World Peace vs Inner Peace
Arun, 45, a CEO of a US-based fortune 500 company, is gently woken up by the house maid’s 10 yr old son, who is standing with a tray of morning tea, scones and the ipad. Arun asks him to turn on the TV and rolls over to his ornate bedside table to pick up his phone and check messages. The well-manicured lawn outside his window is speaking volumes of his prosperity.
The little boy adjusts the pillows on the bed and without even looking up to thank the boy, or to even glance at the beauty outside his window or listen to the chirping birds, Arun sits up with his eyes glued to the phone and one hand reaching for the steeped tea.
Suddenly the news channel shows breaking news of a school shooting in a US school. Arun drops everything to check if it is anywhere in the vicinity of the boarding school his own 2 children are studying. Luckily, it is in a school three states away. Arun sighs in relief. Not his problem. He has many other things to tackle including a wife who is upset with him for not spending enough time at last night’s party for the community fundraiser. Arun is having to spend more and more time at work these days, because he wishes to make twice the amount of salary by moving to the head office in Los Angeles.
A similar story is playing in many developed countries and while most of us sigh in relief that the shooting has not affected our children, there is someone whose child has been killed in that shooting. There is someone who has developed a mental illness or anxiety issues, which have broken up his or her home. There is someone who has become so financially stressed making ends meet that he or she has lost his edge.
Maybe there is someone who was a top student in university, but by the time he reached his 40s, stress, social isolation, health issues, financial obligations to keep up with the society, has made him insensitive and he has lost his ability to perform at his peak and is now living a life of procrastination and could care less trying to perform.
I often wonder why, in this century, which has been more plentiful and advanced than ever before, that we are resorting to violence, being less empathetic towards others, caring less about the society and more about personal wealth. Why are we more connected to each other digitally than through community and social bonding? Why are we compromising quality of work that comes through deep thinking and introspection in favour of speed and ‘efficiency’? Where is that leading us? Why is all this efficiency not leading to a more peaceful world?
The question that begs to be answered is: How can we use today’s knowledge, technology, connectedness and affluence to lead world peace by leaps and bounds?
“Example is Leadership” – Albert Schweitzer
History is witness to exceptional leaders that have changed the world radically. Today, there is no dearth of leadership training courses, yet we lack exemplary leaders to lead us into world peace.
The word ‘leadership’ seems to be overused and in our faces everywhere we go from schools to universities and workplaces. There is definitely a lot of interest among parents to enroll their children in leadership courses. It seems a vast majority of parents aspire to see their children become the next CEO of a global company earning a million dollar salary and living a high life. And we want it to happen fast.
We reward children in schools for showing ‘leadership’, and hope that some more of their peers will get inspired to take the lead in coming years through award ceremonies.
But, have we really understood the meaning of leadership? What is the blueprint of leadership? What do people expect a leader to do?
Are we confusing leadership with management and adorning it with cars, jewelry, mansion and a heavy bank balance? Not that a leader cannot also have this, but is that where leadership starts and ends? Are Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Teresa and Abraham Lincoln not relevant in today’s world as leaders because they did not have the mansions and high net worth in bank equity? Are teachers in schools not talking about these personalities any more just because they might not be able to respond to questions about their wealth and show somehow that they were leaders even while living a simple life?
Today’s examples of leaders are the rich and famous like President Trump, President Bush, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Though some of them have done a lot in terms of promoting world peace and prosperity, yet it is hard for the young mind to discern between a rich leader and a true leader unless there is some serious dialogue to clearly define the criteria of a real leader.
The art of leadership is such a mystery and sometimes, both youth and adults start to theorize that leadership is in a person’s genetic makeup and that not everyone is endowed with it.
How does a student or a co-worker exhibit leadership without being taught? Is it something they were born with, just like their genes or is someone supposed to show us how to be a leader? What is the recipe to becoming a leader so that each one of us could be one? How can we teach our children to lead a cause before they race to catch the pot of gold?
Personal Leadership May be as Simple as Being Human
On May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave the historical speech before the congress stressing the importance of USA’s flight to space, following the successful exploration by Soviet Union’s Sputnik in 1957. There was a deep sense of embarrassment in the country for being beaten to the first place by the Soviets in this mission.
