Yearly Archives: 2019


Luxury and Spirituality: Can they Meet?

The title and the question may appear as impossible contraries. In the popular conception luxury is associated with sensuous indulgence and enjoyment and spirituality with renunciation and asceticism. If we take the terms in this popular sense they can not meet. But when we examine the terms in a deeper, wider and more integral perspective, we may perhaps arrive at some connection and synthesis. This article is an attempt toward such a synthesis between luxury and spirituality and its implications for the luxury industry in the corporate world.

The Dimensions of Luxury

What is Luxury?

Oxford dictionary defines luxury and related words as :

  • Confortable and expensive living
  • An item that is expensive and enjoyable but not essential
  • Very comfortable, elegant and expensive
  • Giving pleasure to senses

We accept this dictionary meaning as a valid and important part of the meaning and aim of luxury. But there can be a broader conception of luxury which includes the dictionary meaning but also other higher dimension.

When the basic needs of the body are satisfied , there arises progressively or simultaneously higher needs of the vital, mind, heart and soul. Cladia Roth, a top executive in the luxury industry calls these higher needs as “soul luxury”.  (1)

If we accept this broader concept of luxury, we may conceive it in six dimension.

First is the vital need for a better enjoyment of life at the physical , vital and sensational level.

Second is the need for a better health and wellbeing of the body and mind.

Third is the heart’s need to love and to be loved and for harmonious relationship or for an emotionally satisfying experience, product or service at the level of feelings.

Fourth is the need for knowledge and understanding of our own self and the world at the mental level.

Fifth is the need to give, serve, or contribute to the wellbeing of the larger whole and care for others at the ethical level. Environment concerns belong to this category.

Sixth is the need to know the highest meaning and purpose of life at the spiritual level.

In general these six needs awakens progressively in an individual in the course of her evolution. However more than one need can be present simultaneously or awaken at the same time in an individual. According to Cladia Roth, most of the new, young, affluent consumers of luxury are seeking for these higher needs which goes beyond mere sensuous indulgence. Here are some interesting descriptions by Cladia Roth on the new customers of luxury.

“More than ever, the desire for emotional fulfillment is key in the consumption of experience. Increasingly, affluent consumers are looking to define themselves by their experiences rather by the goods they own. The transformation economy arrived like a super-car carrying a new passenger: the soul-seeking luxurian, riding an experiential wave of psychological and physical betterment towards spiritual growth and ultimate happiness,with a craving for transformational experiences within the holistic substate of wellness. The transformed consumer expected its suppliers to express and stand behing a set of world changing values – environmental, organic, natural, ethical, equitable, kind, benevolent, sincere, true”. (2)

From Luxury to Spirituality

Let us now look at the other end: spirituality. The concept of spirituality can be viewed at many angles, each one giving birth to a distinct definition with a stress on some aspects of spirituality. The emerging perspectives on spirituality are moving away from the traditional conceptions of world  denying asceticism and renunciation and gravitating towards a more life-affirming and integral vision.

For our present discussion we may take the evolutionary vision. In this perspective spirituality or the aim of spirituality may be viewed as the integral fulfillment of our human organisation at all the levels of our being – physical, vital, mental , ethical, aesthetic and spiritual – through a progressive evolution or unfolding of our potential at all these levels, and a harmonious integration of them around our highest spiritual self as the aim and goal of this evolution. Progressive awakening of the higher needs of the individuals at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels is part of this evolution.

The highest goals and experiences and realisation at the spiritual dimensions of consciousness are very far from most of us including those who were awakened to the higher needs. But an initial awakening to the spiritual ideal in the mind or heart is possible at any of the six levels of needs we have described earlier, which holds the key to the higher evolution of the luxury industry and fulfilling the needs of the luxury consumer.

Let us begin with the first need – better enjoyment of life. This is a legitimate need of the vital being which includes what is at present not regarded as luxury by the affluent middle class, like TV, car, microwave ovens, washing machines, travelling, tasty food and all kinds of amusement and enjoyments, and also what is regarded as luxury by all, like five –star hotels, luxury cars, expensive scents, jewels, fashion products. However there are two types of enjoyment. First is the gross, sensuous enjoyment which when not restrained by some higher ethical or aesthetic values degenerates into greed. Second is the higher aesthetic enjoyment of life governed by the values of beauty and harmony, which refines and uplifts our sensations, mind and heart and make them receptive to our spiritual self or in other worlds helps in our higher evolution. This aesthetic refinement and enjoyment of life is perhaps the higher aim of luxury.

At the second level of health and wellbeing, awakening to a more integral conception of health like for example harmony of the body, heart, mind and soul can lead to a higher awakening in the mind. Along with this highest ideal of health we may also try to provide some clear understanding of the factors which leads to a greater wellbeing at each level of our being – physical, vital, emotional, mental and spiritual – with some practical methods for achieving this higher states of wellness like for example, the healing power of peace and how to bring peace into our mind, self-healing powers of the body, visualization techniques, infusing consciousness into the body, trust in the Divine.

