The Pragati Leadership Blog

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Spir-IT Summit Coming Up: My Thoughts

India’s Transformation will depend upon three ITs :  Information Technology, Inspired Teaching and Inner Transformation.

India’s Transformation will show the way for International Transformation.

A closer  look at the IT Industry in India shows a pressing need for Inspiration, Integration and Innovation.

We need to see a thriving of Wellness in all areas.

At the heart of a thriving IT industry is thriving people. People who are  healthy, joyous and professionally excellent in their domains. They work in green and nourishing environments with some of the best talent you can find. The IT industry  also needs some people to collaborate across domains/ areas of expertise and traditional verticals.

Maybe even across different organisations which specialize in different areas.

This will enable them to co-create Innovative Solutions which deliver more value at lower costs for global clients.

Pragati Leadership has always believed that there are vast Inner resources in all of us which can be tapped.

Research on Meditation and Presence shows direct links to higher creativity, more equanimity and better health.

The SPIR-IT summit is an opportunity to listen to the wisdom of gathered CXOs from the IT Industry in Pune…what has worked for them, what is their vision, and what we can all do together.

When we all work together for the well-being of people in the IT Industry, Pune will come even closer to showing the rest of India, that there is more value in collaboration and co-creation than in competing.

by Arun Wakhlu

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Carpe Diem Mumbai 2015- Highlights

At Pragati Leadership’s flagship annual event, Carpe Diem, the first speaker was James Brook, Co-Founder and MD, Strengths Partnership. James spoke on the “Strengths Based Approach to Leadership”.

Mr. Brook began his talk with thoughts on the strengths based approach to leadership development, and how it challenges the traditional assumptions of leadership. He pointed out that organizations are investing so much into leadership development, that when combined, these investments equal the GDP of a small country. Yet there are not many promising leaders out there today. This is because employee engagement is deteriorating.  An indicator of failed leadership would be the many scandals that are unearthed regularly. There is a lack of longevity in the process of leadership. All this suggests that the development is not working in the right direction.

James BrookHe went on to question the audience:  ‘Is it necessary for a leader to be well rounded?’ and ‘What makes a good leader?’

He threw light on these issues by saying that it is not necessary for leaders to be well rounded. Effective leaders like Steve Jobs for example focus on their key strengths and work on them. Not all leaders have the same strengths, but the best ones build on their strengths and conquer their weaknesses to move forward.

He went on to discuss whether leaders are always right and do they know it all, then went further to say that this is not mandatory. A good leader is someone who appreciates and inculcates the importance of strengths, gives direction, goes beyond the usual and engages every team member.

From a psychology perspective, he shared that strengths are innate and developed mostly during childhood but behavior is something that can be learned and implemented strategically.

He also spoke of two very important qualities of a leader:

  • Vision
  • Sparking Engagement

In conclusion he emphasized  that stretching strengths beyond the comfort zone will help a person to grow.

The second speaker, Arun Wakhlu (Founder and Executive Chairman, Pragati Leadership) spoke about “Exploring the Core Strength of Wholesome Leadership™”.

He commenced the session with his trademark ‘Namaste’, a traditional India greeting. He went on to emphasize the importance of understanding the kind of leadership that is needed for the good of the world, and the dangers facing the world not getting the necessary attention.

Arun Wakhlu“What kind of leaders, are needed to create a truly progressive world?” He questioned.

Arun went on to share that leaders who can inspire and energize, those who are fueled on passion and energy are needed. The one thing that is not given importance, is our strengths, this is the missing element that hinders our productivity on the path of Wholesome Leadership™. Two things that need focus are Context, ie., running a business holistically and looking at the bigger picture. The second is Consciousness, ie., living in the moment, taking each day and each opportunity, one at a time. It is pointless carrying the baggage of the past and anticipating the future, for our actions are determined on the basis of how we see things.

Arun raised the question “What are the effects of this ‘baggage’ on productivity?”.  A general consensus among the members of the audience was that it caused loss of energy, time and positivity.

Arun said that this realization would result in the leader being on fire! He went on to question, “Is it possible to put others on fire if you yourself aren’t on fire? There is no vitality in the motivation of others if you aren’t motivated yourself. Looking at it from the outside will lead to freedom and clarity of thought which in turn would lead to thriving innovation.”

According to him the problem lies in the attitude. He said, “there is no focus on, or nurturing of, strengths. Negative qualities are given more attention. Awareness which is ignored, is the deepest level of consciousness.”

