Leadership and Spirituality
Author Sohan Tiwade

Hindu philosophy divides human life into four stages viz. The learning stage (Brahmacharya) where one is a pupil who devotes his/her energies to learn from his teachers and prepare himself. The next stage is (Grihasta) household duties, here one is busy with one’s profession, business, etc. providing for his family. This is followed by (Vanaprastha) where one after his duties towards family are over and goes to a forest and devotes more time to meditation, prayers and spirituality. The final stage is (Sanyasa) renunciation where one now detaches oneself from depending on luxuries or even the regular necessities, here the goal is to attain Moksha, salvation.

Many of us take these stages of life by demarcation. We feel that when one is a child or young one has to study, in the adult age be the provider of the family, after that we have time for spirituality or renunciation. But that is due to our dualistic mindset that we always try to separate things. We should rather remember that all these stages are interrelated and have to go together throughout our lives.

At the same time, whatever age one is at, one should be a student for life, duty-bound towards his family and profession, devote time to spirituality and also be able to develop detachment from the material world. The demarcation of these stages leads us to the false belief that when one is into a Leadership role, it has no place for spirituality. My humble attempt would be to lead us out of this false notion and see how we can imbibe spirituality in our leadership practice.

To understand the title ‘Leadership and Spirituality’ let us look at this story: once Krishna tells Arjuna to dig gold from two hills and distribute it among the poor villagers. He is told to complete the task by dusk. Arjuna tries hard to gather villagers near the hills and starts digging and distributing the gold but is unable to finish digging and distributing by the end of the day. When Krishna tells the same work to Karna, he just gathers the villagers near the hills and tells them that both the hills and the gold is theirs and encourages them to dig and take the gold. In no time both the hills are levelled and the work completed. What has happened? The problem with Arjuna is the problem of leadership today, he is working on his ego, ‘I am distributing the gold to help people’ while Karna is selfless and doesn’t let his ego master him, ‘I am just a facilitator to help people reach their goals. ‘Spiritual Leadership is Leadership minus the “I”.’

So, let’s try to understand what is Spiritual Leadership?” It is the kind of Leadership that helps you and others see your true worth and encourage yourself and your team to contribute to a greater cause that will outlive you.” If you look at some of the leaders of the yore whom we can consider as spiritual leaders, we have people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jamshetji Tata, Swami Vivekananda, Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. APJ Kalam, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, King Shivaji Maharaj, and many more. In our present age, we have leaders like Kailash Satyarthi, Mohammad Yunus, Malala Yousufzai, Ratan Tata, Oprah Winfrey, and countless others whom we can safely categorize as leaders who have a spiritual facet to their leadership. Please note here the names above are not of ‘perfect leaders’ they all had or have their shortcomings like we all do but I am considering them as leaders whose vision for their lives, organization, nation or people had or has a spiritual angle to it. For these leaders, leadership and spirituality go hand in hand.

Here before we look at some of things to imbibe in our leadership practices, I would like to clear the misconception that when I mean ‘Spirituality and Leadership’ here ‘Spirituality’ is not in the sense of being religious. Religiosity and Spirituality are totally different. Religiousness is defined as a basic system of organized beliefs and worship which a person practices, and spirituality is defined as a basic personal life principle which animates a transcendent quality of relationship to God. So, when we approach the term Spiritual Leadership, I take it as a life principle that is inherent in all of us that we need to realize and practice in all areas of our lives be it Leadership or other. Also, when I use the term Spiritual Leadership it is not limited to religious field like church, temple, mosque etc. It is an encompassing term that will include leadership in all areas of human life.

