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Integrating Diversity in the Organisation

Unity in Diversity is one of the fundamental principles of life; it is also the right foundation for the long-term success and effectiveness of a group like a community, organisation or nation. As an organisation expands and diversifies into many distinct units or division, it has to forge a common ground which gives identity and stability to the group. This article examines this problem of forging unity in diversity in an organisation in the form of a case study.

The Challenge of Unification

Liu Seng, COO of Matz Hotels recalled the concluding remarks of his boss, Vijay Malhotra, CEO and the founder of Matz when he took charge as the COO of Matz. Vijay told Seng:

“We built our company in the beginning on the strategic principles of uniqueness, diversity and radical decentralization. 

We can say we are fairly successful in this strategic thrust. But the main problem we are facing at present is the lack of a common identity. Each unit head is running his or her hotel-like his or her little fiefdom without much connection or allegiance to the larger corporate whole. 

I strongly feel if we want to move forward and further, we have to build connectivity, a common thread, and a unifying theme. I would like to take this as your first mission.”

Matza Hotels is one of most diversified hotel chains in Asia with its hotels in almost all the big commercial and tourist centres of Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong, India, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka with a wide range of city, beach and mountain hotels; hotels for families, couples, singles, business people, historical, young, old; spas, conference centres. The company had always preferred to emphasise the distinct personalities of its properties, each of which is tailored to its locale. Operations were highly decentralized. 

Each hotel retained its own identity, managed its own business with full P\L responsibility, ran its own incentive programme and handled its relations with key-intermediaries. The benefit was diversity and flexibility. The downside was, as Vijay Malhotra explained to Seng, lack of a larger and common identity of the Matz brand or group among the employees as well as customers.

Seng thought what Matz needs at present is a common culture that binds employees and effective branding which projects a unique corporate identity of Matz to its customers. As the first step in this difficult journey, Seng decided to have personal discussions with senior executives of Matz and the managers of some of the most well-managed and profitable hotels in the Matz chain.

Seng’s first choice was Kim Borswik, Manager of a luxurious Matz hotel in Hong Kong. Kim was a young, attractive 32-year old, South Korean woman, with a successful career in the hotel industry. Kim greeted Seng with a warm smile and a soft handshake. “Welcome to Hong Kong,” said Kim. “Is this your first visit to Hong Kong.” Seng said, “I have been here a few times before.” After some formal small talks, Seng asked in a soft voice, “Kim I have already briefed you regarding what we are trying to do to give a new direction to Matz. Tell me frankly what do you feel about it.” Kim looked straight at Seng’s eyes for a few seconds and said, “I hope you don’t mind if I am frank.” “In fact, I prefer and appreciate frankness much more than a polite acceptance,” replied Seng. After a few minutes of silence Kim said thoughtfully: “Seng, culture, branding is traditional management methodologies. But I am not sure whether they are needed for a richly-diversified company like Matz. If you want culture, this diversity, uniqueness of each hotel and the independence and autonomy of our managers, is our culture. Regarding branding, it is a western concept and companies in the west spend much money on this concept. But we don’t know to what extent it helps in improving customer response. You must note Seng, that most of the highly successful Asian companies do not spend much money on branding. As long as our hotels are making money, employees and customer are happy. Then what is the need for creating a new culture or branding?” 

Seng felt a genuine appreciation for the sharp mind of this young woman manager, though he did not entirely agree with her. 

“You have made a valid point, Kim,” said Seng. “However don’t you think we need a common uniting thread running through our hotel and present a common image to our customer on what we stand for as a group.” “Maybe,” said Kim “Look, Seng, I am not against culture or branding, but it requires much thought and consideration.” Seng said with a smile, “Yes, I agree. Thank you, Kim, for your thoughtful points, which I will keep in mind.” As Seng rose from his seat holding Kim’s hands, Kim said, “There is one more point, Seng. I am telling this based on my interactions with other managers of Matz hotels. This independence, autonomy we have here is a unique advantage of Matz for attracting talent. 

I came to Matz because of this autonomy rejecting other lucrative offers from more reputed hotel chains.”

As Seng went through his first round of discussions with Matz’s managers he found most of them had more or similar views as that of Kim. There is a general resistance to the new initiative. How to overcome this resistance and build common ground?

Building a Binding Purpose

The resistance from Matz’s managers is not surprising. They are living a comfortable life in their own small fiefdom and therefore they are apprehensive that the new initiative may disturb the status quo. There were valid points in Kim’s argument especially related to branding, autonomy and attracting talent. However, more diversified and decentralized a company, greater the need for a unifying force that can create a larger whole which is more than the sum of its parts. 

If the organisation can create such a larger whole, it enhances the energy level of each unit as well as the organisation as a whole, because the energy of the whole flows into each part.

Seng is also right in thinking that culture can be such a unifying force. The essence of culture is shared vision, values or a purpose. Each company has to find a unifying system of values. But what is the criterion for determining these values? The system of values for an organisation must have a universal as well as a specific dimension; it must contain elements of universal human values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, unity which evoke the deeper and higher self in people and inspire them towards self-transcending action; it must also contain elements which reflect the unique nature of the company and the geographical, national or continental environment or culture in which the company grew up or functions. 

