Integral Musings | Towards a Holistic Vision

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.

Leading With Light And Love–M.S. Srinivasan

[Published in Fourth Dimension Inc. Towards Integral Management. May 2012]

(Review of two books that provide a new vision of leadership which is in harmony with the evolutionary imperatives of the future.)

Homepage intro: Review of two books on leadership which provide a glimpse of some of the promising and uplifting trends of thinking in corporate stewardship.

Key Perspectives: Leadership Literature; resonant leadership; leading with wisdom; some examples of spiritual-based leadership.

The Leadership Literature

Leadership is perhaps the most debated and discussed subject in modern management literature.  As management writer Stuart Crianer remarks:

 “The nature of leadership is something that has been discussed and dissected by business school academies, amateur psychologists and anyone with access to the complete works of Napoleon and a pen.  Not surprisingly opinions differ.  There are reported to be 400 different definitions of the word leadership.”

However, in this article we present a brief review of two books which present a vision of leadership that is different from the traditional perspectives we find in most of the voluminous literature on the subject.  These books provide a profile of the New Leader who can steer humanity towards its evolutionary destiny.

Resonant Leadership

The first book is Resonant Leadership by Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

This book carries the foreword of Daniel Goleman, the eminent psychologists and the well known author of “Emotional Intelligence.”  Regarding the authors of the book, who are leading leadership trainers and consultants, Goleman states in his foreword, “I have always learned a great deal personally from Richard and Annie.  Each of them brings to life’s raw data an exquisite sensibility, mixing the acumen of the scientist, the sawy of the practitioner and the compassionate soul of their spiritual grounding.”

The general pattern of most of the books on leadership is to give a long list of leadership qualities and discuss their relevance for effective leadership.  But in this book under review, Boyatzis and Mckee discuss just three qualities: Mindfulness, Compassion and Hope.

The authors define “Mindfulness,” which is a limb of the eight-fold path of Budha, as the “capacity to be fully aware of all that one experiences inside the self¾body, mind, heart, spirit¾and to pay full attention to what is happening around us¾people, the natural world, our surroundings and events.”  The quality of Compassion is “empathy in action”, “giving selflessly”, “emotional expression of the virtue of benevolence.”   According to Boyatzis and Mckee, their concept of compassion, “goes beyond the common definitions of compassion in the West and within Buddhist philosophy” which tend to link compassion with “caring for others in pain.”  But in the conception of Boyatzis and Mckee compassion means, “the desire to reach out and help others whether or not their condition is based on suffering and pain.”  And finally “hope” is a combination of faith, optimism, self-confidence, desire for progress and a clear vision of the future.

The traditional management thinker or professional may not consider these qualities as part of corporate leadership.  He may say, they are qualities of a saint, yogi or a spiritual seeker and not of a corporate leader who has to function in a fierce and ruthless competitive environment. But the very fact a publication by a prestigious citadel of hardcore business education, Harvard Business School, talks about these qualities as part corporate stewardship shows the situation is changing and the traditional mindset is slowly giving way to something new.  Boyatzee and Mckee consider these three yogic or saintly qualities as the source of perpetual self-renewal for the new leader.

Like all other book on leadership, Boyatzee and Mckee, discuss in detail, with examples form the corporate world, the nature of the three qualities they have identified as the most important, and bring out their relevance for effective leadership in the emerging world of business.  But the unique feature of the book is that they also provide practical and insightful guidelines on how to cultivate these qualities in the consciousness and personal life of the leader and actualize them in the present corporate environment.

The other unique feature of the book is its emphasis on Self-management.  While most of the modern books on leadership stress on management of the external environment or “organizational transformation,” Boyatzee and Mckee give primary importance to self-knowledge, self-management, self-renewal and self-transformation.  Daniel Goleman, in his foreword to the book writes, “The first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one pose the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.”   Boyatzee and Mckee devote an entire chapter to the subject of self-management, with the title, “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World” which is a famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi.  In the first para of this chapter, the authors state:

“People who think they can be truly great leaders without personal transformation are fooling themselves.  You cannot inspire others and create the resonant leadership that ignite greatness in your families, organizations, or communities without feeling inspired yourself and working to be the best person you can be.  You must ‘be the change you wish to see.’”

Leading with Wisdom

The second book under review is Leading with Wisdom: Spiritual-based Leadership in Business (2007) by Peter Pruzan and Kristen Pruzan Mikkelson, Response; Business Books from SAGE.

