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A spiritual revolution in management science

A Spiritual Revolution in Management Science

PROFESSOR RAMNATH NARAYANSWAMY from the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, shares with V. SRINIVASAN something of his own journey, and the importance of spiritual, emotional, social and cultural intelligence in the world of management.

Q: Sir, the first question is regarding the integration of spirituality and management. How do both these concepts come together and what is their relevance?

RN: To answer this question you need to have a perspective on the discipline of management and its historical origin. Management is a North American discipline that arose amidst the context of two movements: one was Fordism, and the other was Taylorism. Fordism refers to the revolution ushered in by Henry Ford, as a result of which every average American family got access to an automobile. One of the foremen was Frederick Winslow Taylor, and he was the father of the modern assembly line.

So, as a discipline, management arose in the North American context. It later spread to different parts of the world, and there are still two countries where management is not strongly institutionalized. One is Japan, and the other is Germany. But the reasons for that don’t concern us here.

Spirituality came into management much later. It was preceded by the induction of emotional intelligence, with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s landmark work on emotional intelligence in 1997. Spiritual intelligence entered the field of management around the year 2000, when the Academy of Management inaugurated an interest group on management, spirituality and religion. Since then, during the past decade or so, some spectacular work has been emerging on providing original, often disconcerting, often revelatory insights into the relationship between spirituality and management.

To summarize: there are two types of education, two types of management, two types of engineering. One is outer management, the other is inner management. One is outer engineering, the other is inner engineering. One is outer education, the other is inner education. Broadly speaking, outer education refers to knowledge of the outer world – the world that we experience through our five senses. Inner education is driven not so much by the intellect, but by personal experience.

The point I am trying to make is that emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, social intelligence and cultural intelligence are as important to management as analytical intelligence. This realization has come more strongly in the past 10 years when management educators, management instructors and management practitioners are becoming intimately aware of the links that connect the analytical space, the emotional space, the spiritual space, the social space and the cultural space.

As we move ahead in the years to come there will doubtless be a convergence, a consensus view, according to which spirituality will have to play a critical role in management, especially in leadership development.

Q: So referring to the area of leadership, how does a spiritual approach fuel or foster leadership qualities?

RN: Every human being has the potential to develop their leadership potential, but not everybody is cut out to embark on the spiritual path. Not everybody is cut out to become a leader. To enter both these domains is tantamount to walking on fire. It requires perseverance. It requires commitment. It requires practice.

Outer education refers to knowledge
of the outer world – the world that we experience through our five senses.
Inner education is driven not so much by the intellect,
but by personal experience.

What is leadership? Leadership is about transformation from within. It is about conquering the inner space. It is about realizing the perfection that is present inside to engage the imperfection of the outside. Effective leaders, irrespective of the domain they belong to, live off their higher energies, not their lower energies.

When a manager embarks on their professional life, especially in the early years, it’s about creature comforts. It’s about material needs, finding a good spouse, getting a good house, a good job, good children, good schools, and so on. Twenty to twenty-five years down the line these objectives are by-and-large met. The question arises: What then?

There comes a stage in a manager’s life when they start asking: How do I sustain the sources of my motivation? How do I re-energize myself constantly? What can help me to improve each time I practice it? And this is where spiritual intelligence and emotional intelligence have a critical role to play in leadership development:

They help leaders articulate their vision, both personal and the companies’.

They help them articulate their values.

They help them to develop clarity and alignment of vision and values. Both of them must   cohere; they must be congruent.

And finally, they give them a heightened understanding of both the internal and the external context.

These four ingredients are critical to leadership development.

As the father of this country, Mahatma Gandhi had so much to teach us in this vital domain. At a certain time in his life, he had bought a pair of first class tickets, entered the train, and despite having his tickets with him was not allowed to sit in a first class compartment. He was pushed out.

