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 A Tribute to Swami Vivekananda: Leader Extraordinary

 

“On the seventh of August 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished but he left behind a legacy… that no fire can ever consume…”

That was the baritone, sonorous voice of Satyajit Ray in his documentary titled ‘Rabindranath’ created as a tribute to Rabindranath (a project mandated on Ray, the genius in film making, arts and literature, commissioned by Ministry of Culture, Government of India) on the occasion of the birth centenary of the another genius, Rabindranath Tagore the Nobel laureate poet, musician, novelist, dramatist, artist and philosopher. The first scene of the documentary depicted the last and final journey of Tagore to the burning ghat (crematorium).

Ray’s portrayal of Tagore began with the scene finale. But where do we start in our odyssey with the volcanic monk of India whose 150th birth anniversary we celebrated earlier in this decade?

“Let’s start from the very beginning/ a very good place to start…” (The Sound of Music)

Naren or rather Bile (Narendranath Datta) was storm or turbulence personified from childhood in the premises of the Datta household in North Calcutta. Never obedient to seniors, ever an enigma to peers (his local friends), he would relish his father’s hookas (smoking pipes) or throw away his mother’s clothes from the windows to the beggars on street even while he was locked up in a room for his erratic unmanageable behaviour.  But when the time of crisis came, his friends would run away at the sight of a snake. But he would remain seated, immersed in meditation while the snake rustled away leaving him in peace. Trained in the art of physical mastery, he would combat the white man for speaking ill of Indians. He showed the promise of a Life Exemplary and Leader Extraordinary!

“His pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness. Wherever he went he was the first.’ (Romain Rolland).

Narendranath was a born leader, never ‘made’ – only refined and directed by his great master Shri Ramakrishna.

A good leader accepts the situation at hand and tries to find a way out. But a great leader is ever in discomfort with the commonplace and the hackneyed reality. Naren began his quest for the beyond with burning questions on the existence of God and purpose of Life – only to be answered clear and direct by Sri Ramakrishna, who was to become his master though in appearance, upbringing and otherwise his direct antithesis. But this was not by any devout dedication but through a series of questioning he hurled upon his master. And then came the hour of consecration.

Ei jonmo ei shorir oi murkho bamun kine niyeche”. (This life, this body is consecrated to that old illiterate Brahmin!) – He wrote to a brother disciple later.

By the way, Narendranath was projected as the leader of tomorrow by his master – not by himself!

Naren shikshe debe” (Naren will teach the world) – was the prophecy of Shri Ramakrishna in the Master’s own writing.

A great leader emerges out of stormy crisis from various fronts – death of father, deprivation of mother from family property, futile search for a job. But he had the fortitude to stick to his master’s promise that he would never be plagued with basic sustenance. His primary preoccupation became an immersion into the self, deep in meditation. “Mon cholo nijo niketone…’ (O Mind! Return to thy own repose!). It was for his Master to turn him towards the world with the message of service, love, education to humanity. He was destined to be a leader –a banyan tree for one and many.

Storm as in crises for him was lifetime companion – severe hardship n Baranagar Math in North Calcutta after the death of his Master, hunger and uncertainty during his parivrajaka (the wandering monk) life in India, anxiety about funds for the America trip, spending sleepless and shivering night in Chicago railway station, lampooned and maligned by his opposition religious groups in the West and even from his close quarters back home.

But the fire in him was never to extinguish.

Vivekananda stood for the principles of acceptance and assimilation of diverse opinions, values and cultures. A true global leader in thoughts, words  and action, he became a fiery inspiration to men and women from the East and West from myriads of background – businessmen like Rockefeller and Jamshetji Tata, European women like Margaret Noble (Sister Nivedita) and Emma Calve, scientists like Acharya J C Bose and many more. His style of communication was different for each according to the nature and character of individuals. His was an enlightened universal mind a century ahead of his times. But never did he lose his anchor in India.

