Can tenets from the realm of Spirituality help in grooming business leaders for the future? This two-part article attempts to answer this query. It first proposes the dominant characteristics of the business environment of the future. It then goes on to joining the dots between the apparently diverse fields of Management and Spirituality in respect of each such characteristic. An enhanced role for intuitive faculties, inner resilience, dynamism, a global and inclusive mindset, clarity of purpose, learning from failures, managing by consensus and cultivating a moral compass are some of the leadership traits discussed. Examples are drawn from the business world, as also from such Indian scriptures as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Savitri.’
Leadership is a much discussed virtue in management literature. However, like Peter Drucker says, there is no ideal type of leader. “Leadership personality’, ‘leadership style’ and ‘leadership traits’ don’t exist”, he writes in The Leader of the Future. The emergence of a leader is the result of a complex interplay of two factors – personality traits of the leader and what needs to be done at a given point in time. The moment the two become congruent, a new leader could emerge on the scene and deliver the goods!
I am convinced that the leaders of tomorrow would need personality traits which would be qualitatively different from those of today. Here is my take on what business environment (say, circa 2025) would be like, and how our future business leaders would be tackling it.
2025 – A Likely Business Scenario
What would be the business environment like in 2025? Let us try to crystal-gaze and find out the kind of possibilities the future portends:
• Business leaders in 2025 shall be working against the backdrop of a world which would, in all likelihood, be a multi-polar one, with Asia, particularly China, exerting more influence on global events.
• It would be a world which would be more inter-connected, commercially and otherwise.
• Thanks to new communication means, the individual empowerment levels would have risen significantly. Social paradigms would have transformed further, with a more individualistic mindset. Hence, employee expectations would be qualitatively different from what managers typically face today.
• Also, it would be a more urbanized world. Thanks to the rise of a new global middle-class, society in general would have reached a higher level of aspiration, resulting into a much higher demand for energy, food and water. On the flip side, income disparities would have risen substantially.
• Changes arising out of our climatic patterns would also pose a formidable challenge to the leaders of those times. Internet security concerns would perhaps be centre-stage.
• Disruptive changes are quite likely to overwhelm us. These changes could come in the form of impact of new technologies in the field of robotics, biotechnology, space sciences and communication. Increasingly, governments world over may start becoming enablers of entrepreneurship, faced as they will be with direct and intensive pressure from those they govern. We shall surely be seeing more entrepreneurs amongst our midst – whether in the commercial sector or in the societal sector.
A Business Leader in 2025
Beyond Analysis Paralysis
Since the level of entropy in the system would have gone up further by then, a business leader of circa 2025 would have to be adept at making decisions under a higher level of uncertainty. The abnormal today would be the new normal, and many a leader would be feeling more like experts at river rafting in our economic and statutory rapids, often being called upon to go against the current.
For those who are quantitatively inclined, advanced statistical tools would become more sophisticated. There will be an overdose of data as well as information available to a business leader then. However, ultimately, his/her intuitive abilities would prove to be more valuable. Even today, most innovators think ‘out-of-box’. Businessmen, when creating a new vertical, are apt to take a leap of faith, that is, decisions off-the-seat-of-their-pants/skirts/sarees and not on voluminous reports of an analytical nature.
Sir Colin Marshall, the ex-Chairman of British Airways, transformed his organization into one of the premier customer service kinds in the days of yore. The uncertainty he faced in the period of his association with BA was monumental and serves as an example to be followed by CEOs of future.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon came up with the concept of ‘predictive analytics’, paving the way for all of us to enjoy the convenience of shopping on-line.
A logical corollary of the above would be the need for a leader to be ahead of the curve. Those who have counter-intuitive responses and place a higher trust in their natural instincts would surely fare better.
In Mahabharata, after the war is over, Pandavas visit Dhritarashtra to offer their respects and condolences. By using his intuitive skills, Lord Krishna is able to save Bheema’s life. When the uncle proceeds to hold Bheema in a crushing embrace, a metallic statue of similar dimensions is offered to him instead.
Likewise, in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, Narada has the gift of fore-knowledge. He is not averse to Savitri marrying Satyavan whom he describes as ‘a marvel of the meeting of earth and heaven’ but adds:
Heaven’s greatness came, but was too great to stay.
Twelve swift-winged months were given to him and her;
This day returning Satyavan must die.
(Savitri, page 431)
Intuitive abilities of a manager typically arise from three distinctive domains – the cultural upbringing, experience in one’s formative years and one’s value system imbibed from elders and role models. Regular meditation and introspection also helps.
An Inner Resilience and Dynamism
There would be a strong need for a much higher degree of inner resilience, because this alone would enable them to keep their stress levels under control even in trying circumstances.
Dynamism will be yet another critical input. It would ensure that they are able to steer their businesses through the dense economic fog enveloping the business highways.
