Timeless Principles of Leadership

I wrote this article for the Indore Management Associations journal’s Commemorative issue published in Jan 2011. Haven’t been able to find a online issue of the same and I thought I will reproduce my article out here. It is pretty long, so you have been warned.

There is a consensus amongst thought leaders, that today’s management and leadership principles were not developed to cope with the rapid pace of changes we are seeing in our workplaces. The unremitting pace of work, the need to respond to emails urgently, the blurring of lines between work time and leisure time, the invasion of  Millennials in the workplace, the advent of social media etc.– the workplace does not look the same as it was say even 10 or 15 years ago. And we all know that the years ahead will bring even more transformations that we may have not yet thought of. So how do we prepare ourselves adequately for the times ahead? Are there any leadership principles that we can borrow that have stood the test of time? It seems like there definitely is a list of leadership attributes that have stood the test of time that we can definitely borrow to fool proof our leadership skills.

Surprisingly, this list comes does not from modern schools of management, but from ancient school of thoughts across cultures and regions, which means to show that they have stood the test of time. Those principles are rooted in Spirituality. Let us see how.

As a Practice Head of a business unit, my challenges are exactly the same that any other leader faces today – growing the top line, increasing profitability, improving my customer base, managing efficiencies, finding creative solutions, finding and attracting the right talent in a very competitive industry, managing attrition and most importantly providing my team an environment that nourishes not only their intellectual capabilities, but also their soul.

I also wear a different hat, I am a disciple of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar1 and facilitate the Art of Living Foundation’s Leadership Programs for the corporate called APEX – Achieving Personal Excellence2 and the very popular Art of Living’ Part 1 program3 for the general public.

When I began, walking the spiritual path more than a decade ago, applying these principles at home, with family, friends and relatives, I did observe a significant change in my relationship not only with others but most importantly with my own self. My endeavor was how do I take these principles and apply them at work?  The question uppermost in mind was – will this work for me?

As we  all know typical work places are training grounds for budding politicians – typically characterized by authority, power, politics, selfishness, one-upmanship, greed, etc while the spiritual principles such as acceptance, love, caring, sharing, forgiveness, humility, non violence, non greediness etc. lie at a 180 degree variance from what one sees in the workplace. One feels that spiritual principles are not applicable in business and also the belief that those who are spiritually driven, lack the drive and the focus to achieve the desired results.

My challenge really has been, how does one takes these spiritual principles and apply it in context of work life and yet be successful? The concern was, while the Spiritual principles were very good to hear and listen, how would they translate in reality in the cut throat corporate workplace? The struggle was, If I put the other person’s needs first, wouldn’t I lose out? How do I demonstrate acceptance and forgiveness with those whom I have perceived have wronged me? How can I be forgiving towards colleagues who are nasty and rude? How can I be not greedy or selfish, when my objective is to put myself into the next grade and at the same time making sure that I reach there before my colleagues do so? To put it in a nutshell – Wouldn’t using these principles hamper my own career growth? And how can nurturing these principles help me to be a strong leader?

Gradually, over a period of time applying these principles, I have come to believe that the only authentic way of leading is the spiritual way.

In order to lead others, we first need to lead our own self. If we are not able to manage our own thoughts, our own emotions, our own feelings, how do we manage others? The whole premise of Spiritual leadership is based on one single statement that is if we cannot lead one, we cannot lead many, but if we are able to lead one, then we will be able to lead many. We spend so much time on an auto-pilot mode that we rarely take time out to reflect on our actions, our own behavior, and going beyond to figure out what drives me to act, behave or feel in a certain way. The first cornerstone of Spiritual Leadership is to understanding our own Self.

We all know that we are just not this body. There is something more to our existence. So, let us begin this journey from the grossest aspect of our existence – the body. Some of us do pay attention to our body, by going to the gym, exercising, keeping the body fit etc. Those of us who don’t give that time and attention to the body, get reminded by the body itself, when some part of the body starts aching. But we know that we are just not the body, beyond the body is the mind, the ability to perceive things. Again we hardly spend time getting intimate with our own mind, to get to know its nature. Take a few minutes right now and let us look at our own mind, just observe the mind and what do we find? That it rarely stays still and it has this tendency to vacillate like a pendulum between the past and the future. Generally speaking, when the mind goes to the future, it brings back thoughts corresponding to fear and anxiety and when it goes back to the past, we encounter thoughts such as anger and regret. And how many thoughts do we encounter in a day and guess where our attention would be? We can go a bit further and say that two other aspects of mind are intellect and memory. The intellect provides us the ability to discriminate and judge things, people and events. The judgments, the agreements or disagreements, the arguments that happen within us, are all part of the intellect. If one observes memory, one sees that it stores the memory of unpleasant events more than it does of pleasant. We take insults, and preserve them in our memory much longer than the compliments. This is the nature of our memory.

