Holistic Approach to Leadership

When one speaks of a Leader it immediately implies a follower. Now this a very common model of leadership, wherein there is one leader and many followers. That model may have worked in the past, and perhaps may still be relevant in certain fields of work. Maybe you need that in armed forces, in combat. Maybe you need that in politics where the leader has to lead the nation, he needs many followers who can trust him and have confidence that he can take the whole country forward.

But it does not matter what field of work or situation we are dealing with, the barrier between the leader and the followers, that wall, that separation is fast crumbling. No more the leader can remain isolated. It will be to his peril that he can sit in ivory tower and give orders, thinking that all will follow them. Yet in many organizations we see the style of leadership, which is bordering on dictatorial, while they all may be preaching cooperative style of leading. Implicit in their behavior is the thought ‘ Don’t argue with me, just do as I said’. There are examples of organizations where growth is stunted, simply because people are defensive, following the well-soiled path of their predecessors, delivering to the orders of their corporate commanders. Quite often the leaders tell their team what they want, how it should be done and when it has to be completed, and all these are unmovable boundaries. Guess what the results would be! Most often the task will suffer in one of these dimensions, with big compromise on the quality of outcome. My old boss used to say: ‘You tell me what you want and I will tell you how long it will take, you tell me when you want and I will tell you what I can deliver within that timeframe.’

Fundamentally this attitude is because of lack of trust in the ability of others. You need to give some space to others, have confidence and see the ingenuity with which he delivers his task. Fostering this culture of innovative thinking is possible only when there is a feeling of being free to try and explore new ideas.

Make yourself Redundant!

So Trust and Delegation is the foundation of Holistic Leadership. Some highly successful companies have been encouraging its employees to work certain amount of their working week, on the projects of their interest. This has led to great innovations and high amount of employee satisfaction. Delegation also means letting go! Many of the leaders today have been promoted simply because they were good at what they were doing, having some specialist skills in certain areas. But the promotion does not change their way of functioning, still wanting to maintain their hands on the job. Now it is a very fine balance, the astute leader, while letting go of the ‘doing’ part of the job, still keeps tab on the outcome closely and is fully accountable for the results, that he never parts with. The famous book ‘One Minute Manger’ illustrates this principle very well, where the manager has lots of time at his hand to sit back and enjoy. In many ways the success of Leadership depends directly upon how redundant the leader can be! How well he has built and developed his team, so that he is no longer needed for effective running of his unit.

Organizations, which have overgrown, suffer from painful beurocracy, where decisions are dependent upon a few individuals, in many cases at the General Manager level. This results into waste of employee time, who are chewing their thumbs awaiting the decision. And imagine the quality of the decision when someone far removed from the action on the ground level makes him or her. I feel sorry for the organizations that are wasting millions of dollars on improving the productivity, where the real issue is never the willingness and ability of the employees to work harder, but the amount of time it takes to resolve the thorny issues.

Sound judgment springs from Healthy Body and Mind!

Many a times I have seen leaders crumbling under pressure, having constant health complaints and showing irritability at the slightest instance of unexpected outcomes. Long hours of work and lack of enough exercise contribute to a large number of health issues, some culminating into life threatening ailments. I have seen so many senior managers who failed to heed the signals from the body and met the inevitable end. All this can be avoided by some simple adjustments to daily routines, diet etc. The results are astonishing. The shareholder driven corporate culture is fast affecting the employee health adversely. I used to work in a company where there used to be a resident doctor available for day to day care, used to have health camps/retreats, and not too long ago had a yearly full check up, providing a medical assessment report for all employees, referring them to either specialist, or/and to physical trainer for exercise programs. These are now fairy tales. Yet, one could clearly see a level of employee satisfaction and loyalty that is on the fast decline. There are now the new high-tech companies who have implemented some really employee friendly schemes, such as doctor on site and free food.

The second aspect of well-being is a mental health, and this is the most important factor affecting your judgment and decision-making. With so much demand on the leaders today due to unrealistic deadlines, constant market pressure, tough competition and complex environment, it is no wonder the incidences of depression are on the rise to the dangerous levels. Such leaders with mind in a highly stressed state are bound to falter in their decisions, resulting in significant monetary loss to the organization, and more importantly in significant health issues of both the leaders and their teams, not to mention the cost of employee turnover. To get an insight into the plight of a typical leader, you only have to follow his typical day at work, starting work early morning, sometimes skipping breakfast, plunging into meetings after meetings, fire fighting critical issues, swallowing lunch on the go (gone are the days of having a prescribed lunch time), and working till late in the night. In fact some of the employees are resorting to quick protein drinks in substitute for lunch to save time. This is no exaggeration! I think employers have lost the sight of the fact that providing a compulsory lunch break will promote employee interaction when they all have lunch at the same time. Having an on site café or lunch facility will be great for team building.

Spirituality and Leadership:

Now this could be controversial. People will frown at the idea of being spiritual in order to succeed as a leader. But I am not advocating any religious rituals, or asking to follow any doctrines. Being spiritual is being aware of the Divine presence in everything we do, his manifestation thru humanity, and his pervasion of the universe surrounding us. This would help the leaders to be more human, more respectful, more caring, fostering the win-win outcomes from their decisions. The organizations will flourish because the employees will be more motivated, loyal and willing to put in their best, without the fear of suppression. The new research in management schools is pointing to some of these practices, without explicitly recognizing the spiritual aspect.

With a regular spiritual practice such as meditation, one learns to be in present tense. This makes the leader more sensitive to other’s needs and is available all the time, because he is not bogged down by the past. He may not be physically around all the times, but is easily accessible, which provides tremendous moral support to his team and colleagues. I remember one of our CIOs used to meditate few times in a day, even finding time from his busy work schedule.

We succumb to the Stress and strain of life, as education we receive is woefully inadequate to deal with life itself. And the life of a leader is increasingly stressful, and will remain so. In the absence of skills to deal with this we remain stunted with extremely narrow vision limited to our mundane existence, its worries and anxieties. We miss the big picture. The successful leader knows the organization can grow only by helping the employees reach their ultimate potential and that each of them have a unique capability and skill.

In Bhagavad Gita, one of the famous verses says that ‘You have a right to action only, do not perform with rewards in mind’. What this really means is that do your best with confidence and trust, and cherish the good action, because the rewards will follow. The motivation is to enjoy the work.

Leaders create followers who are alike:

Finally very often we miss the fact that the way the leader behaves, is mimicked by his followers, his team, initially out of need to comply and then by habit. This sets a dangerous trend and creates a culture, which can be unsettling and downgrading the morale. Another verse from Gita said that long ago:

यद यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: । स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकः तदनु वर्तते

However a great man conducts himself, common men will follow. Accordingly, whatever standards he sets by his actions, others will follow in his footsteps.
So the Leaders have huge responsibility to set the right example and needs to be seen as fair in all his dealings. The organizations must recruit the leaders who can demonstrate that they have not just the domain knowledge of the business but are capable of leading with holistic approach, then only they can achieve a sustainable growth.