“India was his daydream. India was his nightmare.” (Sister Nivedita)

And his thundering voice rose: “He Bharat bhuliona…” (O India! Forget not…). He never disowned the past and ever cherished the golden heritage of India. But he was ever stretching out his hand and heart of welcome to the West as well, to a future that is different and diverse yet mutually and globally enriching for one and all.

Je somonnvoy kore sei lok” (The one who can synthesize is truly a human) said his Master. Swamiji lived this message throughout life – a grand synthesis of the best from all parts of the world that he had visited during his brief life span.

Srinvantu Vishwe Amritasya Putrah’ (Listen! O Children of Immortality, world over!). This was the invocation of the rishis of the Upanishads. The voice of Swamiji in Chicago Parliament of Religions resonated; “Sisters and brothers of America…” He was a modern incarnation of the ancient rishis (sages and seers) in the attire of a monk.

Back home he chose ‘atmanomoksharatham jagat hitaya cha’ as the motto of the Ramakrishna Mission – (For the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)  on the foundation of the philosophy and principle of action ‘Siva jnana jivaseva’ (To serve man is to serve God n Man) as he learnt from his Master.

His last life in Belur Math was like that of a child – playing with animals and enjoying the company of tribal people while giving lessons on Upanishads to brother monks. In fact his was a life of a child-like leader yearning for fresh air and new light and learning forever. He learnt from all possible sources including a low caste ‘bhangee’ (one from a low caste) with whom he had smoke and also a dancing girl who, in Rajasthan at the palace of Maharaja of Khetri, taught him the message of non-discrimination among humans.

Jabot bnachi tabot shikhi” (I learn as long as I live) – was the message of Shri Ramakrishna. Following this precious teaching from his Master Swamiji lived, loved, learnt and left a legacy that is lasting and growing even beyond a century! Ramakrishna Mission is sustaining and flourishing every day all over the world for the service of humanity at large – spiritual, social and educational.

His funeral pyre was lit on the bank of the Ganges on the fifth of July 1902. The body of the monk inferno Swami Vivekananda was stretched on pyre in his chosen place under the bilwabrikshwa (The Bengal Quince tree) in Belur Math. His mother Bhubaneshwari Devi was sitting and watching the rising flames from the body of his eldest son. A speck of his saffron robe flew in the wind to Sister Nivedita, the devout disciple of the monk. She collected and preserved that ‘memento’ for her inspiration to action in the days to come.

Thus was the mortal consummation of the Swami, the Prince among men –the volcanic monk who shook the world with the fiery message of the Upanishads under the spiritual umbrage of his ‘seraphic master’ Sri Ramakrishna and ignited the spirit of India towards freedom.

Netaji (Subhas Chandra Bose) accepted him as his fiery guru in mortal absentia. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, it was like “baptism with blood and fire”. Netaji described Swamiji as a leader extraordinary in the following words:

“Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, profound and versatile in his wisdom, boundless in his love, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks and yet as simple as a child, he was a rare personality in this world of ours.

If Swamiji had been alive today he would have been my guru.”

I have ransacked the history of leadership and management literature in my voyage through Human values and Indian Ethos in Management, Spirituality and Leadership for nearly three decades but never found such a detailed, succinct yet most powerful and accurate assessment in these seven leadership qualities of one genius of a world leader by another of no mean stature.

We began with a tribute to Tagore by Satyajit Ray. And here we find a tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and Leader Extraordinary by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remain with us as fountainhead of boundless inspiration in a world ruled and dictated by leaders who at best belong to the class of mediocrity in academia and otherwise!

But the fire in the volcanic monk still remains alive and aflame in those who are willing and ready to be ignited.

Agne twam hridayam agachha’ – Oh Fire Eternal! Come and set our hearts ablaze!

Amar modhye je agun jwolchhe tomader modhye o sei agun jwole uthuk… Ei sodai Vivekanandar prarthana.”

(The fire that is burning within me may set all your hearts aflame! This will ever be the eternal prayer of Vivekannada.)

May we live up to his prayers!

