Leadership from the heart – part 2

leadership from the heart - part 2

PRAKASH SESHADRI takes the reader from survival mode to a mature leadership model, by sharpening Emotional and Spiritual Quotients through the practices of meditation, introspection and inquiry.

Is there a way to move from a survival mindset to a growth mindset?
Do we understand how human beings evolve their competencies?
Are we clear on the role of Emotional Intelligence in leadership?
Does the heart have a role to play in sharpening our leadership skills?

Challenges to Graduating Up the Competency Spectrum

Why is that some people do not learn fast, and what stops them? I was reading an interesting article recently, in which it was suggested that everyone in the world who has ever been born or will be born has the same hardware as Albert Einstein or Newton, and our brains are also wired in a similar manner. Einstein could achieve so much in his lifetime, but most of us are ineffective though we have the same set of capabilities. What is the difference? For hardware to work efficiently we need software and unfortunately people are never taught how to build it. I may buy readymade Windows or Mac software and install it, and it works. But how do I write my own code, build my own operating system, or write my own app? These are the biggest challenges. Today we cannot build our own software because we are not inquisitive; we have lost the ability to ask questions. Every question you ask can be replaced by a higher level of questioning, which will expand your consciousness, your state of being and your awareness.

The second biggest challenge is to look within and introspect, and we do not make the time to do so, so we have lost the art of introspection. Looking within with distractions is very different from looking within without distractions. So it brings us back to the competency model. We need to develop these tools. Like the Lion and the Deer story, we humans are also busy with our survival, and we do not have the time to hit the pause button, to spend time asking questions, and to introspect. In fact, 99.99% of the time many of us are in perennial survival mode. Realizing that is the first step: we are moving from Unconscious Incompetency to Conscious Incompetency mode.

Leadership from the heart

Is all corporate work related to survival? 99.99% of the time no. It’s all about growth, inclusion, collaboration and compassion. It’s about getting people together. We need teamwork and, yet, when the team comes together, what do we do? The survival instinct, the “fight or flight” instinct, takes over. At a leadership level, this survival instinct is embedded in us as power. In most organizations, people are in fight or run-away mode. All the key decisions are with one or two people at the top, while others are free to take a tea break or a lunch break, but by afternoon they have to accomplish the targets given.

The fight or flight instinct is associated with the older parts the brain as a survival mechanism, and it usually generates an emotional response. But where does the root of that emotion come from? It has been scientifically shown that feelings and emotions are generated in the heart, which is why we call a person cold- or warm-hearted, but we never say a cold-minded person. When a leader leads with true feelings emanating from the heart, leading to mutual, respectful engagement and creative work involvement, they build trust and respect and take the business further. Such a leader is respected and loved. Employees open up, feeling safe and appreciated, without much being said.

It is commonly understood that communication is 10% data and 90% feeling. For example, when an HR person is listening to an employee sharing their woes and grievances, it helps if they are empathetic and compassionate and relate to the person’s mindset. The same holds true with a customer; we want to instill in them a feeling of security and trust. To develop these skills, we have to go deep within our hearts and connect to our inner self, invoking the connection between the mind and the heart. When we can do that, we deem to be a leader – one who has the ability to listen and empathize.

But generally, either we are talking, or, while others are talking, we are busy getting ready to respond. We are unable to listen while we are creating our own response. For a leader, it’s of paramount importance to still the mind. It becomes so still that whatever the other person is saying is amplified by itself and multiplies by itself.

The second essential quality of a leader is to suspend prejudice. While conversing with someone, do not see through a predefined set of filters based on past experiences. We put everyone in multiple slots and make judgments about them even before we meet them.

The Role of Meditation

A successful leader develops stillness of the mind by calming and subsiding thoughts. A successful leader also stops being prejudiced, instead developing a motherly attitude and understanding. We can intensify our concern and affection for our employees, in spite of their recurring mistakes. We can step into their shoes and feel their mindset without an air of prejudice. That kind of essential bonding can be acquired in abundance through the practice of meditation.

leadership from the heart - part 2

Meditation brings down the reactive instinct, even in catastrophic situations. But how many life and death situations do we face in a normal day? Not many. Instead we activate the fight or flight response regularly for smaller things, because our system still responds the same way. For example, if someone snatches your water bottle, do you react and get agitated, or are you polite and let them take it as a courtesy? Once the response is triggered, with the release of hormones, it can take from one minute to 45 minutes to calm down, depending on our physiology. Now here is the warning bell: when we are emotional and feeling stressed, it is better not to talk, not to decide, and not to react.

It was beautifully put up by a speaker in a leadership lecture recently: the Ramayana would not have happened if King Dasharatha had been silent when Kaikeyi put her hand in the chariot wheel. He granted her two boons and one thing led to another, then another, and the Ramayana happened. Even when Dhobi told Rama, “Your wife is not chaste,” what did Rama do? Abolished her to the forest. What do these incidents teach us? Don’t take any decision in a state of impulse. Allow your system to calm down, and the best way to do that is to turn your external focus to an internal focus. To attain a peaceful state, take up meditation, although the outcome will depend on your level of interest, intention and the intensity with which you practice.

So, let’s go back to the Lion and the Deer story. There is a famous quotation: “People don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care.” A true leader understands the pulse of their employees. As years pass by, their technical know-how may come to a standstill, but their ability to manage people cannot fall down, otherwise it’s over. Their ability to manage people comes from their ability to understand them through the heart, and also accept their faults. Nobody is perfect, neither you nor I. We may indulge in presenting a perfect demeanor externally, but we are aware of our internal challenges. I can say with certainty that over a period of time it’s quite easy to scale up to the next level of leadership, emanating from the heart.

What did the lion and the deer learn? They learnt to co-exist. It is possible.


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  1. Excellent. A must read for graduating to a matured progress.

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