In an interview that he gave towards the later part of his life, he was asked, “Mr Gandhi, what is your message?” He could look at his interlocutor eye to eye and say, “My life is my message.” This was a very powerful line, because it means that everything he thought, everything he said, everything he spoke, and everything he did radiated what he stood for.

One of the most beautiful definitions of leadership comes from the Mahatma. He said, “Become the change you want to see.” It’s such a powerful line, such an astonishing line. What does it mean? Whenever you have time on your hands, don’t spend it frivolously. Don’t waste what is being given to you. Don’t fritter it away. Instead, use that time and energy to see what you want changed in society, to make that happen. Exert your efforts in that direction. This is essentially what leadership is about.

Q: Can you shed a little light about your work in integrating spirituality and management at IIM Bangalore?

RN: I came to spirituality through crisis. It is often when we are in crisis that we think of God. It need not necessarily be the case, but this was certainly true in my case. It was some time in late 1998 or early 1999. I went through a series of unfortunate experiences, which helped me turn inside. And that’s how my spiritual journey began.

It ignited an intense search for self-revelation, an intense search for Godliness, an intense search for the sacred over the profane. I went from pillar to post, and I did things that under normal circumstances many people would hesitate to do. But I was relentless in the pursuit of my goal.

In 2007 I realized that I needed a guru. This is a term that is highly misunderstood both in India and in the West. A lot of outlandish if not crazy things are written about it. But there was no doubt in my mind at that time that this yearning became very intense. I started praying to Lord Shiva to send me a living guru with whom I could relate, who could give me wisdom, who could show me the way, who could chart my path.

This prayer was fortunately answered very quickly, and I had the good fortune of meeting a Self-realized Master in the form of Sadhguru Sri Sharavana Baba. I met him when he was 27 years old, and there was nothing youthful about the advice that he gave me. It was extremely wise counsel. He helped me connect with my inner self. It’s a debt that I can never repay. When I think of it my heart fills with gratitude. He ignited and illuminated the path, and he showed me the way.

After I met my Guru I realized that spiritual life really extends to all life in general. It is the intense search to know who we really are that constitutes the core of the spiritual search.

The core of Hindu dharma is seva dharma, the dharma to serve selflessly those around us – loved ones, institutions, and the society at large. How do we effect this service? The Gita speaks of two instruments: The first is dharma. In my simple, humble understanding, anything that contributes to creating harmony in this universe is dharma – any thought, any word, any deed that helps to accomplish this objective.

Only spiritual intelligence can help a person live off their higher energies.
There is an invisible sense of order that governs the visible worldly disorder.
This invisible sense of order is spirituality. To grasp its working
through intuition
 and personal experience is both a duty and a privilege.

Truth is a little more complex. Sometimes masters say it’s not wise to speak the truth all the time. By this they mean that truth is usually bitter, and therefore one has to speak it with caution. If the person who is the recipient of truth does not have the mental, intellectual or emotional strength to absorb that truth, it is better to keep silent. In this case, what is your dharma? In this case, our scriptures answer, our dharma is to prepare the person, to provide them the wherewithal to absorb this truth.

It is a beautiful and profound teaching: we must use caution in the way we communicate truth. But the Gita is unambiguous on its insistence, on its fidelity, on the necessity of us human beings to be faithful to these two principles: satyam and dharmam. These are the instruments that we use in our spiritual pursuit.

In general, if I were to draw an X-axis and a Y-axis, and put tools and techniques on the X-axis, and character and attitude on the Y-axis, I would see that practitioners of management, students of management, and managers and instructors have taken a severe beating on the Y-axis. Management education is still a prisoner of its early historical orientation. It is heavily weighted in favor of analytical intelligence. Emotional, spiritual, social, creative and cultural intelligence have yet to be integrated into mainstream management science.

My efforts have been largely on the Y-axis. In most of my courses I emphasize character and attitude. This is the reason why in the early ’90s I started a course on creativity, in collaboration with the India Foundation for the Arts, called ‘Tracking Creative Boundaries’. We would call accomplished artists from across a wide variety of the arts to speak to us and share with us their insights, their creative biographies. The idea was to inspire our students to think differently, to go outside the box, to be bold, audacious and innovative in the way they think, in the way they can practice their future careers.