Further beyond the mind is the Ego. Ego is “I am much better than the others! I am better! I am more learned! The Ego creates a sense of separation and creates all sorts of complexes within us and is the source of all plays that we see in our day to day interaction at workplace.

Beyond the ego is what we may term as Self. The Self is that something, which is the reference point of all the changes in our lives – our bodies, our mind, our thoughts, our environment and our behavior. If everything is changing, then how do we know the change? We feel the change because there is something that doesn’t change, and with reference to it, we are able to notice the change. This non-changing something, this reference point, which is there in all of us, is what the scriptures call the “atmah”. All these six – body, mind, intellect, memory, ego and self are tied together by the breath. Observing and knowing a little bit about the nature of these 7 layers of our existence brings forth a lot of knowledge about our own behavior. The journey towards emotional intelligence or spiritual intelligence starts from here.

Once we are able to observe ourselves – for me, regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya4, yoga asanas and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation5 aid me in enhancing my self-awareness – the direction of our lives journey becomes clearer – a huge transformation takes place, suddenly the journey is all about improving our own self and not a race one is participating in to win at all cost. When we pay attention to the spiritual aspect of one’s life, it brings responsibility, a sense of belongingness, and compassion and caring towards everyone. Once this happens, we see life from a different perspective, we are now ready to move to the next step on the ladder – that of building strong interpersonal relationship with those whom we interact and work with.

How do we do it? By looking at our own behavior and making appropriate modifications.

This doesn’t call for anything significant. Simple things, that demonstrate to the other person that he/she is dealing with someone who is authentic. The thing with authenticity is however much we declare we are authentic, it is only the other side which ultimately makes the call whether we are authentic or not.

We come across as authentic only when we are able to demonstrate trust with the other person. Trust is built when we keep meeting our commitments to the other person time and time again. Any instance we fail to meet our commitment we have created a fissure in the relationship. Keeping commitment is probably one of the hardest things to do and requires enormous effort. Once we have created a sense of commitment, a sense of belongingness develops automatically. When one feels belonged, one is automatically willing to extend oneself and go over and above to meet the required commitments in the relationship. Along with Commitment and Belongingness comes a sense of Awareness. These three things –Awareness, Belongingness and Commitment – are the cornerstone of building strong relationships with others.

A sense of belongingness and a sense of trust can be created, only when one is able to create a harmonious environment around us. We will able to create this environment through acceptance of people and situations and by being non-judgmental. Acceptance goes hand in hand with taking unconditional responsibility for our own actions as well as inactions.

Put it other way, one can build strong, nourishing relationships with others only when relationship with one’s own Self is strong. Another way to build trust and relationship with people is to love people unconditionally. The word love is rarely used in context of business and workplaces. Yet as someone who has found an organization that functions in more than 151 countries today, based on these principles, H.H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “It is Love that moves the World.

This timeless principle is what modern business leaders now validate. Fred Kofman, Managing Director of Axialent  and author of the book, Conscious Business writes “Many business people consider “love” to be a personal matter, certainly nothing that belongs in the corporation, yet love forms the foundation of all human interactions. Without love, there is no teamwork; without love, there is no leadership; without love, there is no real commitment to customer service.”

Love is the truly the foundation on which all true leadership principles are based on.

Love in this context, is not what we typically associate with – it is not a state of feeling, it is in fact, how we behave. It is not a noun, it is a verb. It characterizes all the attributes such as listening, caring, acceptance, being non-judgmental, being authentic, of being trustworthy, by having a sense of belongingness, by demonstrating commitment, all the attributes that embody human values that we have referred to so far.

If we are able to demonstrate these attributes with one person, we can extend the same to another person. If we are able to extend it one person, we can surely do it with one more and one more and one more. In other words, I can extend these same attributes to the rest of my team or to whosoever I interact with. And most importantly I can do this irrespective of the fact how the other person treats me.

