By Faraaz Tanveer
If an inspiring leader is what you seek to be, then look no further–this article is for you
Being a business manager is no longer as simple as it was believed to be. Today’s leaders are challenged to reverse the conditioned managerial impulses and make the transition from controlling to allowing, from ‘power over’ to ‘power with’, from managing to facilitating, from enforcement to empathy and from telling to asking. This requires a new kind of intelligence. A workshop aimed at the synthesis of leadership and the ‘new intelligence’ of spiritual insights was organised by Atlantis Research on January 25, 2008 at FICCI commission in Delhi. Mike George, an executive development tutor, meditation coach and author, led the interactive event.
At the workshop, I found myself in the company of a diverse group of corporate executives – from young advertising professionals and management trainees to seasoned marketing players and bankers. The mood was upbeat at the prospect of a stimulating and thought-provoking session (and a day away from office!). We spent the whole day questioning our most closely held beliefs and learning to see through our ineffective presumptions about the way we go about doing our work. Mike encouraged us to reflect and analyse the role we play in creating problems for ourselves. His whole approach was centred on deriving power out of self-knowledge. “Do you take time to self reflect and know yourself? Can you articulate your purpose in one sentence? Do others affirm that they see you ‘walking your talk’?” he asked.
Mike’s call for awareness-based management initially drew an expected ‘been-there-done-that-doesn’t-work!’ response from most of us. Having dealt with the numerous challenges thrown up by our professional lives, using our own fixed toolbox for years, we were justifiably sceptical of any call for change! But Mike patiently reasoned with our intellectual excuses, goading us out of our complacent shells. He re-iterated, “You cannot lead others unless you have discovered the power and the wisdom that comes from self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-control.” He added, “And you simply cannot expect others to follow unless you live a life that is aligned with the right values and principles, and integrity is seen in your every action.” He pointed that achieving the profile of such high standards of leadership requires the courage to change oneself, the compassion and patience to understand and serve others, and the strength occasionally to walk against the tides of convention, tradition and ‘group think’.
The new paradigm
So what is this ‘change’ that was such a frequent theme all through his interactions? How has the role of a manager changed? As we discussed this among ourselves, we realized that we are already living many of these changes without realising them. Today’s manager is a facilitator as opposed to a delegator of work. “Ideas, as opposed to raw materials or people, are the key resources of today’s companies,” Mike added. Often the best ideas come from the frontline workers, who are seldom taken into account in the decision making process due to the hierarchical structure. To facilitate faster growth and creativity, the need of the hour is to shift to the new paradigm of management. As we put our heads together on this one, Mike facilitated our responses and jotted them down on the board. We figured that the new paradigm of management would honour several ways of doing the same task. The emphasis would be on system design and innovation, while execution will take place through collaboration among self-managed teams. This flexible culture would be an ideal impetus for growth and creativity.
To make all this possible, we need ‘spiritual intelligence’. “Spiritual intelligence is the awareness of our real identity, our capacity to discern meaning and to use our core values to connect our personal life purpose with our daily action,” averred Mike. The topic of Spiritual Quotient (SQ) was a surprisingly controversial one and led to an animated discussion on the relevance of the idea itself. Some of us were of the opinion that SQ is just another management fad which will soon be replaced by something else. Before we could get lost in our self-indulgent arguments, Mike gave it a simpler, more accessible definition. He linked SQ to our ability to live out of our core values: to ‘walk our talk.’ “Instead of MBAs, we need more MBWAs, managers who Manage By Walking About!” he said. Well, no one could dispute that!
The ego barrier
If all of us agreed on the need for a change and were also clear about the steps required, why didn’t it translate into our lives more often? What stopped us from ‘being the change that we want’? Ironically, we knew the answer as well. Ego. The trouble with often-repeated terms like this one is that we all have our own take on them. To some ego is a self-image; to others it is a false projection. A gentleman sitting next to me came up with his definition, “my personal boundary which defines my space while interacting with others.” Another lady put it succinctly, “It’s the absence of love,” she said. Mike collected all our understandings and we finally agreed upon a simple one: “Ego is the attachment to a wrong image or beliefs about oneself.” Mike concluded, “When we act out of our ego, we lose our identity to the object of attachment. This puts us in a very precarious position, full of fear and insecurity.”
