[Published in Chartered Secretary, Journal of Institute of Company Secretaries of India]

Key Perspectives: Building the Ethical Consciousness; Self-transforming Leadership;  Values of Corporate Dharma

There is at present a growing recognition among corporate leaders that corporate governance has to be based on an enduring ethical foundation.  But most of the corporate debate on ethics is focused on rules, conduct, law and behaviour.  In a deeper perspective, all ethical conduct and behaviour, to be authentic, sincere and lasting, have to be based on an ethical consciousness.  The soul and core of ethical consciousness is internalized values.  This article presents an approach to corporate governance based on building a corporate consciousness guided by the values of our higher nature.

Building the Ethical Consciousness

This brings us to the question what are the values which can lead to a lasting, authentic and intrinsic ethical consciousness? They are those ideals and standards which are in harmony with higher nature of human being and the higher evolutionary laws of Nature.  There is a higher nature in us beyond our physical, sensational and lower emotional being; it is the nature of our higher mind, deeper emotions, nobler ethical-aesthetic being and above all these, our spiritual self which is the deepest and inner most core of our being.  This greater nature in us is the source of all the higher aspirations and values of humanity which includes all the higher ideals discovered by the intuitive, religious and spiritual wisdom of humanity like for example, truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, freedom, equality, interdependence, wholeness, unity, oneness of all existence, and ultimately the source of all these eternal verities, the Divine.

We may include here all the implications of these universal ideals for behavior and conduct.  For example the ideal of truth has to express itself in terms of honesty, transparency, integrity and truthfulness in thought, feelings and actions; beauty and harmony in terms of cleanliness, aesthetic sensibility, inner and outer harmony in the organization of life; goodness in terms of generosity, kindness, compassion, self-giving and charity; unity, interdependence and wholeness of life in terms of selflessness, mutuality, trust and service or contribution to the progress and well being of the larger whole of life and Nature; perfection and fulfillment through a harmonious and integral development of the physical, psychological and spiritual potentialities of the human being and their harmonious and integral self-expression in the outer life; liberty, equality and fraternity in terms of empowerment, distributive justices, mutual trust, goodwill and understanding, teamwork, communal harmony; and finally oneness of all existence through universal and impersonal love for all creation.  This is the universal message of all advanced cultures of the world.  Many of these values are self-evident to the intuition of our higher nature.  Among modern management thinkers Stephen Cowey emphasized strongly on these universal principles.  The well-known management Guru states:

 “Personally I believe that the source of the principles that give your life its integrity and its power and its meaning, all of them link upto the Divine.  To be a spiritual based leader is to have these universal principles integrated in your inner life and outer action.”

Elaborating further on the nature of these universal principles, Cowey says:

“The principles I am referring to are the basic universal principles that pertain to all human relationship and organizations, for instance, fairness, justice, honesty, integrity and trust.  They are self-evident, self-validating.  These principles are like natural laws and operate regardless whether we decide to obey them or not —– and they provide rock-solid direction to our lives and our organizations.” (1)

How to internalize these values in the consciousness of individuals? It requires an education and inner discipline based on the following principles and practices.

  • Self-knowledge, self-governance and self-transformation.
  • Progressive purification of the mind and heart from compulsive slavery to ego, desire, attachment and other negativities like greed, violence, jealousy
  • In decision-making, long-term well-being of people and the larger society as a whole must be placed above the personal ambitions of the leader or the short-term goals of the organization.
  • Constant and vigilant self-observation or mindfulness which is very much necessary to become fully conscious of what we are made of, detect and reject all contradictions and self-deceptions within us and unify our being around our central ideal, principle or value which we want to realize.
  • Conscious cultivation of higher values which lead to peace and harmony within us and with the surrounding environment like kindness, generosity, compassion, service, tolerance, understanding, non-judgemental attitude, patience, forgiveness.
  • Practice of peace and equanimity under all circumstances.  For someone who is peaceful and calm is less likely to fall a prey to unethical impulses.
  • Practice of stepping back and witness-consciousness.  Learning to step-back and watch as a detached witness all our thoughts, feelings and impulse and to discriminate between the right and wrong movement.
  • Developing the capacity for introversion by which we can enter deep into our inner being and come into direct contact with our divine self.  For only, in the consciousness of our spiritual self beyond our body and mind, the higher values become entirely concrete, spontaneous, experiential and intrinsic.