Here are some guiding steps that one can absorb in practicing Leadership to be a Spiritual Leader:

  1. Awareness:

Spiritual Leadership begins with a shift in perspective when one becomes aware of how she looks at herself and the people he/she is leading. In our Indian culture we say ‘Namaste’ when we greet others. It actually means, ‘The divine within me bows before the same divinity within you’. So, Leadership with Spirituality is knowing oneself and others as divine beings. Jesus Christ in the Bible tells people, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” A leader is aware that he/she is a divine being at the core and the people he/she is leading are divine too. Also, it is looking and being aware that people are not things to be used. It is being aware and looking at people holistically as human beings who have Intellect (Mind), Emotions (Heart), Body (Physical needs), and Spirit (Conscience, sense of meaningfulness). A Spiritual Leader does her best to engage people at all these levels that stimulate their intellect, provide for their needs, have an emotional bonding with people and work and help them to connect to a higher purpose. When Abraham Maslow gave his famous ‘pyramid of hierarchy of needs’ that motivated people he talked of Self Actualization as an authentic need that motivates intrinsically where people ‘become everything they are meant to become’. That’s a level Maslow refers to which transcends the ego to one’s authentic self which is Spiritual. Look at ‘Apple’ company’s vision that has a Spiritual angle to it “To make the best products on earth and leave the world a better place than we found it.” You get a team of people with fire in their bellies when you help them and motivate them to contribute to a purpose higher than themselves.

  1. Praxis:

Praxis means ‘practice’ or ‘action’. It is translating the idea into the doing. When we talk of Leadership and Spirituality, we have to see that all our actions are motivated not by the ego but by the ‘authentic self’ within us. It is to practice leadership that says ‘we’ and not ‘me’. Like the above story of Arjuna and Karna and how their actions were differently motivated. A leader who practices Spirituality always asks ‘What are my actions motivated by ego or a higher purpose?’ A Spiritual Leader will always ask, ‘Is there a better or higher way to do this?’ It is here that he/she will be able to translate the energies of people into a synergy that will always give a greater outcome. So, the Apple company doesn’t make products so that they can only serve themselves and their stakeholders. It makes great products to help people ease their work and, in the process, leave the world a better place. When Edmund Hillary, who along with Norgay Tenzing were the first humans to climb Mount Everest, was asked about their feat, he replied, “It’s not about conquering mountains, it is about conquering yourself.” That is an answer insinuated with spirituality! I attempt greater things so that I become more and help others be more in the process! Action that helps us to be more of who we are, be more aware and live on a higher level of consciousness. The Spiritual Leader sees that in the process of the ‘doing’ her people are becoming more too.

  1. Detachment:

Detachment is not getting attached. Many of the leaders we see today who lead organizations and institutes are attached to their titles like CEO, Chairman, Director, Principal, etc. Many of us feel that I am a leader when I have a title. But Spiritual leadership is detaching yourself from the title. It is connecting to your inner self and operating from this authentic self all the times whether you are a titular leader or not. Spiritual leaders commit themselves to a vision that outlives them. Mohammad Yunus who started the Grameen Bank, (Nobel Peace laureate) his vision is ‘To free the world of poverty’ Now such magnanimous visions don’t get accomplished in one’s lifetime. They may require a line of leaders and people as followers who will carry on the vision. That’s what happened when Barack Obama became the first Afro-American to be the President of the USA. The vision was seen generations ago when Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have a dream that one day my four little children will be able to live in a land where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.” So just because you are not a leader by title your vision, your dedication to a cause that is for the good of all doesn’t halt but people get motivated to carry it on. Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’ talks of Level 5 leadership, that is characterized by leaders who have a fierce professional will and great humility. They don’t want to win at the expense of the organization or people but they want the organization and their people to win even when they pass the baton to a future leader. Like Wal Mart’s Sam Walton who chose David Gloss after him as a leader who made sure that the organization further thrived in absence of the charismatic persona of Sam Walton. A Spiritual Leader plays his/her part, gives her best and when the time comes to move, she moves making sure she has built a team of competent leaders who can carry the baton, the vision forward. Let’s sum up our thoughts on Leadership and Spirituality by the quote of Mark Twain, “Great people are those who make other people feel that they too can become great.” Indeed, Leadership and Spirituality cannot be separated from each other and if someone thinks otherwise his functioning as a leader will be sans authenticity.

By Sohan Tiwade,

Professional Speaker, Corporate Soft-Skills Trainer – The Edge, and Asst. Professor at Sanjay Ghodawat Institutes.

Recent Posts