At the emotional level,awakening to the meaning of true love, how to cultivate positive feelings like kindness, generosity, benevolence in our heart and mind, and resolve interpersonal conflicts are some of the factors which can bring us closer to our higher nature and our spiritual self.

At the mental level whatever the type of knowledge or information that is sought, provide a deeper insight into the hidden and invisible realities or forces behind outer appearances or a more holistic integral concept or ideal can lead to a higher awakening in the individual.

At the ethical level, providing a deeper understanding of the meaning of charity and the act of giving like for example how “grow by giving” is the great law of life, and the unity of consciousness as the spiritual foundation of ethics can elevate the ethical need to the spiritual level.

At the spiritual level the main idea to be communicated is that the highest purpose of life is to discover our true self beyond our ego, which is an eternal spark of the Divine and dwells in the inner most depth of our heart, and as a result enter into inner communion or union with the Divine which is the spiritual source of our being.

Meeting Soul Luxury

We are now brought to the question how to satisfy the needs of “soul-luxury” which we have discussed so far at the corporate level in the luxury industry. The first step is to understand the cluster of needs of each customer – or a group of customers who are more or less at the same level of needs – and provide them with a concept, feeling or experience which can lead at once to a higher awakening or to evolutionary progress and a deep inner satisfaction and fulfillment which brings large benefits in the bottomline. Whatever may be nature or level of the need, aesthetics and emotions holds the key to this synthesis.

We are at present moving towards what many management gurus call as “experience economy”. In this emerging, more subjective economy, what the customer feels or experiences of a product is more important than the product as such. Those companies which are able to provide an experience not only pleasant and enjoyable to the sensations but also meaningful and elevating by fulfilling some of the higher needs beyond enjoyment, will be the winners in attracting and retaining the affluent customers of luxury products. The ideal or aim for the luxury industry is to create an atmosphere of beauty, harmony, caring and kindness through the entire productcycle from, buying, long use and reliable service.


References and Notes

1.Claudia Roth is the founder and Managing Director of Soul Luxury.Previously she was the Vice President,Europe,Middle East and Africa for The Leading Hotels of the World known for the largest luxury hotel collection across 75 countries.

2.Claudia Roth and Sue Liburd MBE,Insight Report,Soul Luxury, “Spot light on the ‘spiritualised customer ’,


Directing Attention For Effective Leadership M.S.Srinivasan

Our human organism or consciousness is rich with many faculties and powers. One of the most important among them is the faculty of attention which means the ability to direct and fix our attention on an object. This essay is a review of an article in Harvard Business Review on this subject of attention and its application for leadership by the well-known psychologist, Daniel Goleman, who conceived the idea of emotional intelligence. This review looks at the article by Goleman in the light of Yogic psychology.

The Advent of Yoga in Management

This faculty of attention is very well known in the spiritual and Yogic traditions of the east; it is the basis of what is called as meditation, concentration or mindfulness. The yogis of the east used this faculty extensively for their spiritual development. As eastern religious and spiritual thoughts and practices entered into the west, initially, interest in them was confined to a few thinkers, scholars and seekers. But later, scientific mind of the west took a large interest in Yoga and meditation and so many studies and research were conducted on the effect and benefits of meditation on health and wellbeing of our body and mind. At present, there is a growing interest in the west in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. Sometimes back US military has made it a part of the training programme for their soldiers. Recently, British government has included mindfulness as a part of curriculum in all its government schools. And now the pragmatic mind in business and management is exploring the concepts and practices of eastern thoughts and practices and its practical implications for management and leadership. This article under review, The Focused Leader by Daniel Goleman in Harvard Business Review, belonged to this category of enquiry or studies.

The spiritual purist may despise these recent developments as dilution of spirituality for mundane aims. But there is nothing intrinsically spiritually in practices like meditation, mindfulness and concentration. They are mainly mental methods and techniques for harnessing the powers of the mind. They have acquired a spiritual association or connotation because these practices were used by yogis for their spiritual development and achieving spiritual aims. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong if these practices are used for mundane aims.

The Faculty of Attention

What is precisely this faculty of attention? It is the ability to focus the awareness and energy of our mind or consciousness on a particular object. This object may be an outer object or an inner object like a thought, idea or a feeling within us. Daniel Goleman classified the modes of attention into three categories; focusing on oneself, focusing on others, and focusing on the world. Goleman explains: “Grouping these modes of attention into three broad buckets – focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the wider world – sheds new light on the practice of many essential leadership skills. Focusing inward and focusing constructively on others helps leaders cultivate the primary elements of emotional intelligence. A fuller understanding of how they focus on the wider world can improve their ability to device strategy and manage innovation.”