Self-transforming Leadership

Next to ethics, the other important aspect of governance is leadership.  In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that the essence of governance is not the paraphernalia of systems and procedures but its human core, which is leadership.  The secret of good governance lies not in efficient systems but on the people who create and govern the systems.  As Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, a great nation-builder who built Singapore into one of the best governed cities in the world, points out:

 “At the heart of the question is what makes good government.  To get good government, you must have good men in charge of government.  I have observed in the last 40 years that even with a poor system of government, but with good strong men, people get a possible government with decent progress.” (2)

However, most of the modern management thinking on leadership is about outer governance or “organizational transformation”.  But as the Indian thought repeatedly emphasized self-government, Swarajya is the foundation for governing the outer world, Samrajya.  Similarly self-transformation is the basis for outer transformation.  Someone who cannot govern himself cannot govern others.  And someone who is governing himself with higher values can evoke, inspire and induce a similar aspiration and effort in others.

This principle applies equally to organizational change and transformation.  Whatever difficulty faced by the leaders in his outer life is a reflection of the difficulty within him.  If he is able to discover and mend the inner source of the difficulty within him then the outer difficulty sooner, or later tends to resolve itself.  As the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram points out:

“Whatever the external circumstances, they are without exception, the objective projection of what is inside yourself.  When in your work you find something giving trouble outside, look within and you will find in yourself the corresponding difficulty.  Change yourself and the circumstance will change”. (3)

In the same manner, whatever changes the leader wants to bring out in his organization, if he is able to achieve this change within him or makes a sincere effort towards it, then it becomes easier to enforce the change in the organization.  Interestingly this concept of self-transforming leadership is beginning to be recongnised in modern management.  Two eminent management thinkers, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee in their book on “Resonant Leadership” published by the Harvard Business School Press, state: “People who think they can be truly great leaders without personal transformation are fooling themselves.  You cannot inspire others and create the resonant relationship that ignites greatness in your families, organizations or communities without feeling inspired yourself and working to be the best person you can be.”  And in the foreward to this book, the eminent psychologist and the inventor of the concept of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman states “For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others, the step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.  That includes connecting with deep values that guide us, imbibing our actions with meaning.” (4)

 Values of Corporate Dharma

 At the collective level the values we have discussed earlier have to be adopted to the actual needs and nature of business or to use the Indian terminology, the unique swadharma of business.  What are precisely the values, which can bring out and manifest the dharmic potential of business?  We are presenting here the broad outline of a system of values, principles and guidelines based on the higher vision of governance which we have discussed earlier.

  • creating wealth for the society through efficient, economic and productive utilization of resources.
  • producing high quality products and services at minimum cost.
  • delighting the  customer
  • enhancing the quality of the larger economic, ecological and social environment through creative giving or sharing of wealth, knowledge, skill, expertise and resources with the community.
  • employee development not only interms of skill, knowledge and creativity but also interms of material, mental, moral and spiritual well-being of the employees.
  • truth, honesty and transparency in all dealings.
  • mutual trust and goodwill among the members of the organizational community.
  • fareness and justice in dealing with employee grievances
  • patience, understanding and compassion in dealing with ethical, professional and personal problems among employees
  • creating mutually beneficial win-win situation in all transactions
  • creativity, innovation and continuous improvement in every activity of the corporate life and progressive perfection in work
  • beauty and harmony in the equipment and organization of the material and economic life of the company.
  • progressive growth of liberty, equity and fraternity in the social and political life of the organization
  • promoting self-knowledge, self-management, compassion and service as primary leadership qualities
  • cultivating inner peace and providing reasonable outer security, acting as anchors of stability in a sea of change.
  • providing sufficient rest, relaxation, leisure and inner and outer space to people for reflection, renewal and growth.
  • every activity of the individual and corporate life, like for example, finance, marketing or manufacturing, should have some clearly defined professional, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual standards or ideals of perfection towards which it has to progress continually with a constant uplifting aspiration and effort.
  • felicitating triune integration: integration of the body, mind, heart, will and action of the individual around a higher ideal or the spiritual core of her being; integration of the personal and professional life of the employee; integration of the material, techno-economic, social, political and cultural life of the organization around its mission, vision and values, which are in turn derived from the higher laws of life or higher aims of human development.
  • creating an effective system of education, discipline and communication for internalizing these values in the consciousness of people and an efficient system of measurement, monitoring and implementation for materializing them in the outer life.

And finally when all these values and principles are progressively actualized in the corporate life, profit and shareholder values follow as a spontaneous and inevitable result.


  1. Stephen R. Cowey, ‘Peace of Conscience’ Leading with Wisdom, ed. Peter and Kristen Pruzan, Response, 2007, pp. 76-85.
  2. Han Fook Kwang, Warren Fernandes and Sumiko Tan, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and his Ideas, Singapore.
  3. The Mother, Collected Works, vol.13, 165-66.
  4. Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee, Resonant Leadership, Harvard Business School Press,  pp.201, foreward by Daniel Goleman

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