He stressed on the concept of “Carpe Diem”, seizing the day.  “Seize the day” he said “as you never know what can happen to you tomorrow. “

He left the audience pondering with the parting thought, “It is all about taking calculated risks.”

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A Journey: From Street Child to Published Author, World Traveler

Amin Sheikh, Published Author

Amin Sheikh, Published Author

I recently got the opportunity to interview three leaders. As expected, each is a unique individual. However at heart, they are alike. One of these leaders is Mr. Amin Sheikh. The following is an account of our chat.

His hundred watt smile painted a happy picture, but as our conversation wore on, I learnt so much about Amin, some incidents tore me up while some made me laugh. His life story is no less than a movie screenplay, unfortunately it is very real.

At the age of 5, Amin was living in a slum with his temperamental mother, abusive step father and 2 younger sisters; he was forced to work in order to supplement the household income. He did so by working at a tea stall ferrying cups of tea back and forth between the stall and the customers. The tea stall owner too was temperamental and soon Amin learnt not to do anything that could instigate his anger. One day while delivering tea to a nearby factory, Amin tripped and fell, bringing the cups crashing down and smashing them to bits. In a moment of sheer panic, the innocent 5 year old decided it would be best to run; for returning to the stall meant he would be taken to task. He ran for a long time without looking back. That night, he slept at a railway station.

He continued to live at the railway station for 3 years and learned to beg or steal food. He also learnt how to fend for himself through few small tricks to sell things (such as a comb) or services (shoe shine). Amin tried returning home a few times but the abusive step father combined with a taste of the “free” life, as he calls it, prompted him to leave home each time. He made friends at the railway station and also travelled the length and breadth of the country free of cost, on the trains.

In those 3 years Amin faced the worst possible situations, physical and sexual abuse, forced drug abuse, instability, and many other atrocities. This also ensured that he lost his innocence at the age of 8 and was a cynic.  When Sister Seraphine of Snehasadan came to rescue him for the first time, he didn’t trust her and  in fact, pelted her with objects so that she would leave. However, fate was smiling kindly upon the boy and  Sister Seraphine persisted. A few days later, Amin went to live at Snehasadan.  He lived there for 8 whole years, and these were the most enjoyable and beautiful years of his life. There were hardships, there were rules, there were studies (which he disliked) and there was a time when he ran away even from Snehasadan, but he came back in a few days’ time.

Amin believes he first met angels at Snehasadan, they saved him and turned his life around. He went on to work with a newspaper vendor, then owned his own newspaper stalls and also washed cars for a living. With time, Amin saved up some money and learnt to drive, he also obtained a driver’s license. One day, one of his angels, Father Placie asked Amin to meet him at his office.

Father Placie told Amin about an employment opportunity with a man named Eustace Fernandes who needed a full time driver. Amin took up the opportunity without hesitation. His first impression on entering the house of Mr. Fernandes was that he had only seen something like this in the movies they showed at Snehasadan. Never before had he seen a more beautiful house and one so large. There were so many things, each with their own place, everything was clean and vibrant. Mr. Fernandes immediately hired him. Amin later learnt that Mr. Fernandes was a renowned artist, creator of the mascot for an extremely well known Indian dairy brand. He had a lot of visitors each day, friends and others. It was a lively home and slowly Amin became his man Friday.

Amin spent many years in the service of Mr. Fernandes and during these years he learnt English, and also received help from Mr. Fernandes to start his own transportation business. However, his calling came as a present, on Christmas day in the year 2002.

On being asked by Mr. Fernandes what he wanted for Christmas, Amin timidly asked if he could go along with him to Barcelona, where Mr. Fernandes’ sister lived and who he visited regularly. Mr. Fernandes thought it over and finally agreed.  In April, 2003 they flew to Barcelona for a vacation that lasted a month and half. Amin has flown to Barcelona and many other European cities since that first trip in 2003.

Amin Sheikh, the boy who ran away from his home in a slum at the age of 5 is now a proud owner of his own business, he owns 2 homes in Mumbai (one for his his mother and sisters; one where he lives by himself), he is a published author, having written his illustrated autobiography. His book has been translated into multiple languages such as Hindi, Marathi and French. Soon it is expected to release in 2 other foreign languages.

Amin has friends all over the world who help him on his journey to achieve his dream of providing employment to the underprivileged youth in Mumbai. He plans to open a café in Mumbai, through which he would like to connect these youth with the right employment opportunities. He is currently raising funds for this project. Through this café, he also wants to create a haven of equality where the homeless can be served along with other customers.

