I wrote few lines couple of months back, on such corporate leaders who are typically hard working but who do not stop for a while and admire finer things in life. Here it goes;
Parleys of sunset
over the corner office
at the cusp where the early evening coffee
meets the sea
this sight hardly ever melts
the succulent arousal of power
the power of seeing the sea
through the blinds
the stock is on the upswing
and so are the waves of the
the sunset pats the shadow of the fading sun
on the periphery of the faded evening
the blinds are down
In this small poem, I have expressed my dismay at an imaginary corporate leader who is happy with all the materialist success but seldom has the time to appreciate beauty around. This also reminds me of a friend, who posted a picture on social media, of the beautiful morning view of the sailing boats from his office and when someone commented how wonderful the picture was, my friend replied in affirmative, while maintaining that he didn’t have “time” to enjoy the view, because of work. Yes, one needs to be committed and focused on work and on qualitative deliverables but that doesn’t mean we lose touch on who we are. We are human beings who work with other human beings and although it is not necessary that leadership means admiring nature, it does bring a sense of awareness of the world around, which is not always connected with commercial point of view. Leadership surely means treating people with respect and fairness, while empowering them completely. Here, the word “empowering” should be out of the closet of corporate jargon and should be activated in its true spirit (as companies like Google do).
My argument through this piece, having set the context, is of a new thinking on leadership, which is humane and intrinsically altruistic. Altruism means selflessly thinking of others. In simple words, leadership which has a soul. I will also narrate few small cases here to take this thinking forward. One of my business school classmate, a Chief Executive in a nonprofit runs her organization with stiffness, as if she is a Kindergarten Headmistress. She checks on things like lunch breaks (and is unhappy if people spend more than 30 minutes on lunch) and in and out timings of staff. It is not done every day but intermittently, which makes her team little uneasy in performing their work with high energy. On the other hand, I know a Senior Human Resources executive in a start-up who allows staff to take as many breaks as they can in a particular work day provided it doesn’t affect the final delivery of work. His employees are happy and they perform to the highest level of their competence. But, what is being altruistic as a leader? It is simple – How to make people happy at work and how to extend that “human” touch. I worked with a British Charity in 2009 and saw people playing football in the lunch break in their UK office and when they were back at their desks, they were totally engrossed in the work yet happier. The Simple way, for a leader, is to understand what systems should be in place, which should engage the people at their optimal level, without “administering” them. Finally, the engaged employees are the happiest.
One way of practicing altruism in leadership is by appreciating the present moment. Deepak Chopra, in his book, “The Soul of Leadership” says, “Appreciate the present moment. Notice what is nourishing about it. Take a moment to really look at the people you are with”. Appreciating the present moment should make a leader aware of various dimensions of living which also means appreciating the life itself, appreciating self and others, appreciating the living and non-living spaces (like the sailing boats, in the example I gave) and just being happy with oneself.
The first level of altruistic leadership is Awareness and appreciation of the present moment. This can come through various tools, such as Mindfulness Meditation and even taking a “purposeless walk”. At work, just appreciating someone can also bring awareness. It also can include writing a note of gratitude every week to one employee or more.
The second level really is “setting people free”. If one has hired the best of talent, it is better to empower them to bring excellence in their output. It surely doesn’t mean that Line Managers are not needed. It means that rather than micro-managing to the level of rest-room furnishings, the leader has to create and empower teams and people and let them bring all the brilliant answers. Can we think of performance appraisals purely on the basis of strengths like creativity, innovation and “out of the box problem solving”? Can we think of Friday evenings of fun filled brainstorming before we break off to an amazing weekend? Can Monday mornings be without any interaction with the Manager? The meetings can always happen on Tuesday. All these things need investment from the heart and not just through corporate juxtaposition.
"The possession of arbitrary power has always, the world over, tended irresistibly to destroy humane sensibility, magnanimity, and truth"
- Frederick Law Olmsted