Monday, 23 April 2012

Vivekananda , Herman Hesse , Greenleaf and Leadership

Vivekananda is one of the  personalities I admire , others being Mahatma Gandhi , Ayn Rand and  Steve Jobs . What comes to your mind when you think of Vivekananda?A handsome, magnetic   monk in saffron clothes ?A  dynamic religious reformer who died at the young age of 39 years?An eloquent speaker who spread Vedanta philosophy in the United States and many other countries outside India?A leader who embodied  and lived the concept of servant leadership  much before this concept was  evolved and documented by Greenleaf?There is no doubt that Vivekananda was a great leader.On the occasion of America's Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 ,the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery held an exhibition.This exhibition portrayed 31 foreigners who had contributed significantly to American Culture, heritage and history.Vivekananda was the only Indian in that exhibition.He accomplished  so much in so short a time -exactly nine years.But his  role as a leader- manager has remained largely unexplored. One reason is that scholars know him mainly as an Apostle of Hinduism and not as a secular leader.        
                               "Be not afraid of greatness:some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them".(Act II, SceneV,Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night) .  Are some people born to  lead  while others are born only  to be led?The current common wisdom is that "leadership can be learnt( or taught)"In early 1894, Vivekananda wrote to a brother disciple:"Can a leader be made , my brother?A leader is born. . . Every body wants to be a leader , but it is the failure to grasp that he(the leader) is born, that causes all the mischief"(Complete Works, Volume 6,pp284-285).Peter Drucker calls born leaders as "naturals".Drucker says:"Most leaders I have seen were neither born nor made.They were self-made.We need far too many leaders to depend only on the naturals."Asim Chaudhuri has done painstaking research and written his  third book on Vivekananda.In  "Vivekananda : A Born Leader" , he has tried to prove that Vivekananda was a born leader, though he  also developed new leaders.Asim Chaudhuri  also says that  rather than saying that  leadership can be learnt , a better statement would be  that leadership can be manifested , as shown by Vivekananda. 
                  Herman Hesse(1877-1962) wrote the novel "Journey to the East" in 1932.Hesse was exposed to the eastern Thoughts when he traveled to the East in 1911 , but he wrote "Journey to the East" in 1932 -21 years later .Robert  Greenleaf (1904-1990) formulated the concept of servant leadership in 1977.His book "Servant leadership:A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness"  is rooted in Eastern mysticism and spirituality. Specifically, the Servant-Leader who captured Greenleaf's imagination and catalysed the writing of this book was the fictional character Leo in  Hesse's "Journey to the East  . Greenleaf  read about Leo in 1958 and published his book on servant leadership in 1977.Servant leadership is a paradigm shift in the view of leadership. Servant leaders are leaders who will embrace the organizations and  love them, care for them and serve the population within and without through them. The qualities indicative of such growth and service are:1. Do those served grow as persons?
2. Do they, while being served become healthier wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants.
3. What is the effect on the least privileged in society?
4. Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? (Greenleaf 1977/2002 p.27).

While Greenleaf wrote about servant -leader in 1977,Vivekananda practised as a servant leader in 1897,about 80 years before Greenleaf introduced this concept .Vivekananda was way ahead of modern management thought and practice in thinking and in real life.
Any one aspiring to be a leader needs to be a servant follower first  in the true spirit of service to fellow human beings.Only then , leadership will be manifested .Asim Chaudhuri deserves our gratitude for having drawn our attention to these  very important and relevant aspects of leadership.