It was high in the snowy Himalayas. Swamiji was on pilgrimage with a few chosen disciples. His intense meditation led him to a vision of the Mother Kali, the Black Goddess, the mighty Destroyer and Time Eternal, lurking behind the veil of life. During one evening in a state of high fever he wrote a famous poem that concludes thus:

“Who dare misery loves,

And hug the form of Death,

Dance in destruction’s dance,

To him the Mother comes.”

He said to her chosen disciple Nivedita (an Irish lady of noble origin): “Meditate on death. Only by the worship of The Terrible can The Terrible itself be overcome…There could be bliss in torture too…The Mother Herself is Brahman…The heart must be a cremation ground – pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. Then and then alone, will the Mother come!”

Vivekananda exemplified an authentic synthesis of the East and the West, the past and the present, Science and Religion, contemplation and action, spiritual pursuit and service to humanity. He was the messenger of dynamism and hope to India and the world. Could it be that he was under a spell of so-called negative thinking when he wrote the above verse? Or did he want to convey a pertinent message in a different mood that might be useful for all in moments of turbulence and uncertainty?

Leaders of tomorrow in business or otherwise, when shall we learn from death and destruction of old orders that we need creative quantum breakthroughs in our leadership principles, roles and practices to shake the very foundation of our outdated models and worn out concepts, our tunnel vision and fossilized values, by keeping alive and aflame just one precious element within our hearts – the passion to transform and infuse new life in our organizations and the planet at large?

Millennia ago, Socrates exhorted us to think and look within ourselves: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”   Closer in time, the voice of Nietzsche sounded even more daring and adventurous: “If one is to live, one is to live dangerously.”

 

{Tribute to Swami Vivekananda, the Great Master and leader extraordinary on The Foundation Day (May 1st, 1897) of The Ramakrishna Mission, the first Indian international organization with headquarters in India (Belur Math, Howrah – Kolkata on the bank of the Ganges) but outreach all over the world with more than 200 centres and still thriving in glory for almost more than a century and a quarter dedicated to the service of suffering humanity. An entrepreneurial venture of timeless significance even in times of crisis as in the present, this institution remains and grows as the ever expanding  global vision of this great master as an inexhaustible source of energy and inspiration, firmly rooted in Indian culture, ethos and heritage but with appeal reaching all over the world. At a level of Philosophy in Practice (Practical Vedanta, a term coined by himself that he spread like wild fire in the West even within the short span of his life of less than forty years) he gave a new turn to the ideal of monkhood with simultaneous emphasis on pursuit of salvation of the self through evolution of Consciousness and welfare of humanity at large.The Ramakrishna Mission that embodies the ideals of globalization and sustainability propounded by its founder a century before the pioneers of management in the West could even conceive of these ideas and principles. Even at a functional level the structure of the main temple of Shri Ramakrishna in Belur Math represents a grand synthesis of the East and the West – of Christian, Islamic and ancient Indian architecture.]

(Sanjoy Mukherjee (58) is Faculty of the Sustainability, CSR and Ethics academic group at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong. He is the Chairperson of the Institute’s Annual International Sustainability Conference (SUSCON) and also the Chairperson of Student Affairs, Placement and Public Relations.

His detailed profile can be accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sanjoy-mukherjee-72b18823

Permission to publish this tribute here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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ashokbhatia

Success often makes us complacent. On the other hand, failures help us in our relentless pursuit of excellence.OVERSTAYING ONE’S WELCOME

My own experience tells me that it helps to befriend and manage our failures. Each failure makes us discover a latent strength of ours. Each one has the potential to open up fresh vistas in our lives.

Yes, it also helps to take a step back to evaluate our successes, so the critical factors behind those could be understood better.

Befriending Failures

There is no cut-and-dried formula for managing failures. However, I do believe that a renewed focus on the following factors can help us in getting more out of our failures.