An example of such a system of values in the hotel industry is Taj Hotels in India. Recently, Taj was admired for the exemplary bravery and selflessness of its employees in handling the terror attack and protecting its customers. 

This exemplary behaviour is the result of a carefully ingrained culture based on universal human values as well as the more specific values of the Indian cultural tradition. In a thoughtful article on the culture of Taj in Harvard Business Review, Rohit Deshpande and Anjali Raina, articulate the following principles as the basis of Taj system of values:

§ Placing customers above the Company

§ Taj recruiters look for three character traits: respect for elders (how does he treat his teachers?); cheerfulness (does she per­ceive life positively even in adversity?); and neediness (how badly does his family need the income from a job?

§ The Taj Group prefers to go into the hin­terland because that’s where traditional Indian values—such as respect for elders and teachers, humility, consideration of others, discipline, and honesty—still hold sway. In the cities, by contrast, youngsters are increasingly driven by money, are happy to cut corners, and are unlikely to be loyal to the company or empathetic with customers.

§ Taj recruiters emphasise more on hiring people with integrity and devotion to duty than on acquiring those with talent and skills.

§ What the Taj Group looks for in managers is integrity, along with the ability to work consistently and conscientiously, to always put guests first, to respond beyond the call of duty, and to work well under pressure.

We can see here that Tata System of values contains universal elements like integrity and character as well as values that are specific to Indian culture like respect for elders. Seng must try to evolve such a unifying system of values for the Matz group. Since Matz is confined to Asia, its value system has to reflect the uniquely Asian values. However, shared value is only one aspect of cultural unity. The other factors are:

§ Sharing of cultural knowledge and information related to different locations and nations where the hotels are situated.

§ Rotation of manager and executives across geographical location

§ Common training, development and leadership programmes for employees at all levels.

§ Active involvement and participation of all hotel managers in formulating future plans and strategies of the group as a whole. 

This kind of interactions between people at various units of diversity creates a sense of unity and synergy among employees and also enhances the energy-level and creative potentialities of collective life.

The other issue is branding. As Kim points out, companies in the west spend so much money and effort on branding, with questionable impact on the customer. 

However, presenting an attractive and meaningful idea or image of what Matz stands for to the customer can perhaps have a positive impact on the customer. For Matz, the brand idea could be providing the “Asian experience” to the customer, which means giving a clear understanding and a vivid experience of the unique intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual genius of Asia. There are well-known ways of creating this kind of experience like for example:

§ Permanent exhibitions in each Matz hotel which presents a deeper insight into the unique history, culture and society of Asia and also that of each nation where Matz hotels are located.

§ Small libraries with books containing the best literature on Asia

§ Audio-visual displays like films, video

§ Cultural events like music and dance

§ Shops displaying and selling the arts and crafts

§ Restaurant with Asiatic food.

Courtesy: Chartered Secretary

M.S. Srinivasan

O. P. Dani

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13Feb/20

Integral Yoga of Works: Practioners Experiences by Larry Siedlitz

(A review and a commentary on the book Integral Yoga At Works, A Study of Practioners’ Experiences working in Four Professional Fields, by Larry Siedlitz, PhD, Indian Psychology Institute, New Delhi)

Yoga has become a well-known word all over the world though the true and deeper meaning and aims of Yoga is much less known.  In the Indian paradigm of Yoga, Karma Yoga, Yoga of works, is an important part of triune path of Yoga expounded by the Indian scripture Bhagavat Gita, the other two paths are Yoga of knowledge and Yoga of Devotion.

There is no dearth of expositions on Karma Yoga, but most of them tend to be more conceptual than practical experiential.  Here comes the importance of Sri Aurobindo’s writing on Karma Yoga and this book under review which is based on Sri Aurobindo’s vision of Integral Yoga.  Among modern Yogis, Sri Aurobindo has written extensively on Karma Yoga based on his integral vision of Yoga, his deep and profound spiritual experiences and his detailed and practical guidance of his disciples on the path of Karma Yoga.

The author, Dr. Larry Siedlitz, has worked as a research psychologists in USA and a practitioner of Integral Yoga. This book under review examines the experiences of the practioners of Sri Aurobindo’s path of works in Integral Yoga in four professional fields: business management, health care, education and the arts.  As the author of this book Dr. LarrySiedlitz describes the content and purpose of this book.

“In the present study, I examine how the Integral Yoga can be applied in four general fields of professional endeavour; business management, health care, education and the arts….  The study will examine how present day practioners of Integral Yoga apply the Yoga in their work, first in a general way, and then more specifically what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have written about how such works can be approached and carried out in these four areas.”

Siedlitz classifies the experiences of the practioners into following categories:

  1. Merging of life, work and yoga:

Practioners make no distinction between work and sadhana or between work and life or between sadhana and life.

  • Equality towards Money:

Money is not a primary motivation in work.

  • Service as a motivation in work:

Service to the Divine, done as an offering to the Divine is the primary motivation in work.

  • Feeling the Divine’s presence in work:

Aspiration to feel the divine’s presence in work and bring it down into all the activities of life.