A leader in his own right, Amin has turned his life around, and wants to work towards helping other less fortunate souls who go unnoticed by most. His dream he says, is to change the life of at least one street child in his lifetime.


The Dutch Woman Who Wants to Create 1 Million Jobs for Women in Rural India

Ellen Tacoma

Ellen Tacoma

Ellen Tacoma is a co-founder of Women on Wings, and is based in the Netherlands. She, together with Maria van der Heijden, started this organization in 2007.

Ellen’s journey began in the field of Advertising.  After working with an advertising firm and with a telecom giant, she decided to take the reins in her own hands and became a freelancer in the field of customer relationships and marketing.

While she thoroughly enjoyed her work, her inner voice questioned “How am I contributing to society?”, this served as a wake up call.

In the year 2006, she received an invitation for an event detailing an exchange program with existing social entrepreneurs from India. She attended this event with her friend Maria van der Heijden, as they both share a common love for India. They left this event having both enrolled for the exchange program- this was the beginning of “Women on Wings”.

Their goal: “to create one million jobs for women in rural India”.

To achieve the said goal, they work with Social Entrepreneurs in India. The outline of their work in a simplistic sense is that they work with organizations that need to outsource their production process. Women on Wings connects these organizations to rural women; who then go on to make the product by hand. The products are usually, jewelry, pottery and in some cases sericulture too. It is flexible work that women can do at or near their homes.

Currently 182,000 women have been provided with jobs, they are looking at touching 200,000 jobs at the end of this fiscal year. They have been doubling their achievement every year.


When asked about their experience, Ellen said, that it was not easy to give up a comfortable life and begin this organization; funds were a huge question mark, they didn’t know if they were good fund raisers themselves, and they were unsure of how things worked in India etc., yet in the summer of 2007 they decided to take the plunge. They were sure of having sleepless nights but the thought of working towards their goal filled them with excitement.

They didn’t have funding to begin with, so they finally began work with their own savings, and for a while in the beginning they had absolutely no income.

Why only Indian rural women?

Through their experiences in India, they have found that Indian women have an inner strength and pride, and this they believe is a common trait shared among all Indian women irrespective socio economic differences. They find Indian women to be resilient, and this touched them, prompting them to think of how they could enrich the lives of these women and provide them with beautiful experiences which would also translate into monetary benefits.


They have faced many obstacles in their ongoing journey, for example, in the year 2013 they faced a major funding crisis, at one point they decided to take a step back and called for a staff meeting to discuss the current scenario and the best possible plan to move forward. During the course of the discussion, to their absolute surprise and delight they found that their staff was willing to forego their pay in order to achieve the goal they had set. The company was able to make payments to the staff only by the month of December. The staff members all lived in uncomfortable situations for that period of time. This was the most trying time and yet, it yielded the most touching experience.

She also mentions that the difference between Dutch and Indian culture, is an ongoing learning journey. For example, sometimes they feel a meeting is going great, but their Indian counterparts are silent, which leads to confusion.

Role Models:

Ellen says she doesn’t have any one role model, as, over the journey of her life she has encountered many people who have influenced her way of thinking and her outlook to life. She also mentions that she has had two very strong and independent grand-mothers. They managed their families perfectly yet were very fiercely independent ladies. She was truly inspired by them.


She is inherently a person who trusts facts and figures, but over the years; she has learnt to trust her intuitions. She believes in silence, morning exercises to keep herself centered, she loves nature and she tries to spend all her free time in her garden. She dislikes external noise (like in the cities) , she needs peace to introspect. If she does not get these, then she literally falls ill and feels that she makes wrong decisions.


“What has helped me strongly is to have set a very clear goal. For example my goal is “To set up 1 million jobs for women in rural India”, the clear points are: 1 million jobs, rural women and India.  This clarity comes from deep inside and must guide you over time. The path you take towards your goal may change with time, but your goal must be clear, not necessarily something fancy or something that sounds good, it must be something that is true to you. Strongly listen to your heart.”

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From Just Another Option to Employer of Choice

Why are people leaving?

Why is it that organizations hire talented (or seemingly talented) employees, train them, take pride in them (or are disappointed), and watch helplessly as they leave?

There are many factors at play here. The often heard one is the lack of employee engagement, but the real issue lies much before engagement goes for a toss. Attrition is only the result. There is no point focusing on the result. One has to focus on the causes.