This is where tenets of spirituality can play a vital role. Take the example of the character of Savitri, as portrayed by Sri Aurobindo in his epic composition. She has fore-knowledge of the imminent death of Satyavan, her husband. Does she get scared? No. She faces the monumental task of facing the Lord of Death himself. She never gives up hope, displays exemplary courage and resilience and successfully reasons out the revival of her husband. She handles the whole situation all by herself, walking tall but lonely – as a true leader of humanity.
‘Whoever is too great must lonely live.
Adored he walks in the mighty solitude;
Vain is his labour to create his kind,
His only comrade is the Strength within.’
(Savitri, page 368)
As a seer extraordinaire, Sri Aurobindo brings to us in a very concise form the symbolic affirmation of life on earth. He did not compose Savitri as a management treatise. But like all other scriptures, the epic poem contains invaluable lessons for potential as well as practicing managers.
In the Ramayana, we see Lord Rama waging a war on Lanka with very limited resources, backed by an army which is pretty out-of-the-box or unconventional. It is an army which is highly motivated, expecting minimal facilities. The challenge of crossing the sea is also faced in a highly unconventional manner. Goes on to show the power of the dynamism of a true leader even when circumstances are highly unfavorable.
The World Economic Forum had proposed a theme centered on the twin traits of resilience and dynamism for 2013. Given that there are no risk free growth models available to leaders and CEOs of the future, one could not have agreed more with this proposition.
A good example of facing flak and not losing sight of one’s goals is that of Larry Page of Google. He continues to trust his instincts and doing what he thinks is best for his business.
A Global, Self-less and Inclusive Mindset
Given a much more inter-connected world, a business leader in the future would need to possess a vast knowledge of commercial, behavioral and societal norms followed in different parts of the world. A primary task would obviously be to ensure that his/her organization has world-class management processes. Only those institutionalizing best practices in strategic planning, marketing and human relations would be able to make their organization a successful one. The fact that a leader would, in all likelihood, be leading a multi-cultural team of followers would pose a challenge – irrespective of whether the situation demands a leadership which is ‘transactional’ or ‘transformational’.
A self-less and inclusive mindset would imply taking on board all stakeholders in a situation that warrants an important decision to be made. A true business leader would work for the overall benefit of the society and environment at large.
When Lord Krishna delivers the message of Bhagavad Gita on the battle field, it is not for the narrow purpose of Pandava’s victory. It is the song celestial, delivered for the benefit of the entire humanity.
When Ashwapathy, the virtuous and noble King of Madra in Savitri, seeks a progeny, he does not behave like a sorrow-stricken childless King. He acts like a representative and true leader of humanity. He is engaged in a quest, but not for a personal gain like having a child. He is seeking that creative principle which has the power to end human frustrations, discontents and ills. He is doing so for the entire humanity. He recognizes the painful truth that neither science and technology, nor religion and art, have so far managed to free mankind from the clutches of ignorance, suffering and death. Is there a way the age-old aspiration of mankind seeking a union with its Creator could get realized? Can a higher power come down and help him achieve this goal for the sake of humanity? Aswapathy’s impassioned plea eventually wins the promise of grace from the Divine Mother.
In the Ramayana, we do not like Lord Rama banishing Sita to the forest merely because an ordinary citizen had cast aspersions on her character. But he acts like a true blue CEO who shows no mercy when upholding the path of righteousness even at a huge cost in terms of personal happiness and comfort.
When one considers the example of Compaq’s Eckard Pfeiffer, who was a leader in a race against himself, it becomes clear as to how organizational renewal can be brought about. “No matter what industry a company competes in”, he said, “it must live with one foot in the present and the other in the future….There is simply no other way to build world leadership”.
A Clarity of Purpose
When faced with higher levels of uncertainty, a calm mind and clarity of purpose become the sine qua non of success.
According to one version of the Ramayana, both Rama and Sita are committed to the welfare of the people. They are aware that by remaining confined to their palaces and royal trappings, they would not be able to serve the purpose for which they exist. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself in the form of Kaikeyi’s demands at the time of His coronation, they accept the fait accompli with equipoise and leave their comfort zone with a great clarity of purpose.
Note how Savitri declares the completion of her mission (to locate a soul-mate) to her father.
‘The son of Dyumatsena, Satyavan
I have met on the wild forest’s lonely verge.
My father, I have chosen. This is done.’
(Savitri, page 424)
Savitri’s supreme self-confidence is revealed when she convinces her mother about the need of not changing her decision, despite Sage Narad’s prophetic announcement that Satyavan has only one year to live.
‘Let Fate do with me what she will or can;
I am stronger than death and greater than my fate;
My love shall outlast the world, doom falls from me
Helpless against my immortality.’
(Savitri, page 432)
(Part 2 to follow)
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