Indian business executives who integrate spirituality into their leadership practices.
|Many business executives aspire to lead with integrity, where their thoughts, values, words and deeds are in harmony. That can be challenging in a business world that is increasingly characterized by complexity, turbulence and greed. |
During the past four years we interviewed executives from all around the world -- North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Common to all these leaders, who transcended the boundaries of nation, culture and religion, is a deep awareness of what is truly important in life and a dedication to integrate this awareness and sensitivity into their leadership.
Here, four prominent Indian business executives share their perspectives on how they integrated spirituality into their leadership style.
Beatles of the Indian IT Industry
Raghavan says trust is a by-product of love, where "love is unconditional" and trust is obtained simply by trusting others. "For me, love is a natural phenomenon and is spontaneous. When you expect something in return, then it is not pure love. I believe very strongly in the part of religion that says you should show love, kindness and compassion towards people and try to make a difference in the lives of those you touch. To me, if you are doing things that are not meant to further your personal interests, but which are meant to help others, then it is spiritual.
"I always encourage people to work together as a team and to build trust and respect among everyone. I believe that one of the reasons Infosys was so successful is that we knew our individual strengths and we respected the strengths and contributions of others. We were very fortunate that everyone believed in a common value system. We could be very open and frank with each other as our relationships were based on a foundation of trust and respect.
Since his retirement from Infosys in 2000, Raghavan continues to seek ways to express his spiritual values of "love and trust." He says, "It is important to me to see the good in people and to care for people."
"My spiritual development has helped me to institutionalize the principles of having a purpose, adding value, and setting an example. As a business leader I must set an example which others can follow. There is no point in me trying to get my organization to be truthful, unless I am truthful.
"In a business sense, I like to talk about spirituality as ethical values. When I was in one of the West African countries, the country was full of corruption, and you couldn't do anything without bribing someone. We were losing contracts and losing business. But the policy in my corporation was that you could not give bribes. Initially, I followed these ethical values because this was what I was taught. When I began thinking more spiritually, it gave me the reasons for why to behave this way.
"Values such as justice, truth, respect for others, equanimity, ability to take decisions, honesty and integrity are the core values that became very strong for me when I went into business. These are more on the ethical side, rather than on the spiritual side. Somewhere along the line however, these two kinds of values began to link. Now I think of ethical values as nothing but a hreflection of my spiritual values. For instance, in business you must respect yourself, your feelings, your customers, your employees. But then when you go deeper into spirituality, your self-respect begins to include respecting the inner Self. Then you try to understand: 'What is meant by Self?' Self means 'I', it means awareness."
Chand says her spiritual-based leadership unfolded with the help of very practical, down-to-earth activities. One example was how she focused on being "a nurturing, reassuring, loving spirit for the employees. I created a new initiative and called it 'Tea with Amber.' I was inspired to do this when, one day, my heart sank when I realized that the company had grown to such a degree that I no longer knew everybody.
"So the idea came to me to just begin to have a cup of tea with every person. I rearranged my office completely. I created a little sitting area where I have some lamps and plants, I got out my lovely Mexican tea set and then I began to invite people to tea."
When we next interviewed Chand in spring 2006 - roughly a year after Eziba, the company she had invested her heart and soul in, went bankrupt - we were struck by how her engaged spirituality had enabled her to maintain peace of mind and courage in the face of Eziba's demise. She said: "Without the anchor of my spiritual practice, I could not have weathered this personal tsunami. For at some level, I knew that Eziba's meteoric rise and fall were part of a larger archetypal story. That there were to be many lessons learned and that somehow I would find my way, guided by a sense of profound trust in life and the truth of who I am and what I believe in."
Chand had by then founded a new business, "The Amber Chand Collection." She says: "I am grateful to Eziba for teaching me important lessons and in illuminating for me that one can indeed create successful businesses that are spiritually inspired - only when this becomes one's singular mission and clear intent."
Correct and Righteous
"All of my spiritual exercises are about how I spent my day. I think that when it comes to determining how well a job you have done, you must ask yourself, 'Did I do the best I could?' The only person, who really knows whether I did a good job or not is me. I don't have the ability or desire to do all of the things that other more spiritually evolved people do. My path is to focus on acting from love each day, each moment, and not reacting."
Govindan says: "The purpose of business is to make money through proper values. There is so much corruption today in business and all of it represents an absence of values and an absence of character. Spirituality is clearly needed in business today. When a company environment is wholesome it will be quite productive."
Govindan is now chief operating officer at another major American financial institution, Bear Stearns Asset Management in New York. "Unfortunately it is only when you get older that you see that everybody gets their just rewards, and the ones with principles and integrity are usually the happiest and most content, if not the richest. I am not worried or stressed out. I work hard and do my best, but now for the first time in my life, I am not worried about the results."
Skepticism and fear
When we present our research to audiences of business leaders and MBA students we often encounter scepticism centred around two common fears and doubts.
The first is that one cannot be both spiritual and a successful leader. However, all the executives we interviewed achieved their leadership positions while being spiritual, which in itself is compelling evidence that spirituality and leadership in business are not incompatible. That is not to say that success is ensured just because you are spiritual. Many of the executives we interviewed overcame great challenges. Just as jogging and eating organic food do not guarantee a long and healthy physical life, spiritual perspectives on leadership do not ensure a healthy organization or a successful career. However, it is possible to draw upon both rationality and spirituality to successfully lead a business.
The second source of scepticism we run into is the belief that to be spiritual one must renounce the world and its material wealth. In fact, some of the executives we interviewed had a very affluent lifestyle, to put it mildly. Others own modest dwellings and lived simply, in accord with their values and aspirations. However, none of them viewed wealth as an impediment to spiritually based leadership. In fact, many of the leaders we interviewed related how they had used their wealth to initiate humanitarian service projects, some even on a grand scale.
Spiritually grounded business success transcends traditional economic rationality while embracing the principles of love and service to all.
The authors acknowledge the research contribution to their project of Debra and William Miller.