Giving up Self-pity

It does not get us anywhere. It only ties us down to a past which can’t be rewound and rerun. Negative things do happen. It does not mean that all others are as happy as they…

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(On the 1st of January, 2017, Mr K V Rao, Resident Director – ASEAN, Tata Sons Pvt Ltd. Chairman & Board Member, Tata Group Regional Subsidiaries – ASEAN, had posted this thought-provoking article on LinkedIn. His permission to blog it here is gratefully acknowledged!) 

 

31st Dec 2016, the last day of the year, and the New Year makes one more reflective. I step into my 37th year of corporate “experience” – which often is questionable, whether it is an asset or liability! One of my bosses in my early years hanged a quote : “Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want”. The cryptic one liner holds much meaning – it is all about what one “learns” from daily experiences, the day you stop learning slowly that experience looses its it shine and fades into becoming a liability, and once you cant keep pace with the changes you become anachronistic. While its now time for me to research on the latest mobile app, learn about the features of an iPhone 7, or about the SSD hard disk, i-Cloud storage and what have you on all embracing technology to keep myself in step with the 20 somethings in my office, experience has indeed taught me much more.

Everything about modern management, over the years has tended to bring about is an acute left- brain centricity – rationality, data crunching, analysis, and a compulsive need to ‘prove everything’ and so on, while inversely making huge efforts to be innovative, creative, and break away from the strong holds of purely rational thinking. As these apparently opposing forces of the left and right brains jostle with each other, for space – there is this whole effort and premium placed on the right “leadership”. From experience in the practice of leading, it is not so much about how much you know or how smart you are, but all about how you impact others – inspire them to achieve their highest, and have a perception beyond the ordinary. It is more to do with what you are made of, and living that authentic person.

To me, it is simple. Instead of only using the lone brainpower, lets look at our own gift of the 5 Senses that nature has bestowed upon us. My experience has taught me that we use little of these magnificent senses that have immense power upon others and us. We seem to use little of our wonderful 5S in our daily practice of leadership. Here you go.

S1 – Sight: The greatest gift we have from nature is the ability to simply “see”. In our work life, for a leader “seeing” is the power of observation, of concentration, and ability see-through the things others are not obviously in a position to see. It needs practice, peace, concentration and training to constantly “look for” say – the beyond i.e. a vision, a future, a pathway that you are able to see, also the trained ability to see through darkness, when the team is say lost, and through the moving shadows when clarity is absent. In today’s corporate world, the ability to see what others don’t is a singular leadership trait. Train it, you will have it – but one has to silence one’s overactive rational mind that finds only the familiar paths, looses the forest for the woods. The subtle next step on seeing is the ability of the “inner eye” – the ability to visualize, the ability to build a powerful and vivid vision! It is not just words but being able to see the vision in its manifested forms and colours, but to also to share and inspire others its power.

S2 – Touch: The gift of touch is magnificent. Imagine how life will be for us if we did not have that powerful gift. Touch in our organizational context has a vital role – it denotes: caring, intimacy, bonding, emotional connect, and vital in building and leading a team, for we as leaders primarily touch the lives of all our teammates, our partners, our customers. A well-trained expression of the feeling of “touch” enhances a leader’s ability to identify more touch points, and be sensitive. It makes one a natural leader. In short, it is the conscious practice of empathy. These touch points are not just with employees, these are with stakeholders, customers, just about everybody the leaders comes in contact with.

S3 – Taste: Beyond being a foodie, the importance of Taste in our senses is almost unique. The imprint of the experience of Taste is almost unexplainable in words. It is a complete experience that’s unique. When you live whole heartedly, (just as you eat whole heartedly and are a foodie like me), the experience is very “memorable”. The power of the experience of Taste in leadership is that unexplainable feeling – the pain, joy, delight, despair, disconnect, elation, contentment etc. … That one goes through a leader when you “taste the success” or “taste the failure”, or “taste the dejection”. Training one’s own taste of the experience leaves behind rich learning and deep insights. Memories have a bearing on your leadership style.