All education is about sowing seeds. Spirituality is no exception.

The next course I started was on leadership. A friend of mine introduced me to the stories of Vikramaditya, and later to the work of that outstanding scholar and mythologist, Joseph Campbell. That led and inspired me to investigate the domain of leadership, to see what is needed from the inside to perfect the outside. That’s how I started.

The third area that I entered was spirituality, in the year 2000. And like all causes, especially those that deal with the emotional and the spiritual, we try to plant a seed in the soul of the learner. The metaphor of the seed is entirely appropriate because all seeds require nourishment, water, love, care and fertilizer. Sometimes you even have to prune a rose to make it grow faster. You don’t criticize a doctor because he gives you pain. He gives you pain to eliminate more serious pain.

So I started the course on spirituality to plant seeds in the souls of the students. And, like all seeds, they requires care if they will some day give rise to saplings, then trees that later produces flowers, and finally produce an outstanding inimitable fragrance that is able to spread its sweetness all over the universe.

18 years down the line I am persuaded that all life is deeply and profoundly spiritual. The foundation of our lives is nothing but spirituality. So I would describe spiritual intelligence as the foundation and the rest as the scaffolding. It is spiritual intelligence that builds a person’s character. It builds attitude. It builds fortitude. It provides equanimity of mind, which is something that the Bhagavad Gita exhorts us to do. Lord Krishna is very specific in his advice and counsel to Arjuna: “Practice Yoga, Arjuna, because Yoga is nothing but perfect equanimity of mind.”

So, is it important for leaders to inculcate spirituality, and practices like Yoga and meditation? The answer is an emphatic yes. Why? Because it helps leaders go inside. It helps leaders develop equanimity of mind, of temper. It creates a temperament that leads to compassionate, caring citizens. It encourages mindfulness.

To me, mindfulness is about being acutely and deeply aware of the consequences of our actions upon others. Managers and leaders often have to take decisions that affect the lives of other people, sometimes mildly, sometimes very dramatically. It is imperative that they take these decisions with discrimination, caution and understanding.

Only spiritual intelligence can help a person live off their higher energies. There is an invisible sense of order that governs the visible worldly disorder. This invisible sense of order is spirituality. To grasp its working through intuition and personal experience is both a duty and a privilege.

Leadership is about transformation from within.
It is about conquering the inner space.
It is about realizing the perfection that is present inside
to engage the imperfection of the outside.
Effective leaders, irrespective of the domain they belong to,
live off their higher energies, not their lower energies.

Q: How do you see leadership in organizations evolving over the next 10 to 20 years.

RN: One of the most distressing features of the times we live in is that the space for innocence, joy and spontaneity has drastically diminished. In Hinduism we speak of it as the Kali Yuga, where dharma stands only on one foot. Its consequences are distressing.

We live in a world where when we have a good idea, a selfless idea, not motivated by personal gain, if we speak about it to people a lot of them will respond by saying, “Why do you go after that? Don’t do it. Mind your own business.” So even when we have something positive to do, people will frown upon it and discourage us from doing it.

The good news is that we are already becoming more and more aware in the world of management that mere analytics will not do. Aristotle once said, “Education must include education of the intellect, but also it must include goodness,” and it is perhaps for this reason that even in an institution like Harvard Business School they have a course on happiness. Should they? They certainly should. What is the use of living a life that is deeply unhappy?

It is spirituality that can lend direction in a world that lacks it, and we are already experiencing the positive effects of emotional and spiritual intelligence coming to the fore in management science. We are slowly making a transition from the world of thought, from intellectual celebration, to the world of the heart and feeling. And this is happening even in the corporate world.

