When Alexander the Great lead his men through the Gedrosian Desert, the loss of life was colossal. He sent phalanxes of his army in search of water. After many hours they came back with just enough to fill a helmet. The parched army handed over the precious liquid to their commander. He clasped the helmet in both hands and to the dismay of his troops, poured its contents onto the sand. Alexander proclaimed, “If the men don’t drink, then I don’t drink”. This selfless act forever forged an impenetrable bond between the commander-in-chief and his men. He inspired them to live and die for him, not by what he said, rather, by what he did.
Alexander lived and lead with integrity and honour. This got me thinking of current political leadership, locally and globally. It turned out to be a depressing thought.
The Vedic paradigm explains that, us common folk are influenced and affected by the actions and behaviours of distinguished persons. If the masses bear witness to gross lawlessness by the powers that be, then they too will emulate such atrocities. The converse is also true. If the monarchs, prime ministers, and presidents inculcate spiritual practices, their activities and consciousness become purified. This is enhanced by consultation with sacred texts and individuals who have realised spiritual wisdom. In so doing, they relinquish their lower natures and govern themselves and others by divine principles. There is power in divine sound and intelligent leaders know how to harness it. Saintly leaders armed with spiritual science expand their vision of leadership, resulting in a moral and harmonious society. In this way leaders also empower others righteously and not simply beget a blind following.
A leader should be like salt. The quantity of salt in a dish needs to be just right, too little or too much, results in culinary disaster. Like salt in a preparation, leaders should be balanced. They should have a balanced approach to work, spiritual practice, and recreation. Balance is crucial when dealing with challenges. When one is equipoised, he is neither disturbed by elation or distress. This state of mind allows for decisions grounded in stability.
Another attribute of salt is that it remains hidden in a dish even though it adds flavour. A leader should see himself as the protector and servitor of others and, like salt, serve without the need for recognition or praise. Have you ever heard anyone say, “The salt in this entree is scrumptious?” Yet, so often we admire other spices or flavours. A capable leader empowers his followers and allows for them to receive praise. His reward is selfless service. He should let those in his care resolve problems without micromanaging. When there is calamity, then he should step in and lead his people out of the threat.
Have you ever volunteered at an organisation? If you have, perhaps you can testify to an interesting dynamic. When people receive a salary they bring their minds to work, but when they are valued they give their heart and soul to a mission. Those serving in a spiritual organisation, by large, do so without financial remuneration. Thus inspiration is required, to attract people and keep them motivated, which can be cultivated through empathy or sensitivity to the needs of others. Thus subordinates are not perceived as pawns for pleasure and exploitation. Rather, they are family. Followers are sentient beings with feelings, hopes, dreams, and emotions. When a leader views his subordinates in this way, the result is that the members feel nurtured and valued.
Leadership is not easy. It is said for one who wants to lead an orchestra, he must turn his back to the crowd. Leadership entails the sacrifice of time, energy, and often, relationships. Your grit and character will be tested. Like it or not, you will be placed in the limelight resulting in fair and unjust critique. A virtuous leader is the servant of others, externally he may be perceived as just another manager or CEO. However, he serves not simply for economic gain or prestige. His focus is uplifting of those in his care, a process enhanced by a God centred approach to management.
At the core of genuine leadership is inspired activation through empathy, love, and grace. True leaders reign over the hearts of those in their care as they become conquered by sensitivity and compassion.
Published by ISKCON Durban. Used with permission