Comparison and Contrast of the Leadership Roles of Martin Shkreil and the Dalai Lama

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John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader (Walsh, 2017).” Being a leader, however, is not as easy as blurting out inspirations and directing the led on what things to do and how to do them. It calls for one’s ability to be an example and meet moral challenges of the day. Leadership does not entail managing and manipulating people but creating the nourishing ground for innovativeness and creativity, by nurturing and enhancing. Adair, a Britain’s foremost trainer in leadership skills, postulated that the effectiveness of a leader is determined not only by their ability to control or appraise, but also ability to encourage, inspire and improve. The role of this paper is to examine leadership roles concerning historical leaders, by comparing and contrasting their contributions.

Are we to be bothered with the past? It has been proven that history is worth considering because it is from an account that we can access examples of successful and failed leadership which are worth learning from. The principal challenge of the current global leadership should be the shaping of history and concern ourselves with the question; which of the legacies of the past do we intend to pass on to the next generation? Looking back, there have been all sorts of leaders, the broad categorization being whether they positively or negatively contributed to their roles as leaders and the society at large.

In this paper, the positive contributions of the Dalai Lama and the negative contributions of Martin Shkreli in leadership roles, are looked into. The Dalai Lama is spiritual leaders of the Tibetan Buddhists. The 14th Dalai Lama is the current Dalai Lama and has reigned since the 1940s. Martin Shkreli, a former American businessman, and now a convict of securities fraud and pharmaceutical price hikes, is currently serving a criminal penalty of seven years imprisonment (Walsh, 2017). He was the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of several companies including Turing Pharmaceuticals, and these roles positioned him as a leader.

A comparison and contrast of their leadership styles are illustrated. Is the society involved in their leadership or is it a one-sided tier? Are priorities of the people concern to the leaders in question? Do the leaders meet the moral standards expected of them by the society? The society’s approval of their way of leadership is also illustrated. This paper presents leaders of both extremes of age; Martin Shkreli being of the younger generation and the Dalai Lama being of the older generation.

Positive Contributions of the Dalai Lama

In Gruffydd-Jones’ (2018) quasi-natural experiment findings, when President Obama and Dalai Lama met in 2011, show that the meeting had a significant positive impact on the Chinese citizens’ belief that China is a democratic country. The installation of a sense of freedom, democracy, and civilization in a society contributes widely to their productivity and enhances their quality of life with gross national happiness. Meeting President Obama and other world leaders also identify the Dalai Lama as a leader that embraces diversity and international relations.

Robinson, Harrington, Cartwright, and Walsh (2017) in their work on connective leadership, postulates a leadership model built upon accountability, ethics, and inclusivity derived from authenticity. They also point out the need of understanding the diversity that exists across different sectors and populations, traits depicted by the Dalai Lama. To achieve sustainability and resultant gross national happiness, transformational leadership is critical. Dalai Lama’s interaction with others and his ability to create a stable relationship with the society results in motivational boost and gaining of trust between the leader and community. This aspect employs the transformational leadership theory.

Kriger and Dhiman (2018) in their paper, “A Buddhist Theory of Organizational Leadership,” write about the need for creation of a harmonious society through compassion and equanimity with the joy for oneself and others. They describe Buddhism as a way of life besides being a religion, and that through their leaders such as the Dalai Lama, ethic based values and norms make it possible to live in peace and harmony with love for oneself and others. Buddhism advises the individual to abandon any aspect of the religion if it does not augur with real-life experiences.

Negative Contributions of Martin Shkreli

Caught in a web of lies, fraud, and mismanagement of investment funds, Martin Shkreli’s criminal conviction and jail term sentence were imminent. He was even dubbed as “the most hated man in America.” As a leader, he set a poor example for the young individuals aspiring to be leaders, and those already at the leadership helm. He tainted the image of his firms and employees, the exact reverse of what a business leader of a global caliber, is supposed to do. Thanks to the justice system, his wicked ambitions were brought to an abrupt halt.

Chakradhar and Khamsi (2017) in their paper on anxiety about exclusivity of generic drugs, mention that Shkreli mismanaged two investment funds and became even more notorious when he gained exclusive US rights to Daraprim, an antiparasitic drug, and engaged in price gauging by raising its price by a factor of 56 (from $13 a pill to $750 per tablet - a 5000 percent increment). This move openly amounted to corporate greed. The intent is clearly of selfish interest and personal gain. Through a deficit or suffering in the society, he was able to enrichen himself raising his net worth to millions of dollars by draining every penny from the pockets of the unsuspecting public. Leadership entails honesty and selflessness, the exact virtues that Shkreli failed to live up to. In contrast, he used his position to exploit the society.

Shkreli’s conviction was also on account of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. He lied to ensnare investments and secure his acquaintances’ trust. Concerning contingency theory, a leader is supposed to take advantage of a situation’s cons and pros to better their leadership, and their best leadership style should depend on the situation. Shkreli’s worst leadership style manifested when a situation presented itself. Also, behavioral theory focuses on how leaders behave. Shkreli’s behavior does not define him as a leader. He engaged in security frauds and conspired to commit fraud, an action that is not acceptable.

Not only does Shkreli set a bad example as a leader, but he also sets a poor standard to the youth. Dyer (2015) describes him as someone “who became the boyish face of drug industry greed.” As a young leader, he was supposed to uphold the humility and innocence associated with the young. What example are we setting for our peers and what morals are we passing on to the next generation? These are the kind of questions Shkreli should have had in mind before engaging in fraudulent and greedy endeavors.

