Lately there has been a lot of talk amongst some devotees on the subject of leadership development. This is something that raises my concern and interest. Its a delicate and multi-faceted subject so I don't think I have the capacity to express my thoughts in a single posting. Over the next few weeks I intend to publish a series of missives to this effect. Hopefully they will stimulate my own critical thinking and, perhaps provide some food for others’ thoughts. I’ll leave commenting open, pending registration, on these entries and see how, or if, a productive discussion ensues.
Why read a book on leadership?
It seems like a fairly benign proposition. After all, from a book we might be able glean insight that could put us over decades of suffering through trial and error experimentation. There are many testimonials that support the value of such expositions and, indeed, there is an entire industry that revolves around self-improvement that presupposes its potency to make leaders out of those who would otherwise remain peasants. Should we then, as aspiring Vaisnavas, brandish the seemingly ever-expanding concept of yukta-vairagya and incorporate some of the training offered by these peddlers of contemporary power? After all, we live in the twenty-first century where the strictures of Manu Samhita are often difficult to map into our lives and interactions with others.
My introductory topic is: Why does the ‘leadership’ industry exist?
Here’s one way of answering this question: People are suffering and looking to take shelter of something to extricate themselves.
The idea of being a leader can be appealing to those who have come to the point of awareness wherein one determines that due to being exploited by those in leadership roles they are suffering. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.13.47 elucidates this idea:
phalgūni tatra mahatāṁ
jīvo jīvasya jīvanam
Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another.
Devoid of an expressible identity of spiritual servitorship, the conditioned entity, human or otherwise, reacts to such a predicament by adopting defensive patterns of behaviour. Sometimes it is said that ‘a good offense is the best defence’. Thus being a leader, associating with aspiring leaders, reading books on leadership, paying lots of money to attend conferences on leadership, etc may appear to offer a competitive advantage in the capitalist society we live in. It sure beats spending a life being enslaved by the assertive doesn’t it?
The sad irony occurs when those sentient enough to see this happening cash in on the punters. In the capitalist purview, markets often need to be generated by impressing upon consumers that they are unfulfilled because they are missing a certain something in their lives. Billions of dollars are spent annually to find novel ways to influence people into accepting something like “The reason why girls don’t like you is because you smell, you don’t wear the right kind of clothes, drive the right kind of car, imbibe the right kind of media, and so on. Save up your paychecks, buy our stuff and then you’ll enjoy like these people in our advertisements.” Does this sort of gross manipulation work? You bet. In fact it has been determined that even when people are aware that they are being influenced this way the repeated messages still do the job. (reference available upon request)
In the same vein, the leadership industry trots onto the scene to fill the need of those wanting to voluntarily imbibe certain principles that purport to increase their level of individual effectiveness. Like some sort of rajasic new age mind, body, spirit fair, entrepreneurs complete to hawk their own brand of bullet pointed principles for how to get ahead in a vast number of spheres. Playing on the underlying assumption that there are two categories of people, leaders or followers, a consumer frenzy emerges to catch the latest trend in self-advancement.
So what kind of transformational messages do these guides offer? On what level does any transformation actually take place? Do they challenge the submissive reader’s identity as an exploiter of their environment and underline this conditioned perspective as the cause of their ineffectiveness and frustration? If there is an example of a book like this then I’d have a hard time accepting that it could be more effective than Srimad Bhagavatam.
Let’s examine the hypothetical situation supposing that the leadership industry really could deliver the goods. We’d then have an exponentially increasing number of leaders walking amongst us that would gradually transform the mass consciousness to the point where those who were previously leaders would recursively and cyclically be relegated as followers again. So long as the goal is anything other than service to God then it doesn’t matter how much we transform thinking patterns on the mental and intellectual levels – the result is still the same: punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām (SB 7.5.30)
Leaders of what?
Granted, there are some who look to leadership gurus because they are living for a cause that inspires them to introspectively assess their shortcomings and improve their game. Alright, but I don’t think there are enough of these people to inspire or fund such an industry. Rather, they mostly cater to people who want to extricate themselves from an exploitative paradigm but don’t exactly have a situation to contextualize their newly forged ‘leadership identity’. So they are then forced by self-imposed conditioning to compete for such a situation that will allow them to assert themselves accordingly.
Do genuine leaders need to read books on how to manipulate people into following them?
To give my presentation some structure we can let this serve as the topic of our next article. I hope something written here might help you to look at this subject from a different angle. Please feel free to comment at whatever length you like. I enjoy thorough presentations. You might want to jot down some of your thoughts while your registration is pending. I don’t allow open registration to avoid spambots.