Here are some interesting passages from the article which shows how some of the traditional ideas and practices of Indian Yoga on meditation, concentration, mindfulness, willpower, and control over desires are entering into and accepted by the mainstream thinking in management and psychology.

*Attention is a mental muscle; like any other muscle, it can be strengthened through the right kind of exercise. The fundamental step for building deliberate attention is simple: when your mind wanders, notice that it has wandered, bring it back to your desired points of focus and keep it there as long as you can. That basic exercise is at the root of virtually every kind of meditation. Meditation builds concentration and calmness and facilitates recovery from the agitation of stress.

*A variety of focus that is useful here is open awareness, in which we broadly notice that what’s going on in and around us without getting caught up or swept away by any particular thing. In this mode we don’t judge, censor or tune out; we simply perceive.

*‘’Cognitive control” is the scientific term for putting one’s attention where one wants it and keeping it there in the face of temptation to wander.

*How we focus holds the key to exercising willpower. Three truths of cognitive control are at play when you pit self-restraint against self-gratification; the ability to voluntarily disengage your focus from an object of desire; the ability to resist distraction so that you don’t gravitate back to that object; and the ability to concentrate on the future goal and imagine how good you feel when you achieve it.

The Light of Mindfulness

 In the yogic perspective, our consciousness has two aspects: awareness and energy. At the mental level, awareness manifests itself as the essential awareness of the mind, which is the Light of Attention and the energy aspect expresses itself in the active part of the mind as thoughts, feelings and will. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness helps to separate the awareness aspect from the energy aspect of the mind. The main principle of the discipline is inner detachment from all the inner movements of our consciousness which means not to identify with them and also not to judge them as good or bad or pass comments on them. Here is a passage from a Mahayana Buddhist text on a form of mindfulness practice:

“Think not of the past. Think not of the future. Think not thou art actually engaged in meditation—-. Whatever thoughts, or concepts or obscuring (or disturbing) passion arise are neither to be abandoned or allowed to control one; they are to be allowed to rise without one’s trying to direct (or shape) them. If one do more than merely to recognise them as soon as they arise, and persist in so doing, they will come to be realised (or to dawn) in their true form though not being abandoned.”

The other part of the discipline of mindfulness is alert vigilance. The ideal here is not to allow even a single thought, feeling or sensation to go unconscious – to be fully conscious with an alert mind the entire origin and process of all the moments of our consciousness, as they rise, stay or pass out of our awareness.

From the point of view of leadership, the most important domain of attention is to observe our inner reactions to people, things, events and circumstances and how we form our opinions and judgements and decisions. We can see how our likes and dislikes, preferences, biases and prejudges and our natural or temperamental inclination subtly influences our opinions and judgements. Mindfulness will help the leader to inwardly detach her inner self from her outer personality and see how the opinions, feelings and reactions of this surface persona influences her judgement and decision. This will help the leader to liberate her consciousness from all personal elements and keep it impersonal and objective, which can see things as they are without any personal reactions and enhance her capacity to arrive at better decisions. 

The Power of Concentration

Mindfulness is only one part or aspect of developing the power of attention. The other part or aspect is the power of concentration, which means the ability to focus all the awareness and energy of our mind in a single object and keep it as long as we want. The importance of concentration for a leader is obvious.

Our mind is a form of energy, mental energy. And any form of energy, physical, vital, mental or spiritual, when it is focussed and concentrated magnifies its power of action and effectiveness. In the physical level, Laser is a concrete example to show how concentration can increases the effective forces of an energy. Laser is concentrated light energy which can penetrate and drill through steel. In the same way, when the mental energy is concentrated into sharp and intense focus, it enhances its light and power in almost all its parameters of performance – efficiency, knowledge, insight, penetration, depth efficiency, power. As the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram describes what concentration can do to a person.

“….Whatever you may want to do in life, one thing is absolutely indispensable and at the basis of everything, the capacity of concentrating the attention. If you are able to gather together the rays of attention and consciousness on one point and can maintain this concentration with a persistent will, nothing can resist….. You can be the best athlete, you can be the best student, literary or scientific genius, you can be the greatest saint with that faculty. And every one has in himself a tiny little beginning of it – it is given to everybody, but people do not cultivate it’’.

For a more detailed discussion on this subject of concentration in the corporate context readers may see the following articles of this reviewer in this blog:

  1. Power of concentration for Enhancing Productivity.
  2. Power of Focus

 Qualities of the Heart

However, mindfulness and concentration are not enough to become a truly effective leader. Concentration is like a double edged sword. It can be used for good or bad purposes. In Indian Mythology, the dark forces called Asuras are described as beings with great powers of concentration, but they use this power for selfish aims and to conquer and subjugate their enemies. Similarly, in an English novel, the author describes a terrorist who sits in a classical meditative posture in desert sands, calms his mind, concentrates inwards and gets a brilliant idea on how to kidnap the president of America!