As we proceeded to examine the presence of ego in the various facets of our lives, we were amazed to discover a simple truth: behind every attachment lurks a fear and in order to avoid it, we continue to attach ourselves to false self-images. The same truth showed up in all the examples that Mike introduced to us. From the betrayal of a friend to the promotion of a colleague, or even our ideas about money, love and security, all are controlled by the same fear. A hurt ego sets in motion the vicious circle of sadness from the past, anger in the present and fear for the future, all of them egging us on to further strengthen our attachments. But attachment is never the solution. Spiritual gurus have been saying so since centuries and now management masters harp on it too. After all, attachment just sets us up for more hurtful experiences in the future, thus taking us back to square one. “Emotion is energy in motion. When this emotional energy is freed from unnecessary investment in attachments, a new reservoir of energy opens up inside,” Mike pointed out. In the realm of the psyche, awareness is the action. Just the awareness of the various ways in which the ego creates barriers in our life puts us on the path towards freedom.
This is the magic formula that Mike proposed for tackling any situation in life:
Event + Response = Outcome
It represents one of the fundamental truths of our lives that we tend to overlook. “We can only influence our response to an event, which eventually determines the outcome. But we generally do the opposite. We try changing the event and continue reacting unconsciously,” Mike said.
So what should be the basis of our action, we wondered. “Your core values: Love, peace and happiness,” suggested Mike. Basing our actions on these values makes action simple, fluid and productive. As we proceeded to examine the various relationships in our lives and the values that drive them, we realised that we have been conditioned to approach life with an attitude of getting while these values thrive in the atmosphere of giving. The more we give of our love, peace and happiness, the more they come right back to us.
Following this approach, every interaction becomes an opportunity to enrich ourselves through sharing. In the same context, we tried to figure out the various reasons because of which people around us may choose to follow us. They may include admiration, devotion, inspiration, learning, habit, fear and respect. If we guide our actions based on our core values, leadership based on respect is the natural outcome. Mike gave the example of Nelson Mandela who chose to follow the path of love and reconciliation even after his unjust and prolonged imprisonment and thus earned the respect of the whole world. He was the de facto leader of his people and a universally admired statesman.
Service v/s survival
All of us were wide-awake and ready to go post-lunch (surprise! surprise!) because of the topic at hand: Motivation. More self-help books have been sold on this single topic than on any other that I can recall. It is the universal dilemma facing all human beings, with special relevance in today’s corporate environment. So we were very eager to find out Mike’s take on the topic. He had a simple, no-nonsense approach as usual. “Only the right purpose can lead to sustained motivation. If the purpose of our work is survival, the motivation will be fear-based and difficult to sustain. Whereas if the purpose is service, it brings our core values into action and that itself is a great motivator,” he said. Once one is clear about the values, the right principles to put them into action follow naturally. Thus (as always!) we have a choice. We can lead the pleasurable life of a consumer doing a job, a challenging life of a constructor building a career or a meaningful life, as a contributor practising a vocation. The quest for finding meaning in our life and work can be answered by value-based action.
Towards the end of the workshop, we applied all the principles we had learnt during the course of the day towards clarifying our own vision and values. Mike also helped us in putting together a concrete roadmap for our individual journeys towards being an effective leader in our respective roles. This exercise summed up our learnings from the day and rounded off the workshop nicely.
To me, the workshop was an effective reminder of some of the fundamental principles of life and work that I often choose to ignore. Mike’s insight and humour, combined with his interactive presentation and activity based approach made it a very enriching experience indeed. It coaxed me to probe myself for answers to some of my most pressing questions and helped me in arriving at my own insightful answers.
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