Spirituality is no longer a taboo in business and management.  There is at present a growing and voluminous literature in the form of books, articles and conferences on the subject of “Business and Spirituality,” which is fast becoming another cliché in management.   But apart from the “talk” are there a few leaders who “walk the talk?”  This is the main enquiry and research pursued by Peter and Kristen Pruzan.  The results of their research are presented in this book under review in the form of interviews with 31 corporate leaders form all over the world, who are making the attempt to lead from a foundation of moral and spiritual values.  Leaders from 15 countries and 6 continents share their experiences and perceptions and difficulties in putting into practice, “spiritual-based leadership” in the modern corporate environment.  As Peter and Kristen Pruzan describes the type of leaders interviewed in the book.

“Leading with Wisdom—-contains stories and reflections of inspiring and compassionate business leaders who care about what is truly important in life and who integrate this awareness and sensitivity into their leadership. Leaders who search for meaning, purpose and fulfillment in the external world of business and in the internal world of consciousness and conscience. Leaders whose leadership is a natural expression of their hearts, minds and souls. In other words, leaders who lead from a spiritual basis, where their external actions and their internal reflections are mutually supportive-so that spirituality and rationality can go hand in hand, rather than being each other’s competitor.”

This is truly a path-breaking research which is very much needed if spirituality has to take root in business.  Explaining further the need for such a research, Pruzans state:

“There is an increasing belief amongst both academicians and business leaders that faith and fortune can mix, and that spirituality in business is here to stay. However, in spite of all the many new’ business theories, methodologies and training programmes that have emerged in response to this spiritual awakening in business¾even IQ and EQ have now evolved to SQ, spiritual quotient¾one thing is still glaringly missing: practical, real-life stories of business executives who are leading from a spiritual basis. Stories that reveal their ups and downs, their struggles and successes. Stories that demonstrate to the sceptics that you can be both deeply spiritual and highly successful in business. Stories from credible sources that put to rest concerns that spirituality will undermine the ‘business of business’. Stories that give us a realistic glimpse of what might be possible if business and leadership were defined and conducted from a spiritual basis. Stories that reveal the ‘spiritual thread’ that connects all human beings, regardless of race, beliefs, religion, culture and location.”

The book is divided into six sections: Love, Looking and listening within, Live it and serve, Compassion, Divinity, Purpose, Balance and Grace and Harvesting the Wisdom.  A comprehensive list of qualities of the New Leader.

Some Examples of Spiritual-based Leadership

Let us look at a few examples of Wisdom-Leadership from the book by Pruzans.  An important leadership quality which requires a deep insight and spiritual sensitivity is the ability to judge the unique and natural gifts of an individual and place him or her in an occupation which is in harmony with his/her temperament and talents.  Nilofar Merchant, President, Rubicon Consultants, USA displays such a sensitivity, when she states:

“When I was managing people, while leading in my corporate positions, I always wanted to find a way to use their gifts well. So I often spent time with them personally, rather than on their job duties, and talked to them about what they personally most wanted to do. I would ask them what they felt their natural gifts were. I would then tailor their jobs so that they could use these skills and strengths optimally. In places where their job required them to do something that they just did not really have the gifts to do, I would find someone else on the team to help them. I would create a team around the responsibility, that they would not fail. I never wanted to spend any energy trying to get a person to do something that they did not want to do. I always wanted to find a way to bring out the person’s essence. This has been an important part of my own spiritual development, and I have tried to pass that on as a leader. “

Florida F. Aguenza, President and COO, Plantersbank, the Phillipines, talks about how she is trying to foster spiritual growth among employees:

“I believe that people who are well balanced and spiritual make better employees. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help nurture spiritual growth of our people. So I decided I wanted to see how I could expose the employees of the bank to spirituality. Since they spend most of their waking hours in the bank, we must try to help them without sacrificing the objectives of the bank. We started with letting our people attend spiritual retreats as part of our training activities. The turnouts have been quite good with very positive feedback.”

Janice Webb, Senior Vice President, Motorola, talks openly and frankly about her spiritual beliefs and practices:

“I pray everyday, several times a day.  I ask for guidance and am humbly grateful, and I let that be known.  I do not try to control things, whether it’s my work environment, my husband, or my family.  I come to work to live; I do not live to work.  I can feel my spiritual growth as I realize that I do not need material things in order to live.  I could go back to living in a shack and I would be fine.”

Speaking about the temptations and difficulties in the corporate life and how she has faced and dealt with them, Janice states:

“I believe that God puts us on earth to find joy and happiness and to become enlightened.  I believe He will test us with a thousand episodes and it’s our job to learn how to walk through them.  Numerous times people outside of the company have asked me to cheat in the name of business.  I have run into this all over the world. Within myself, I have always known that I didn’t have to go behind the law.”

 “I have stood firm many times to not paying bribes and as a result people realize that they can trust me.  I have had people that worked for me in the past come and tell me that I have the highest ethics among anyone they have worked for.  This is always a surprise to me when people say these things because to me this way of operating in business is so natural.”

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