An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.
[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.
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.
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.