Among competing priorities, Kennedy had a huge task of convincing the congress for keeping the space mission as its highest priority, given the magnitude of the project in terms of costs and resources. How did Kennedy get around it? Definitely it requires leadership, networking, advocacy and political power. Therefore, the vote in congress was critical. How Kennedy would handle it in this moment required deep integrity to national pride that would show up in his speech. That was the moment when all these efforts would have to come together in the minds of the congress. They would have to be able to quickly process its importance and pit it against their individual agendas to their constituencies. This part of the speech after all facts and figures, by Kennedy, in my opinion, gave the confidence to so many diverse individuals that this project was worth taking a risk for:
“We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations-explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon-if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there”: President Kennedy
President Kennedy was able to communicate for the entire nation a sense of pride and purpose in their work. Through his own knowledge, connectedness, focus and service to the nation, he was able to show how we can pull all resources to achieve a common goal, and follow it up with a plan. He showed the nation the power of single-minded focus to priorities. He exemplified how clarity in one’s values, strengths and weaknesses can lead us to achieve phenomenal goals. He was able to instill purpose and pride in the nation. If you asked the janitor at NASA in those days, “what do you do?”, he would reply with pride: “I am helping USA send a man on the moon”. That is so true: would NASA scientists be able to do their job if they also had to worry about clean and accessible toilets and hallways?
That is the essence of true leadership- when someone is able to show everyone involved in a project or workplace, a sense of purpose and their role in making it successful. Luckily, President Kennedy was also rich and famous. Did he have to have riches and fame to say what he did and inspire others? Probably not. Can anyone of us inspire others using words of honesty, focus on what really matters for the society and have a larger vision for a peaceful and prosperous world? Absolutely yes.
“Human Excellence is a State of Mind”
In that light, I would like to hypothesize that each one of us is born to follow a life of purpose and lead a cause with an inherent ability. Sometimes, we may be born with more accessibility and agency but more importantly, we can all be leaders whenever we decide to be.
Making that decision comes from a certain degree of self-awareness, an understanding of knowing who you are, clarity of values and strengths and weaknesses, knowing what to go after and also what not to pursue, focusing and understanding how to get what one wants and then having a clear plan to achieve that dream.
Though it may look like a simple blueprint for leadership, but in reality, according to Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, SIYLI, each one of us has the ability to influence others and in effect, each one of us is a leader. However, to be an effective leader, we need to have emotional intelligence that allows us “to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, as well as handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.
According to Daniel Goleman, self-awareness is the first step of becoming a leader. Goleman defined the 5 interconnected components of emotional intelligence in that order:
- Social Skills
When we are able to understand what drives us, and have a clarity of our values, we have a framework within which to operate with focus. In the face of challenges, we are then able to exhibit personal leadership, leading our lives with focus, courage and consistency, that inspires others to follow.
In this commentary, we shall focus primarily on this first step, so we can take personal leadership as a solid foundation on which to build the final goal of leading for change in one’s workplace, community and thereby the world.
This brings us to emphasize the importance of Gandhi’s famous quote:
“Be the Change You Want to see in the World”.
In the same context, Elbert Hubbard also said:
“He Who Influences the Thought of His Times, Influences the times That Follow”
If we agree that personal leadership is an achievable goal, then we also need to believe that everyone has the ability to exhibit personal leadership in their lives, and is not dependent on being commemorated with a title or role. In essence, we all are leaders, whether we like it or not, whether we know or believe it or not.
Why are some of us simply going to work because of the pay cheque, not because they believe they can make a positive difference? Why do we fall in the trap of underestimating our own abilities in making a difference? How do some of us achieve monumental results, far beyond what human mind can conceive on the outset, like Abraham Lincoln was able to see the country through civil war by his foresightedness, and assuming the immense responsibility to affect the future of the nation with worth and dignity. Lincoln was not born into a wealthy or resourceful family, but he demonstrated that self-belief and purpose are enough to get us started on the journey of leadership.
A detailed analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership qualities in the article, “The Leadership Journey of Abraham Lincoln”, in McKinsey & Co points out that Lincoln’s leadership was honed through many years of diligent planning, learning, focus, persistence and an attitude of self-belief in the toughest times- “Lincoln simply kept going. Once he made a crucial decision, he saw it through, even when virtually everything around him seemed stacked against such a commitment. This adherence was not the result of stubbornness or self-righteousness. Rather, it came from the care that Lincoln exercised in making choices, including the slowness with which he acted when the stakes were high; from his growing depth as a moral actor; and from his sheer will to get up each morning and do what he could in service of his mission”.
There are some of those leaders who went on to become rich and famous but there are many other who are unsung and never became rich. Mother Teressa refused the riches and yet led the cause of peace without any need for riches and fame. As a result, the real leaders were able to mobilize massive movements, that at the start looked too formidable to tackle. They led by example of honesty, focus and developed over time the ability to showcase a bite-sized plan with a vision for the ultimate goal and pride in individual responsibility.
The takeaway lesson from this section on personal leadership, as we march towards World Peace Day on Sept 21st, is that global peace is everyone’s business. Just because the school shooting or a mass rape did not affect our children, the truth is that it is creating a ripple effect of agitation, as we are all connected to universal energy waves. Research shows that it takes 3 positive acts to neutralize a single negative one.
Therefore, being distracted with social media and disconnected to being humans is not creating the next generation of leaders who are looking to us to exemplify leadership every single moment of our lives. Remember, little eyes are constantly watching us and learning only by example.