  • Feeling that one is an instrument of the Divine:

As the practioner progresses in the path and in her self-dedication to the Divine she feels that the Divine Force is doing the work in her and she is only an instrument of the Divine, which brings efficiency and harmony in work.

  • Fulfilment in life and work:

Work and life pursued in the spirit of Karma Yoga brings a deeper meaning to and a greater fulfilment in life.

Siedlitz presents an interesting summary of the results or outcome of these experiences of the practioners, which may be described points-wise as:

  1. A life of sadhana and service to the Divine can be truly fulfilling and bring contentment and lasting happiness.
  2. The long-term practice of Yoga brings greater meaning to life and in addition it brings the presence of the Divine with its many boons of peace, light, freedom, joy, harmony.
  3. When professional work becomes an integral part of sadhana, the work then becomes a conduit for the action of the divine in the world.  The practitioner becomes a conscious and participating instrument of that higher divine working, which is wonderfully fulfilling.
  4. The participants of the study clearly experienced the Presence and Power of the Divine in their lives and work, felt their action, saw their result.  When they had a conscious contact with the Divine, their work and lives flowed with greater harmony and become more effective.  These findings suggest tremendous possibilities for other who do their work as a part of Yoga.

Does these conclusions present a very rosy picture of Karma Yoga as an easy path to fulfilment and perfection? Most of the practioners in this book describes only their positive experience like for example, Thomas, a manager of a commercial unit says:  “For instance, I don’t know a lot of software.  I just click here and there and it comes….it’s kind of purely intuitive.  The vibration comes from above and it gets realised.  You are not the one doing it.  That is a beautiful sensation.  You make the moves: You take the scissors when you need it, you need a number of cards and you take exactly the right number of cards.  Those are micro moments.  The more you are concentrated and penetrating into the things you have to do….the more it comes.  Those are again what I call Ananda moments.”

This gives an indication of the higher potentialities of yoga. But is this the entire nature of the path of Yoga, a smooth and blissful journey to the Divine?  There is the other side of it made of difficulties and struggles and dangers and pitfalls.  Siedlitz is very much aware of this part of the journey.  As he points out:               “This is perhaps an important point to remember for less-experienced practioners, because, sadhana also brings us face to face with the difficulties of our nature which can sometimes seem intractable until they are come.  So it is not without its difficulties, but we have seen that these difficulties can be viewed as opportunities for growth and the participants felt supported and helped to overcoming challenges.”

Since this book is more for beginners rather than for seasoned or advanced practioners, it may not be necessary or desirable to stress on the difficulties in the path, which may scare off the potential seeker.  So Siedlitz has done the right thing in focussing on the higher potentialities and possibilities of Yoga.  But still, a concise narrative or summary of the type of difficulties which the practioner may face in the later stages of Yoga could have made the book more balanced and also helpful to the seeker in understanding the hard realities of the path of Yoga.  The author could have asked the practioners to describe the precise nature of the inner and outer difficulties they have encountered in the path and how they are able to overcome them.

Siedlitz stresses constantly on the idea that difficulties are opportunities for progress.  This may be true in general, but it happens only when they are overcome which is not easy on the path of Yoga, especially the inner difficulties like anger, sex, inertia, unwillingness to change, conflict in relationships and the obstinate resistance, revolt, hostility and refusals of our lower nature against our higher aspiration.  In Yoga, these difficulties and opposition of our lower nature and all the hidden and suppressed desires, darkness and falsehoods in it raise with great force.  As Mother says in one of her conversations: “what obstinate resistance in this lower nature what blind and stupid attachment to the animal ways of being, what a refusal to liberate oneself.”

This brings to another very important aspect of the path of Yoga which I feel is not given sufficient attention in this book.  It is the inner discipline of Yoga.

For example, there are the well-known disciplines of Yoga like inner purification of the mind and heart from negative movements like anger, jealousy, lust and greed, overcoming ego and desire, and in the path of Karma Yoga, the discipline of Equanimity and offering all our works as an offering with a complete renunciation of the results of our action.  Siedlitz talks, mentions “equality to money” as one of the experiences of practioner.  But in Yoga equality is a much deeper, inward experience of a calm, undisturbed equanimity under all circumstances, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant and in the midst of all the vicissitudes and dualities of life like pleasure and pain, joy and grief, success and failure, praise and blame.

Siedlitz could have queried the practioners on what is the nature of the inner and outer disciplines they were pursuing and alsop about the difficulties they had encountered in putting them into practice and how they are able to overcome them?  This would have added a practical dimension to the book and very helpful to the aspiring seeker who wants to pursue the path of karma Yoga.

All these are just suggestions.  The book as a whole is brilliant, contemporary and relevant; it is very different from the traditional books on Yoga because it is based not on ancient texts, but on the teachings of modern masters of Yoga like Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the experiences of living practioners of Yoga working in professional fields.  We need many such works on Yoga to make this ancient Science a living force for steering humanity towards its next and future step in evolution and its spiritual destiny.

M.S.Srinivasan

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07Sep/19

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.

M.S.Srinivasan

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08Aug/19

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

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