To become a truly effective leader, powers of the mind like concentration has to serve the qualities of the heart like empathy, compassion, kindness, benevolence. Here is an interesting story on this idea from the Indian tradition.

A king comes to a spiritual teacher with his young son and says “Sir, this young boy will be the next king and inherit my kingdom. I want him to be an ideal king. How to train him to be the best king?” The teacher says “Leave him with me for three months. I will make him a true leader”. The king agrees and leaves his son with the teacher. The next day, from morning to noon the teacher narrates to the boy many stories on kindness, compassion and benevolence. And in the evening, the teacher says to the boy “In the morning, you have heard so many stories on kindness. Now, in the evening you go out into the world and practice what you have learnt from these stories. Try to find as many opportunities as possible to be kind, compassionate and helpful to people you come across. This will be the training programme for you everyday for the next three months, until your father comes to take you back”.

After three months, the king comes back to take his son. The teacher says to the king “I have trained your son to be a true ruler. He has acquired the heart of an ideal king. He will not misuse his power for his own selfish ends. He will serve the people in your kingdom with compassion and kindness”.

In this article under review, Daniel Goleman recognises the importance of these qualities of the heart for leadership. But the discussion is highly analytical using the concept and terminology of Empathy. He classifies empathy into three categories:

  1. Cognitive empathy: ability to understand the other person’s perspective.
  2. Emotional empathy: ability to feel what other person falls.
  3. Empathetic concern: the ability to sense what other person needs from you.

However, this approach appears to be a little too mental. Secondly, in this article Goleman doesn’t say anything about how to develop empathy or other qualities of the heart which we have mentioned earlier. Here comes the importance of the yogic approach to the cultivation of the heart and its qualities.

According to the Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo, there are two hearts in us. First is the lower emotional being, which is the source of negative feelings like anger, jealousy, and violence. The other one is the deeper psychic heart where dwells the soul or the divinity in us. This psychic heart is the source of all higher feelings like love, generosity, kindness, benevolence, compassion. For awakening the qualities of the psychic heart, we have to pursue a two-fold disciplines. First one is to reject all negative feelings which comes from the lower heart, not by struggling with it, but not identifying with it as our own, with an inner detachment. Second discipline is to consciously cultivate all the positive feelings which belong to the deeper psychic heart. For a leader, the main qualities which need to be cultivated are:

* A genuine concern for the wellbeing of others.

* Understanding of the inner and outer needs and aspirations of each individual and the group and making a sincere attempt to fulfil them as much as possible within the constraints of the organisation.

* Extending a helpful hand to people for resolving their difficulties and problems.

* Generosity of the heart and a merciful attitude which is willing to forgive mistakes and helps people to learn from their errors.

There are some more factors which can help in awakening the psychic heart:

* Purification of the mind and heart from all forms of self-seeking in our thought, feelings, motives and actions. An alert mindfulness can help in this task of self-purification. And on the positive side consciously cultivate the attitude of self-giving in our inner movements and outer acts.

* Regular meditation on the psychic heart, turning the attention inward towards the depth of the heart and if we are of the religious and spiritual type visualising the Divine as dwelling in the heart.



The Indian Ethos to Management

(A review and a commentary of the book on “Conversations on the Remaking of Managers” by Dr. Daniel Albuquerque and Dr. Subhash Sharma, IBA Publications, with suggestions for implementation.)

Our modern seers of India like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda have repeatedly emphasised that for building a new India, we have to rediscover the vision, values, ideals and methods of our ancient Indian seers who have built the Indian Civilisation on spiritual principles and reformulate and reapply these principles for building a glorious future for India.  This has to be done in every activity of life – culture, society, politics, business, management, philosophy, art, literature, science, technology, and environment.  This book under review by Daniel Albuquerque and Dr. Subhash Sharma is a quest in this direction in the field of business and management – towards an Indian ethos to Management.

Dr. Subhash Sharma is an accomplished scholar and educator in management and an institution builder.  Through his books and scientific papers he has established a distinct identity for Indian Management Education.  Dr. Daniel Albuquerque is a student of economics, literature and philosophy.  He has a doctorate from The Julius Maximilian University, Würzburg, Germany, a member of the Franz Brentano Research Centre of the same University and a visiting professor at the Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany.  His experience spans across academic, corporate, political and cultural fields both in India and abroad.

Towards Indian Synthesis:

The entire book was in the form of a conversation between the authors Subhash and Daniel and covers subjects very relevant to the present condition and future potentialities of management and development like harmonising material and spiritual heritage, holistic economic development, environment and sustainable development, enlightened corporate citizen, leader as seer, seat of wisdom.  The authors present many interesting ideas, theories, models and formulas based on the Indian ethos to management.