In fact the models of leadership that most of us have been exposed to are based on principles of authority, power and fear. While they do work, they do work only for a short duration and are not lasting. Spiritual Leadership based on the principles of Love and Influence are ever lasting. Take a look at all the great leaders who have walked on this planet, be it Buddha, Jesus, Krishna Gandhi or Martin Luther King – there was one thing in common amongst them all. Their leadership paradigms were based on creating “influence and inspiration through love”.

When I talk about these principles, the first objection that I get is that people presume that they don’t have some or/most of these attributes. It just needs a simple reminder that we by nature demonstrate these behaviors at home with our family. Which means that these attributes are in fact present within each of us, and we need to do is to extend them to others. And because we have used these principles earlier in life, we can definitely use them again and again. The second objection that I get is that these attributes will not work for me. And I say, how would you know unless you give it a try?

Spirituality comes from the word “spirit” which comes from the same root – breath. Spirituality is the basis of our existence. Love, joy, bliss, compassion, beauty and enthusiasm are all made up of spirit. Enlivening these is spirituality. To grow in unconditional love and in beauty is spirituality. Spirituality is based on human values. It gives you the inner strength to manage difficult situations. Spirituality is not running away from the world to Himalayan Caves, away from the world. That is a folly. Spirituality is about being in this material world, dealing with day to day challenges – be it a customer issue or issues related to top line/bottom line or resolving conflicts within team or vying for that next promotion. It is about enjoying what the world has to offer and yet at the same time being completely dispassionate about it. Spirituality is all about infusing life and energy into everyone we come in contact with. It is about uplifting everyone.

The question still remains; will I be successful practicing these principles?

We need to take a step back and answer for ourselves, what success truly means to means to us. H.H. Sri Sri RaviShankar, puts it very nicely, He says, “there are two successes: being successful in life and being successful in the world. One can be successful in the world without necessarily being successful in life. Success in life is attending to very source of life and living in unconditional joy and love. True success has got little to do with wealth, money, power or prestige. It is about having a smile that doesn’t fade due to external circumstances. It is about having confidence in life. It is about having a sense of belongingness and love with people around. It is about caring for people.

These timeless principles based on love and human values have been taught by every enlightened person who has walked this planet. And any leader, who leverages these principles, cannot but be successful.


  1. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and ambassador of peace and is the founder of Art of Living Foundation. ( http://www.artofliving.org/in-en/founder-biography )
  2. apexprogram.org
  3. More details about Part 1 Program is at http://www.artofliving.org/in-en/art-living-part-i-course-art-breathing
  4. Sudarshan Kriya incorporates specific natural rhythms of the breath which harmonize the rhythm of the body, mind, and emotions and brings them in tune with the rhythm of nature. Thereby, eliminating stress, fatigue, and negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and depression; leaving you calm yet energized, focused yet relaxed. More details at http://www.artofliving.org/in-en/sudarshan-kriya
  5. Sahaj is a Sanskrit word that means natural or effortless. Samadhi is a deep, blissful, meditative state. Sahaj Samadhi meditation is a natural, effortless system of meditation. More details at http://www.artofliving.org/in-en/art-of-meditation-course



About Art of Living Foundation: (www.artofliving.org) Founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living is a not-for-profit, educational, and humanitarian NGO engaged in stress-management and service initiatives. The organization operates globally in 151 countries.


About the APEX Program:  (www.apexprogram.org) APEX brings The Art of Living Foundation’s success to the corporate world through its Leadership Development Program. At APEX we believe that within every individual there is a leader waiting to be unveiled. The Program transforms individuals into leaders based on the simple principle – an individual able to manage oneself is truly capable of leading exemplary life and inspiring others on a sustainable basis. Inability to focus, negative emotions, lack of self-confidence, deep-rooted insecurity, unexplained anxieties, and lack of self-esteem are all factors that prevent one from living life to one’s fullest potential. Stress builds up and it aggravates the downward cycle. Very often skills learnt in organizations work on efficiency but do not address the root – the individual.

APEX program modules are structured to bring deeper levels of understanding and experiences that harmonize all the seven levels of an individual’s existence – body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and the Self. In harmony is calmness, in calmness is dynamic action. APEX creates benefits that are sustainable by offering practical tools that begin the process of transformation at the deepest levels. The Program is experiential. It touches the inner core by using the Sudarshan Kriya – a powerful breathing technique that impacts the body, the mind and the spirit. This creates an inspired individual ready to explore, open to change and willing to take responsibility through ownership.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s