It is becoming increasingly certain that companies today need to understand what consumers want. They need to put themselves in the shoes of the consumer. In the postindustrial age, they are discriminating consumers, not necessarily interested in mass products. They are more interested in products that are customized to their unique taste and to their way of life, that correspond to their values, their beliefs, and their shared beliefs. This is becoming increasingly recognized even in the world of management.

So I suspect that, in the future, all that is being treated as radical will become commonplace. Sometimes things have to worsen before wisdom prevails. And I think that is what is happening in the world today. There will soon come a time when values such as caring, compassion, solidarity, sustainability, paying our respect to the Earth that nourishes us, will become more and more deeply embedded in corporate practice.

We need to restore a lost sense of innocence. We need to restore joy and spontaneity. And in some sense the industrial age contributed to creating a certain conceit and arrogance amongst us – that nature was only there to be exploited. At that time resources seemed to be inexhaustible, but in the post-industrial age it is now being universally recognized that we live in a world where resources may not be replenishable. They can be irreversibly lost.

This recognition has contributed to creating an acute awareness of the need for responsible living, responsible consumerism, and having a lifestyle that is congruent with sustainability on a long-term basis, on an enduring foundation. And it is for this reason that spirituality will start playing a major role in corporate practice and all aspects of life.

Q: What do business schools need to do to become truly relevant in imparting management education to future leaders?

RN: In the past 150 years there is a lot that management education has accomplished. The ability to transform a powerful idea into a working process, system, product, is indeed commendable, yet we have a long way to go.

There is great scope to incorporate elements of spiritual intelligence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence and cultural intelligence, and integrate all these five intelligences into mainstream management as a discipline. This needs to be done; it is already happening. But we perhaps need to make a more conscious, deliberate effort to make this integration possible.

The head and the heart have to go together. It is not enough to address the head; you have to conquer the heart. The world of thinking and the world of feeling have to collapse into one. Both need development, both need nurturing, both need consolidating. Why? Because only such a merger will create a fully rounded individual, a well-rounded individual, a well-rounded professional and a responsible global citizen.

Q: Beautiful. Wonderful. It really encapsulates the essence so impactfully. What is your experience with Heartfulness?

RN: My experience with Heartfulness has been for more than four years now.

The Heartfulness Institute supported our first conference on ‘Spirituality in Management’, which will result in the publication of at least three good volumes, the first of which saw the light of day on 17 March 2018, and two more volumes are expected this year.

The more I associated with Heartfulness, the more I started involving them in my teaching programs. We did conferences together, and got to know each more intimately and developed a mutual respect for what both of us were endeavoring to do. This brought us closer and brought about a collaboration that has helped both of us. That it has helped me I don’t have the slightest shadow of doubt.

The head and the heart have to go together.
It is not enough to address the head; you have to conquer the heart.
The world of thinking and the world of feeling have to collapse into one.
Both need development, both need nurturing, both need consolidating.

My own Guru had told me to practice meditation two years ago, and this is what took me to Kanha. My first meeting with Daaji was about exploring the path of meditation, and it led me to explore meditation more deeply. And when I met him again several months later, I decided to take a sabbatical and actually dip into the world of meditation. I spent some time with Heartfulness seekers in New Jersey, which proved to be one of the best experiences of my life. I wanted to be alone. I wanted a degree of solitude and a degree of calmness to help me go into that path. And I am glad to say that something very good, something very positive resulted from that effort.

I wish to explore that path further. And if we can help others ignite and illumine their own journeys – isn’t that part of our responsibility? So we started introducing the idea of Heartfulness, living from the heart, meditating upon the heart, in many of our executive education programs. And, again, I’m glad to say that it has received an overwhelmingly positive response. It encourages us to the view that we should deepen this initiative further.

Interviewed by V. SRINIVASAN


Ramnath Narayanswamy

About Ramnath Narayanswamy

Ramnath is Professor of Economics and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru. His areas of interest include business and society, economic reforms in transition economies, spirituality and selfdevelopment, leadership development, outsourcing, and creativity and innovation.

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