In the first chapter, “Initiation to Intuition” the authors quote a striking and beautiful passage from Albert Einstein.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Subhash and Daniel state, “the West relies on analytic thought and East depends upon synthetic reflection.  The very word ‘Darshan’ for philosophy implies intuition or ‘Direct perception’ of the truth”.  They sum up their philosophy in terms of three principles:

1. A synthesis of the spiritual values and the scientific achievements of the East and West.

2. Management as a combination of the rational-analytic and intuitive holistic approaches based on the equation: Wisdom = Reason + Intuition.

3. Holistic development of an individual through a balance of five aspects viz. Physical, practical, aesthetic, moral and intellectual.  A blending of traditional and modernity rooted in Indian ethos.

The authors of this book conceive the aim of Indian ethos to management as “self-evolution into a cosmic being” and the process or path to it as “from the outer to the inner, from the natural to the supernatural, from the conscious to the spiritual consciousness.”  In the chapter on environment and sustainable development, “Mother Earth and Her Tenets,” the authors conceive a path of integration of Ethics, Ecology, Equity and Efficiency as the aim of what they call as “Earth Shastra.”  With regard to the meaning of spirituality, Subhash states:

Spirituality is a manifestation of subtle and soft powers hidden in all human beings and even nations.  In fact, there are four powers in consonance with Body, Heart, Spirit and Hope (Higher Order Purpose of Existence)….spirituality is manifested through subtle, suprasubtle and HOPE powers”.

We, who are part of the team at SAFIM, greatly appreciate these ideas which are holistic and elevating and very much in harmony with our own thinking and the work we are doing for evolving an integral approach to management.  This book by Subhash and Daniel is a valuable contribution towards bringing the dharmic and spiritual ideals of India to Management and Human Development.

A Framework for Implementation

However, we need some kind of a blue-print for the implementation of these ideas in every activity of human life.  Here comes the importance of an Indian principle which needs to be understood, disseminated widely for an effective implementation of the Indian ethos to management or development.  This principle may be described as ”From Within Outwards,” which means whatever that needs to be realised in the outer life has to be first internalised within, in the consciousness of the people, and then flow out spontaneously in the outer life in suitable forms.  This means the primary focus or the key result area of Indian ethos will be Education and Communication, which implants the ideas deep in the consciousness of the people.

The central idea to be conveyed is the meaning of spirituality.  The concept, which needs to be communicated, is that there is a higher consciousness within every human being, which is beyond the rational mind, which can bring the highest fulfilment to human being, which is the source of all higher values and aspirations like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, love, unity, and perfection.  It has to be conveyed that this consciousness is not something idealistic or abstract with no connection or practical implications for the world.  When this higher consciousness is awakened in human being and made to manifest in human life and the world, it can lead to the highest wellbeing and perfection of human life, in every sphere, in economics, politics, society, and business.  People have to be told that this higher consciousness knows the truth of the world better than the greatest scientific expert of the world because it knows the deepest, highest and the inner most truth of the world in its holistic totality with a clear vision of the immediate and long-term consequences of each action for the wellbeing of human life and the world, which a scientific expert may not know.

The most essential quality of this higher consciousness is unity and oneness.  This consciousness is our own universal Self where we can feel all others as part of our own self, as concretely as we feel our body as our own self.  As we become more and more open and receptive to this consciousness of oneness, we begin to feel the unity and interdependence of all life and know with deep, intuitive feeling that our own progress, wellbeing and fulfilment is closely linked and connected with the wellbeing, fulfilment and progress of all others and the larger whole of life.  This concept of spiritual unity of all being and life and its consequences for conduct, action and decision making have to be communicated with clarity in simple words, and with images, symbols and stories to make the idea tangible to feelings and sensations.

Concepts and ideas, though important, are not enough.  We must also provide the method for awakening of this higher consciousness in the individual and also in the collectivity.  This is the essence of Indian Yoga.  The main methods which are to be conveyed  are inner purification of the mind and heart from all negative thoughts and feelings like anger, jealousy, lust, violence and conversely, cultivating sattwic thoughts and feelings like kindness, generosity, benevolence, practice of inner calm, peace and silence; aesthetic refinement of mind and senses through art and music and developing the inner sensitivity for beauty and harmony in all activities of life; intuitive perception by listening to the inner guidance in silence.  Work in the spirit of Karmayoga, as an offering to the Divine without seeking for anything in return.

This is the task in the sphere of education, which is the most important work to be done for awakening the higher nature and the spiritual self in people, but this is also not enough.  There is the other part of the work of management and organisation, which is to create an outer environment favourable to the inner progress of the individual in the higher mental ethical, aesthetic and spiritual dimension – and also helps to express this inner progress in the outer life of work and action.  This work involves creating motivation systems, organisational structures and education and training programmes.

