Monday, May 19, 2014

What do Steve Jobs, Marc Benioff and Narendra Modi have in common?

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. which created Mac and iPhone, is known to be a pioneer in making technology friendlier  to the masses ('technology for people and not the other way round' as they call it). Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, is one of the pioneers of the cloud computing era having foreseen the "End of PC" revolution. Modi, has been seen (undisputedly, after this week’s election, at least) to have shattered myths about Indian elections and ushered in - what is now being called - the era of developmental politics in India. All the three leaders are known to have disrupted conventional wisdom in their fields of action through their creativity and innovative leadership.

But there is something more in common to the three leaders. Each of them, at some point in their lives has sought the solitude of the Himalayas.

Jobs's spiritual journey took him to India to meet the mystic Neem Karoli Baba who had his Ashram at Kainchi in the foothills of Himalayas. He had to return disappointed as the Baba had already passed away by the time Jobs reached. But Jobs retained his spiritual bent of mind and also attributed his intuition to it. In his biography, he specifically mentions 'The Autobiography of a Yogi' written by Parmahamsa Yogananda as one of his favorites. As Marc Benioff notes about Jobs, "If you look back at the history of Steve and that early trip to India ... He had this incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift," Benioff said. "He needed to look at world from inside out ... His message was to look inside yourself and realize yourself".

Benioff himself was inspired to make a spiritual trip to India and seek wisdom from Indian spiritual Gurus like Mata Amritanandmayi, known as the hugging saint, in Southern Indian state of Kerala, as his autobiography notes. He also writes that he accepted her advice and embedded community service as part of his business. And yes, Modi spent a couple of years of his tender age in the Himalayas as a wandering monk, seeking spiritual enlightenment, before he returned and decided to volunteer full time for the society. In his teenage, he is known to have been deeply inspired by the teachings of the Hindu saint Swami Vivekananda and developed keen interest in spirituality. Each of these leaders also continued to practice some form of meditation in their daily lives.

This brings us to the question. Are these two commonalities coincidental or is there a connection between intuitive leadership and Indian spirituality? This question is being probed with great vigor in the field of leadership studies, where many leadership coaches have started to connect the dots. Today, meditation and Indian spiritual practices are being seen as systematic ways to facilitate cognitive shifts, which among other things, is seen to question fixed patterns of thinking and theoretical conditioning of the mind. It is not surprising then that a 6-week program in "Mindfulness Meditation" named "Search Inside Yourself" is being offered at Google for its employees, which seeks to provide "attention training",  "develop self-knowledge and self-mastery", and "create useful mental habits".

It was Swami Vivekananda who for the first time introduced to the West the practice, of Yogic Meditation, as an empirical way to unlock the potential of the mind. Since then, a lot of research has happened on this in many fields including medicine and cognitive sciences. In recent times, its value in the field of leadership is being increasingly understood and acknowledged. Indian spirituality is increasingly being seen as an enabler in innovation and effective leadership. 


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