How to Bring People Together Like the Dalai Lama Can


Last week, I had the opportunity to see and hear the Dalai Lama.

It was indeed memorable. My best friend Sue joined me and 24,000 others to experience a star-studded event, donned the One World Concert, at my alma mater, Syracuse University.  The Dalai Lama was the headliner.

The setting, well familiar to me from my vantage as a 25-plus-year, season-ticket holder for Syracuse football, had been transformed from sports arena into mystical, magical and musical venue.

Although audience members were diverse in background, age, ethnicity, wardrobe and stage of life, we equally shared the anticipation and excitement to witness an extraordinary event. And we weren’t let down.

From on-time start, the One Word Concert and the Dalai Lama advanced a message of sheer unity and inclusiveness.

The giant Carrier Dome became small—in fact, almost cozy. As the Dalai Lama’s message carried forth and captivated us, generational and other differences faded, replaced by a common focus and camaraderie. People came together in a way that most managers in companies large and small can only dream of.

How did the Dalai Lama do it? How did he bring us together? Here are seven practical tips that you can adapt and bring to your workplace:

No. 1: Join ‘em. Find common ground, verbally and visually. Within minutes of his introduction, the Dalai Lama broke out a bright orange Syracuse University visor and put it on his head. The crowd responded with enthusiastic cheers and applause. The Dalai Lama showed his respect for the Dome home turf and the alma mater, current employer or favorite college of the majority of those in the audience.

No. 2: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Levity goes a long way to create connections. The Dalai Lama frequently punctuated his hour-long conversation with humor and laughs. His distinctive chuckle rivals the vintage, memorable 7up Cola-Nut laughter made famous by actor Geoffrey Holder. His jovial nature was infectious and uniting. It caused all of us assembled to feel that this larger-than-life, internationally-revered spiritual leader is real, down-to-earth and genuine.

No. 3: Enlist a partner. Find a subject-matter-expert or front-line insider who can help you integrate and adapt quickly. Close at side to the Dalai Lama was a translator to help clarify his comments. The translator didn’t speak for the religious leader. He didn’t dominate in any way. Rather, he made the connection smoother.

No. 4: Redesign logistics.  Minimize physical barriers that can distance you from others. The Dome’s Ernie Davis Legends Field was transformed from gridiron to gathering place. After a 20-minute opening featuring emcee Whoopi Goldberg and musical headliners from around the world, the Dalai Lama emerged at the center of a giant concert stage. He spoke without a podium, keeping a direct physical connection between himself and the crowd. He wrapped up by answering a direct question from the audience, and then walked stage right, repositioning to an oversized Stickley chair. He joined the crowd as a listener to the special debut performance of John Lennon’s immortal Imagine by an A-list of international musical artists.

No. 5: Recognize others. Visibly showing appreciation sends the message that it takes a team to create success. Meaningful results involve many, not one. The Dalai Lama personally thanked each of the 20-plus artists performing the Imagine remake. The recognition session lasted about ten minutes. It was heartfelt. He spoke personally to each performer, shaking hands, exchanging smiles and making direct eye-to-eye contact. Every member of the crowd was witness to this expression of gratitude. For ten minutes, the concert took second billing, and public recognition was the new headliner.

No. 6: Use a key message to glue.  Shave your message to one overarching theme that can be reinforced and repeated in words and images. The simpler the message, the more memorable it becomes. The Dalai Lama’s core message was about how everyday people—and people everywhere, every day-- can advance peace and community. That theme was echoed in the lyrics of the Dave Matthews, Cindy Lauper, Natasha Bedingfield, Roberta Flack, and their musical counterparts from India, Afghanistan, Israel and Iran, who performed for more than three hours. Songs were selected with the purpose of reinforcing the One World theme, not advancing the purse and notoriety of an individual. Ego evaporated. I became we, onstage and in the audience.

No. 7: Finally,simplicity wins. There’s no need for giveaways to cement interest or, even more, loyalty. At our arrival to our seats in the Dome, Sue and I found wrist-size light sticks on our seats. We figured out how to activate them and wear them. But the freebee was basically forgotten during the evening. It was never referenced by the Dalai Lama or any musician. Clearly, there was the opportunity for all of us to wave our lighted wrists in the air in salute to One World. But the call to do so was never given. We didn’t need the freebee. The intensity of the on-stage performances and introspectiveness of this charismatic spiritual leader was more than ample. Words and actions, when genuine, need no additional decoration.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.  in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.