In this domain of outer organisation, we have to explore the practical implication of ancient Indian values in the modern context.  First is the Indian concept of Swadharma.  One of the basic principles of the ancient Indian social organisation is that each individual has to find an outer occupation, which is in harmony with his inborn inner nature and temperament called as Swadharma.  This principle later degenerated into the caste system, but the principle is both psychologically and logically sound.  The modern psychometric test conducted by many organisations is only a method to assess the swadharma of the individual.  We have to build methods and in the school, college, and work, by which each individual can discover his unique swadharma, talents and capacities and find an outer occupation which matches his inner constitution.

There is one more Indian idea which can be of great help in implementing the spiritual ideal; it is the concept of graded evolution through various stages called as Adhikari Bedha, which means, roughly translated, “differentiation according to fitness.”  All are not capable of living the highest spiritual ideals.  In fact, only a few have the inner moral and spiritual resources to live this higher ideals with an entire dedication and sincerity and still few have the inner capacity to realise the ideal in their consciousness.  Others have to grow towards it slowly through intermediary ideals and stages.

Every human being has to be given some basic understanding of the higher ideals and aims of life, but for practical motivation, she has to be guided through lesser ideals and progressive stages to her highest destiny.

The leadership task is to understand each individual and groups as they are in their present condition and help them to take the next higher step in evolution.  The general pattern of this evolution is from physical, vital and mental to spiritual.  Those who live predominantly in their physical or bodily consciousness remaining satisfied with the basic needs of their body have to progress towards their vital consciousness by awakening them to their vital needs for relationship, power, wealth, achievement and enjoyment, but with some ethical restraints.  Similarly, those live in the vital consciousness driven by the need for power, wealth, achievement have to be awakened to the mental ideals of truth and knowledge, beauty, harmony and unity, love, compassion and kindness.  For those who have attained the heights of mental development and live in their well-developed intellectual, ethical or aesthetic being have to be awakened by their highest spiritual aims.



Uplifting Stewardship

(A profile of a great political leader who can be a role model of inspired leadership for a country or the CEO of a company.)

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

-Abraham Lincoln

There are two kinds of leadership. First one is of the ordinary kind which at the best can maintain an efficient status quo and at the worst allows things to degenerate into a chaos. The second one is the uplifting leadership which can save alive a nation’s soul from disaster and raise the individual and corporate life to a higher level of values. Abraham Lincoln is an exemplar of this second kind of leadership. Lincoln is a legend among American people and one of the most admired heroes of American historian and biographers. Numberless biographies are written on him in America. This case study is based on the following sources:

  1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by the Pulitzer Prize winner, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster Paperback.
  2. “Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln” A Conversation with Doris Goodwin in Harvard Business Review, 1st April 2009

The Leader of Rivals

We can get a glimpse of Lincoln’s character when we look at the composition of the Cabinet formed by him after he was elected as the President of US. Lincoln made his arch political rivals his core cabinet team. Initially, none of them liked Lincoln and some of them looked down upon him with contempt and scorn, but Lincoln won over them by his extraordinary character and personality. Stanton, his Secretary of War, who once described Lincoln contemptuously as a ‘long-armed ape,’ became one of his greatest admirers and later said that Lincoln was the “best among us” and “superhuman” in his magnanimity. Similarly, another member of the Cabinet, Bates, who regarded Lincoln as weak and incompetent, later admired him as a near perfect-human being. Goodwin describes this aspect of Lincoln’s characters and leadership:

“It soon became clear; however, that Abraham Lincoln would emerge the undisputed captain of this most unusual cabinet, truly a team of rivals. The powerful competitors who had originally disdained Lincoln became colleagues who helped him steer the country through its darkest days.” Seward was the first to appreciate Lincoln’s remarkable talents, quickly realizing the futility of his plan to relegate the president to a figurehead role. In the months that followed, Seward would become Lincoln’s closest friend and advisor in the administration. Though Bates initially viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning, but incompetent administrator, he eventually concluded that the president was an unmatched leader, ‘very near being a perfect man.’ Edwin Stanton, who had treated Lincoln with contempt at their initial acquaintance, developed a great respect for the commander-in-chief and was unable to control his tears for weeks after the president’s death. Even Chase, whose restless ambition for the presidency was never realized, at last acknowledged that Lincoln had outmaneuvered him.

Lincoln’s cabinet colleagues were not only his political rivals, but also strong and powerful personalities with a big ego and of very different temperament. For example, Stanton is virtually the opposite of Lincoln in character. “No two men were ever more utterly and irreconcilably unlike,” Stanton’s private secretary, A.E. Johnson, observed. “The secretiveness which Lincoln wholly lacked, Stanton had in marked degree; the charity which Stanton could not feel coursed from every pore in Lincoln. Lincoln was for giving a wayward subordinate seventy times seven chances to repair his errors; Stanton was for either forcing him to obey or cutting off his head without more ado. Lincoln was as calm and unruffled as the summer sea, even in moments of the gravest peril; Stanton would lash himself into over the same condition of things. Stanton would take hardships with a groan; Lincoln would find a funny story to fit them. Stanton was all dignity and sternness, Lincoln all simplicity and good nature…yet no two men ever did or could work better in harness. They supplemented each other’s nature, and they fully recognized the fact that they were a necessity to each other.”

