness (BM) can influence leaders' ethical values and behaviour, through the examination of mindfulness practices among Thai organisational executive leaders in the Thai Buddhist context. Although ethical leadership (EL) has become one of the most critical topics in organisational and ethics studies in recent years, and the importance of EL has been relatively well-researched, little research has focused on how EL can be developed. Recently, there has been an emerging call for more research to study mindfulness from a traditional Buddhist perspective, which would provide an explicit emphasis on the role of mindfulness and ethical behaviour. Against this backdrop, this research has selected Thailand as the context for study due to its predominant Buddhist cultural context. The study employs mixed methods, which include semi-structured interviews with 41 executive leaders from various Thai organisations who are BM practitioners, to examine the understanding and application of the core principles underlying BM and explore the extent to which BM principles and practices influence their ethical values and behaviours. In parallel, 176 questionnaires were gathered from direct employees of the interviewed leaders to examine the extent to which the leaders are perceived as ethical by their employees. The findings reveal that eight EL dimensions appear to be fostered by BM practices, including: 1) compassion and empathy; 2) humility and equal respect for others; 3) emotion regulation; 4) sufficiency; 5) honesty; 6) justice; 7) pro-social behaviour; and 8) discipline and role model. These eight EL dimensions are aligned with common ethical dimensions across different cultures. Based on the questionnaire results, the leaders were also perceived to be ethical leaders by their direct employees. The interview data suggests that the ethics underpinning BM practices seem to be the key feature that leads to the reinforcement of Thai leaders' ethical values and behaviour. Notably, the leader participants in this study have had a long-term commitment to the study of Buddhism and practice of BM. The preliminary findings from this research also found positive relationships between the leaders' years of BM experience and various EL dimensions. However, more research is needed to particularly investigate and confirm such correlations in more detail. Finally, it is still highly controversial to apply the whole BM framework in secular contexts or contexts which are heavily dominated by non-Buddhist-based spiritual and religious philosophies. This research proposes prospective implications for EL development through mindfulness interventions that may be possible to apply in different contexts.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKate Rowlands (Supervisor) & Christopher Rees (Supervisor)


  • Ethics
  • Thailand
  • Training
  • Spirituality
  • Buddhism
  • Ethical Leadership
  • Mindfulness

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