S4 – Hear : Often, leaders speak more than they listen. The power of hearing (listening!) is multidimensional. It is about extending a listening ear, for a human issue, system issue or an idea or a problem. Intent listening with a trained ear is an asset. It is not only the verbal hearing – it is also about perceiving the sounds, which others have not yet picked up. Recognizing low decibel sounds as it were, from the team, from the market, the environment i.e. picking up early signals, and early warnings – a trait which is so very important for an adept leader. This has little to do with rationality. I have had the pleasure of working with what I call 200% attentive leaders. They would pick up so much more in a meeting, than the normal managers, for they are so very attentive and perceptive.

S5- Nose (smell): The nose, like the powerful experience of taste, has a huge impact on memorability. Often a smells reminds you of your past, your college room or a person or whatever. Smells leave a permanent stamp on our olfactory memory, and trigger associated past experiences – pleasant or painful. In our corporate world – it is very important for leaders to spot opportunities. It is often said, “he has a nose for new opportunities and consumer trends”… it is a delicate and refined quality of using one’s nose, to identify the areas of growth. Part perception, part instinct. Many great ideas have come to fruition for someone “smelt them” before you, or did something that you too smelt and then regret you did not do anything about it!

Now that you are sensitized to your wonderful gift of senses, and harness them in your daily leadership practice, you obviously need to put back the  “thinking cap” of your rational mind with both the hemispheres – right & left – snuggly for you to become an exceptional leader.

Often, I am asked how can one be more “intuitive” – which is fast becoming a buzzword too. My short answer, in my own experience, is that one needs to take a pause from the overworked rational self, hone one’s senses, and often it acts to gently nudge some inner workings within all of us, thus giving rise to “intuition”. Often the first signs of intuition dawning on one can easily be confused as irrational and daydreaming. Pause, and think – it might be the Eureka moment. It may be the first experience of the “Sixth Sense”. Indulge in it and it gets cultivated. Intuition starts finding a home and a friend in you.

When you look at the millennials, the bright kids who will lead this world for the next few decades, they are wired very differently. High on adrenaline, voracious technology adopters, impatient, connected and high on social media, and having grown up on a staple diet of almost constant instant gratification, and their parents (us!) who have provided for them – best education, best upbringing, best environments and the best this and the best that. They seem to have it all, but seem woefully deficient in facing adversity, prone to depressions, inability to deal with the “real others”, build deep lifetime bonds, to remain focused and bull-headedly persistent. Not knowing how to build trust, empathy, and authenticity. Lonely, unsure, and short fused at times. In short, high on energy – fast, furious, and determinate – yet missing out on the use of a 5S leadership or even a 5S lifestyle.

In many ways our generation, has had its role to play in the shaping of the new millennial. As parents, we have given the our “bests” to our next generation, to perhaps unwittingly further a race of “patrimonial capitalism”, as Thomas Piketty, the French economist who is churning new thinking, argues. A privileged few, who go on to create still more privileged few, widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and making the entire dispensation less “sensitive” to people.

In our need for speed and urgency in everything, we make use less of ourselves and our full potential that remains unutilized within each one of us. While we are highly digitally distracted and as we furiously run back to clear all our mails, greetings, and meetings calendar for the New Year, it’s time for us to take a long pause and a deep breadth – and to look around, with a fine eye. There is so much comedy around us. Smile. Slow down. “Patience” has a new premium over speed.

Increasingly, organizations and life in general are moving on to a pace that makes them senseless. How do we become sensible leaders in a senseless or low sense, or non sense (pun intended) environment? Live life in its fullness and lead life with all the 5 Senses, and feel and share the difference.

Wish you a wonderful 2017 – reflective, intuitive and harnessing the power of 5 -Senses Leadership, and also help yourself to loosen up and have a great laugh, every day of 2017.

Cheers

KV Rao

 

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/heartfulness-management-and-leadership

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/of-idleness-innovation-and-the-peter-principle)

 

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After the 2008 economic meltdown, the management world has discovered that CEOs need to follow not only the Business Compass but also a Moral Compass to steer the enterprises they happen to run. Improving one’s Spiritual Quotient is now a sheer business necessity, and shall be more so in the decades to come.