These perceptive comments bring out forcefully Lincoln’s character and his leadership style. He was never surrounded by weak sycophants, but was accompanied always by strong men who will always complement him, which means who can support him with skills and qualities which he himself lacked. They are also men who thought very differently from Lincoln and bold enough to express their disagreement in strong words. Lincoln came to power when his nation was in peril and on the verge of getting split into North and South on the issue of slavery. Lincoln felt strongly that in such a crisis situation, personal likes and dislikes and old animosities or hurt feelings should be set aside in choosing the leaders of a nation. When people asked him why he chose his rivals as his colleagues, Lincoln replied: “we needed the strongest men of the party in the cabinet. I had looked the party over and concluded these were the strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.” Thus Lincoln did not deliberately choose his rivals as his cabinet colleagues. He chose them because he felt that his rivals are the most able men in his party and the country. As Goodwin points out:

“But you have to remember, the idea is not just to put your rivals in power—the point is that you must choose the best and most able people in the country, for the good of the country. Lincoln came to power when the nation was in peril, and he had the intelligence, and the self-confidence, to know that he needed the best people by his side, people who were leaders in their own right and who were very aware of their own strengths. That’s an important insight whether you’re the leader of a country or the CEO of a company.”

The Inner Charisma

What made Lincoln the most beloved leader among American people? He cast a spell and a charm over whoever came into contact with him and transformed his rivals into his staunch supporters, friends and admirers, but, Lincoln was not outwardly a charismatic personality. He was tall and lanky, but awkward in his features, appearance and manners with a melancholic sadness in his face. As Goodwin recounts some of the observations of Lincoln’s contemporaries on his outer appearance:

“Lincoln’s shock of black hair, brown furrowed face and deep-set eyes made him look older than his fifty-one years. He was a familiar figure to almost everyone in Springfield, as was his singular way of walking, which gave the impression that his long, gaunt frame needed oiling. He plodded forward in an awkward manner, hands hanging at his sides or folded behind his back. His step had no spring, his partner William Herndon recalled. He lifted his whole foot at once rather than lifting from the toes and then thrust the whole foot down on the ground rather than landing on his heel. “His legs,” another observer noted, “seemed to drag from the knees down, like those of a labourer going home after a hard day’s work.”

Thus Lincoln’s charisma comes not from his external personality, but from the character of his inner being which came to the front when he started speaking. As a reporter, Horace White observed, “Yet, when Lincoln began to speak, this expression of sorrow dropped from him instantly. His face lighted up with a winning smile and where I had a moment before seen only leaden sorrow I now beheld keen intelligence, genuine kindness of heart and the promise of true friendship.” All those who came into contact with Lincoln felt this extraordinary inner presence. “It wasn’t anything immediately felt as charisma” states Goodwin, “His popularity almost came from inside out. His cabinet was the first to see something unusual about him. Take William Seward, who originally was a rival. Some eight weeks after becoming secretary of state, Seward wrote to his wife that Lincoln was unlike anyone he’d ever known. Other members of the cabinet came to think so, too. One after another, they came to power thinking Lincoln was rather unexceptional and ended up believing that he was as near a perfect man as anyone they’d ever met.”

This inner character of Lincoln was made of a sharp, brilliant mind, gifted speech, a will persistently focussed on the purpose and above all an extremely magnanimous heart—all the qualities of a born leader.

We will not enter into the perennial debate on whether a leader is born or made? In the integral perspective it is both. In every human being, there is an external personality and an inner being. The external self is mostly shaped by the outer environment and genetics, and the inner being contains the accumulated result of our past evolution through many births. Both these external and inner being can grow and develop through a process of unconscious natural evolution and a self-directed conscious evolution, through education, experience and discipline. However, the inner being of a person is to a certain extent born. A well-developed inner being, the “born” element in a person, can come forward and make itself felt even during childhood or the early years of growth. Most of the great leaders including Lincoln exhibit leadership qualities during their early years of child and youth. Goodwin recounting the childhood days of Lincoln, writes:

Even as a child, Lincoln dreamed heroic dreams. From the outset, he was cognizant of a destiny far beyond that of his unlettered father and hardscrabble childhood. “He was different from those around him,” the historian Douglas Wilson writes. “He knew he was unusually gifted and had great potential.” To the eyes of his schoolmates, Lincoln was “clearly exceptional,” Lincoln biographer David Donald observes, “and he carried away from his brief schooling the self-confidence of a man who has never met his intellectual equal.” His mind and ambition, his childhood friend Nathaniel Grigsby recalled, “Soared above us. He naturally assumed the leadership of the boys. He read & thoroughly read his books whilst we played. Hence he was above us and became our guide and leader.”