Through his price hikes, Shkreli set a ground for unhealthy business competition. Pharmaceutical companies that produced similar products to Daraprim shied off the business platform due to unhealthy competition. The global syndicate that managed to withdraw their resources in time and turned to beat Shkreli were recently found guilty. The setting of this unhealthy platform attracted unrealistic ambition among his competitors and finally their downfall. As a leader, one of his virtues should have been fairness. Setting a healthy competition arena for other businesses should have been his focus. Instead, he frustrated and impeded other businesses’ chance of providing similar, if not better, products.

Leadership Styles

Transformational Leadership

Transformational Leadership entails useful inspiration and creation of an enabling and conducive environment. The leader not only communicates their ideas and expectations but also directly interacts with the society in question conveying a sense of unity, togetherness, and understanding. A study to determine if transformational leadership bore the capacity to enhance “followers’ willingness to engage in the selfless pro-organizational behavior, that is, behavior for the benefit of the company” (Effelsberg, Solga, and Gurt, 2014) was a success. Shkreli did not employ this leadership theory, because it is highly probable that his staff did not know the reason for the price hikes nor his conspiracies in fraud. His employs may have demonstrated a pro-organizational behavior, but apparently and certainly not with the intention of aiding his fraud and malice. The Dalai Lama on the other hand, with his charisma and broad field of knowledge, involves the people in leadership, and their satisfaction is the topmost priority. He does not in any way exploit the society and naturally lives a humble life without a sophisticated lifestyle. It is from the Dalai Lama that an exemplary form of transformational leadership is revealed.

Paternalistic Leadership

In this theory, the leader acts as a parental figure and takes care of the led just like a parent would their children (Walsh, 2017). The leader benefits by gaining absolute trust and loyalty of his people. Shkreli used lies to secure funding and gain the confidence of investors. This approach depicts the immaturity of his leadership skills. Instead of employing a paternalistic approach to governance, he indulged more in power and wealth hunger through exploitation, in a quest to control the pharmaceutical industry. His flamboyant lifestyle ridden with expensive cars and apartments, all came at the cost of exploitation. The Dalai Lama, conversely, is a parental figure to the people he leads. They bestow upon him trust and believe in his decision making given his diverse fund of knowledge and experience accrued throughout his long lifetime.

Laissez-faire Leadership

Here, the power of decision making is left with the people. This type of leadership is at the end of the democratic leadership style spectrum. Seemingly, none of Shkreli’s employees were involved in his decision making. An employee of one of his companies compared Shkreli’s selfish price hiking to what seemed like highway robbery. This statement proves the superiority Shkreli bestowed upon himself regarding decision making. The Dalai Lama involves the people in decision making and way of governance. Clan governance internally focuses on the people’s involvement and participation, and the Dalai Lama is a living example of effective clan governance. None of the clan members feel left out in decisions about essential matters pertaining to their well-being and harmonious relation. As a result, their confidence and dependence in the Dalai Lama are even enhanced.

Servant Leadership

Involves putting the need of others first and helping them perform and develop as efficiently as possible. Shkreli’s leadership was more patronizing and served to satisfy his self-interest first. He put the society’s well-being last on his list of concerns when he exploited them by increasing the prices of Daraprim by 5000 percent (Chakradhar and Khamsi, 2017). Shkreli made the society his servants. In contrast, the Dalai Lama leads like a servant. The Dalai Lama does this by valuing everyone’s contributions and regularly seeking opinions, cultivating a culture of trust, developing other leaders and by helping people with life issues and not only those issues that pertain religion. He also encourages, acts with humility and thinks long-term. This view, in turn, unlocks ingenuity in the people and provides fulfillment.


It is from history that we get to learn about failure and success in leadership roles. Involving the people in leadership and decision making also contributes significantly to the establishment of trust and building of loyalty. Every leader has the task of being exemplary to the led and maintaining high moral standards. Young individuals in leadership positions also ought to maintain morality, and should not seek easy and immediate gratification, as did Shkreli, at the expense of the society. It is only when leaders uphold what is expected of them, do their virtues qualify a mention to the next generation.


Chakradhar, S., & Khamsi, R. (2017). Angst about exclusivity: The potential cost of incentivizing markers of generic drugs.

Dyer, O. (2015). Senate committee inquiry into drug price hikes will continue despite arrest of hedge fund manager Shkreli.

Effelsberg, D., Solga, M., & Gurt, J. (2014). Getting followers to transcend their self-interest for the benefit of their company: Testing a core assumption of transformational leadership theory. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(1), 131-143.

Gruffydd-Jones, J. J. (2018). Meeting the Dalai Lama and perceptions of democracy in China: a quasi-natural experiment. Democratization, 25(4), 652-672.

Kriger, M., & Dhiman, S. (2018). A Buddhist Theory of Organizational Leadership. The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spiritually and Fulfillment, 127-152.

Robinson, J., Harrington, M., Cartwright, C., & Walsh, K. (2017). Connective Leadership: From Zero-Sum to Inclusion. In Breaking the Zero-Sum Game: Transforming Societies through Inclusive Leadership (pp. 209-225). Emerald Publishing Limited.

October 24, 2023


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