It is here that Indian scriptures and sages provide a ready template for managers of all sizes and shapes.

The bookSurviving in the Corporate Jungle’ covers some lessons from the following:

-Ramayana

-Mahabharata

-Bhagavad-Gita

-Thirukkural

-Chanakya Neeti

-Sri Aurobindo

Managers with a Western Mind and an Eastern Heart

The success of the likes of Satya Nadella (currently the CEO of Microsoft) and Sundar Pichai (currently the CEO of Google Inc) goes on to show the growing importance of managers who are not only exposed to the Western models of management but also steeped in Eastern…

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Leaders

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Management can be learnt; leadership is inborn. The good news is that in most cases, leadership styles trickle down the organization and get copied. This spawns leaders in the same genre and also improves behavioural consistency across the entire set up.

Successful leaders have several outstanding traits. Their intuitive faculties are well developed. They do not say one thing and do another. They handle tough tasks themselves. They take responsibility for their failures, often shielding their team mates. They do not have henchmen to execute their dirty plans so their own hands look clean. They put everyone on the same pedestal. They never encourage yes-men. They always encourage no-men to speak up.

CEOs who rank high not only on their Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Quotient but also on their Spiritual Quotient go on to make super leaders. Their concern for business ethics is as high as their concern for business…

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It makes sense to follow the golden rule, ‘the boss is always right’, even when he is absolutely wrong and is a perfect fool. However, sycophancy has its long-term limitations. Once in a while, if you do not agree with the boss, find the courage and the right time to register your disagreement. This way, you end up becoming a more effective and a healthier manager.

Beware of juniors who are ‘yes men’. They could be pretty dangerous to your career progression in the long run.

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, the English version of which was released recently.)

(This is how you can lay your hands on the Portuguese version of the book, launched in Portugal during March, 2016.)

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Excuses

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How many times can you kill your mother-in-law to avail leave?! Excuses for being late to work and for excessive leaves are a sign of weakness of will power and character.

Offering excuses for a fouled up job is just not done. Be bold, accept your share of the blame, and make amends.

To help your team to grow and zoom, get out of your ivory tower, try to redress their difficulties, and demonstrate your leadership qualities.

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, which covers more than hundred topics of interest to managers of all hues, shapes and sizes)

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ashokbhatia

Designations are not important in cases where the external exposure of the employee is minimal. They form the psychological part of an employee’s compensation package.

For those whose role demands an external exposure, a higher sounding designation would improve the canvas of opportunities, enabling a faster realization of the company’s goals.

For employees who have outlived their core utility in companies which believe in firing people only when there is a disaster of a nuclear nature, an improvement in designation would be an invaluable tool in the company’s Human Resources arsenal.

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’, which covers more than hundred topics of interest to managers of all hues, shapes and sizes)

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ashokbhatia

conflict

An executive fighting his boss

– when he feels the top dog is wrong – is a good sign.

Executives fighting between themselves in the boss’ presence is also the sure sign of a healthy work culture.

Seniors airing their difference of opinion or berating their colleagues is an unhealthy sign.

We all remember the fable of a monkey which mediated between two warring cats and gobbled up the entire piece of cheese at hand.

(Excerpt from my book ‘Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’)

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ashokbhatia

This is a malaise every workplace is stricken with. You may have a set of intelligent, obedient and relevant people working for you. But it is quite likely that half of them would have fallen into the trap of complacency. They would have become critical of the company/department, would be working in a comfort zone, and would be displaying a singular lack of initiative. They would no longer have the shine in their eyes and would surely not be operating on all four cylinders.

Your Human Resources honchos would be neglecting this lot at the company’s long-term peril. An antidote package could comprise a sustained program of employee engagement, elaborate mentorship, job rotation, sponsorships for advanced educational courses (either online or in the distance mode), and recreational breaks. Simply spicing up their work life would also help.

At the individual level, keep watching for signs of falling into the trap…

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