The sadness in Lincoln’s personality is predominantly external, probably the result of his hard and difficult childhood and youth, but as the reporter Horace White observed when Lincoln speaks his inner being came into the front animating his outer self.

Leading from the Heart

Lincoln was endowed with a keen and wide intelligence, but he was not an intellectual by temperament. He was basically a man of action who led from his heart. One of the most prominent qualities of his personality, which made him an endearing leader, is his Himalayan magnanimity, which his cabinet colleague, Stanton, describes as “superhuman.” This superlative appreciation of Stanton was perhaps based on his own experience of Lincoln’s magnanimity. Stanton was a professional rival of Lincoln. When Lincoln was pursuing his career as a lawyer, Stanton deprived Lincoln of a lucrative offer from a client, by talking ill of Lincoln and persuading the client to give the assignment to him. Stanton told the client: “Why did you bring that long-armed Ape here–he does not know anything and do no good.” However, Lincoln remained in the court to see Stanton representing his client. Lincoln listened with rapt attention and was very much impressed by Stanton’s talent as a lawyer and his dedication to his profession and his client. Later, when Lincoln became president and met Stanton after six years, he offered Stanton the most powerful and important post as the Secretary of War.

Goodwin regards this “singular ability to transcend personal vendetta, humiliation or bitterness” as one of the great leadership qualities of Lincoln. Stanton was won over by Lincoln’s magnanimity and “   come to respect and love Lincoln more than any other person outside of his immediate family.” Lincoln’s magnanimity was not confined to his VIP colleagues, but flowed equally to people in all the levels of the economic, social and political hierarchy. Here is an interesting episode recounted by Goodwin:

“The story is told of an army colonel who rode out to the Soldiers’ Home, hopeful of securing Lincoln’s aid in recovering the body of his wife, who had died in a steamboat accident.  His brief period of relaxation interrupted, Lincoln listened to the colonel’s tale, but offered no help.  “Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape this constant call? Why do you follow me out here with such business as this?” The disheartened colonel returned to his hotel in Washington.  The following morning, Lincoln appeared at his door, “I was a brute last night,” Lincoln said, offering to help the colonel in any way possible.”

This magnanimity of Lincoln’s temperament expressed itself in his mind as a wide, mental, tolerance with a readiness to listen to, accept, understand or learn from different and conflicting view-points or in otherwords, the ability for democratic leadership. Lincoln listened patiently with a genuine openness to the view-points of his colleagues before coming to a decision. The other aspects of his mental magnanimity is his willingness to accept his mistakes and also assume responsibility for others mistakes. “He was able to acknowledge his errors and learn from his mistakes” says Goodwin and “took responsibility for what he did and he shared responsibility for the mistakes of others.”

The other important quality of Lincoln’s character is his empathy, which according to Goodwin is the ability to “put himself in the place of another, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.” Lincoln was uncommonly tenderhearted. He once stopped and tracked back half a mile to rescue a pig caught in mire. This quality of empathy made Lincoln not only compassionate and a little melancholic, but also successful as a leader. As Goodwin explains:

“Though Lincoln’s empathy was at the root of his melancholy, it would prove an enormous asset to his political career. “His crowning gift of political diagnosis,” suggested Nicolay, “was due to his sympathy…which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his chair, and say: “From your talk, I gather the democrats will do so and so…I should do so and so to checkmate them.” He proceeded to outline all “the moves for days ahead; making them all so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves.” Such capacity to intuit the inward feelings and intentions of others would be manifest throughout his career.”

As we said earlier, Lincoln was a little melancholic, but not depressed. On the contrary, had remarkable sense of humour, which he regarded as the “joyous, universal evergreen of life” and as an integral part of his personality. Lincoln’s humour is not cynical, but “life-affirming” and almost everyone who came into contact with Lincoln testified that he was “an extraordinarily-funny man.” Lincoln was a born story-teller who charmed people with his witty lore’s which are not only funny, but with a moral significance. While talking about the early youthful years of Lincoln, Goodwin writes:

“In these convivial settings, Lincoln was invariably the center of attention. No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories or his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth. As his winding tales became more famous, crowds of villagers awaited his arrival at every stop for the chances to hear a master storyteller. Everywhere he went, he won devoted followers, friendships that later emboldened his quest for office.”

This sense of humour, and the gift for oratory and storytelling made Lincoln a great communicator, which enhanced his effectiveness as a leader. “This great story-telling talent and oratorical skill” states Goodwin “would eventually constitute his stock-in-trade throughout both his legal and political career. The passion for rendering experience into powerful language remained with Lincoln throughout his life.”

MS Srinivasan