The causes are varied. From the lack of proper job fitment, to a lack of touchtime with the manager, to not receiving mentoring or recognition, to feeling that one is not being allowed to contribute fully, to a lack of autonomy, a lack of direction, career growth, compensation and many others. These things need to be fixed in order for the end result to look better.

Allow me to demonstrate this through my own experiences, which will undoubtedly find echoes in everything you may have experienced or heard about engagement, retention or attrition.

Earlier in my career, I was with a BPO firm was about 3 years, and another one later for a little less than 18 months. The latter one was a mega name and had a great value system and some noteworthy HR practices.

So why did I stay for longer with the former? In the former company, 2 things stood out. I was given an almost free hand to innovate and implement, and free speech to contribute. I felt valued. I received high class training, which added value to me. So why did I quit? Well, the trainings stopped, and I was not being given credit for the work I was putting in. Nor were my managers mentoring me the way they were earlier. The place had slipped into a harder place, a business only place. It had grown. It wasn’t like a start-up anymore.

The reasons for my leaving the other company were also exactly the same. I wasn’t getting the feeling that my contributions were valued enough. The growth of my career (which I’d call my own “Business”) was not accelerated, but being impeded.

Solving the Employee Turnover Puzzle

While most of the attrition factors point directly to the manager, it is the responsibility of the organization to groom the manager and to demonstrate, not just communicate, the values that the organization states it seeks to inculcate.

The problem isn’t always top down either. Leadership in most organizations today knows the value of engaged employees, and exhorts the organization to respond to that need. (According to a Gallup study, higher employee engagement in organizations translates into an 18% rise in productivity, a 12% rise in both profitability and customer metrics, and 31% reduction in employee turnover!)

However the Leader’s message gets lost, often at the level immediately below him. The KRA’s of the senior management do include people metrics, but year end review seldom see these being discussed. Senior management knows this and allocates their scarce time to the results that will be discussed – the bottom-line.

The triple bottom line rarely if ever gets any focus. The companies in India that do focus on the triple bottom line, like ITC, find themselves on the 2011 BT list of Best Companies to Work For. The above study says that employees today are beginning to look at the career as their “business”. If organizations cannot help their business grow, they leave.

So what is the answer?

Every organization on that list puts employee comfort, health, flexibility, learning, growth and balance at the centre of their HR initiatives. The message is clear: Help employees discover and express themselves fully, and they will reward you with their loyalty, productivity and creativity.

Therefore the answer is for managers to pay a lot more attention to how their employees feel. Feel about themselves, about their manager, about the organization, and about their relationships with each other. And how does the manager go about doing that?

For starters, we as organisations must focus on imparting learning in Interpersonal, Communication, and Team Building Skills to our managers. By equipping people managers with the skills they need to make employees feel more valued, the employees are guaranteed to feel appreciated & important.

Next, we invest in building ourselves as a Learning Organization. This can be done by offering learning opportunities to our employees to further their professional and personal growth. However, Learning Organizations are those that don’t stop at training, but additionally create a learning environment that allows people the room to make a few mistakes, try new things and learn from them.

HUL is one organization that allows its employees a free hand to implement practices they think will benefit the organisation. As a result of this autonomy, their reputation among young aspirants, particularly students is that of a “dream company”. A 2011 survey by Nielsen said that HUL is one of the top five employers of choice.

Additionally, HUL provides year-round leadership training programmes, a mapping of employees’ potential and a three-year career projection, should they choose to stay on in the company.

Furthermore, we help our employees to find, rediscover or maintain that delicate Balance between work, life, interests, society, taking and giving.

Having helped our people find this awareness, we can be confident of providing a kind of leadership that nourishes the self, the organization and society.

And before long we will find ourselves on both lists: Best Employers to Work For and Most Admired Companies.

About the author: Aman Zaidi

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Wholesome Leadership and Self Mastery

A Google search on  the word Leadership yields 113,000,000 hits. Leadership  is one of the most researched areas when it comes to business. Business touches the lives of almost all of humanity. Of the top 100 revenue generating entities of the world, more than half are multinational corporations. The power of Business for good is therefore huge.

Leaders in the world of Business have the potential to create positive breakthroughs for the entire planet. What kind of leaders do we need for this?

The leaders of today need to be different from the leaders of yesterday. Today, business can no longer  see itself as an isolated island dedicated  merely to the creation of shareholder wealth. Business Leaders have begun to recognize their larger role in delivering value to all stakeholders and preserving the environment for future generations. That is why hear about”Conscious Capitalism” which takes care of People, Profits and the Planet. We are also increasingly reading about  business leaders “expanding consciousness” in organizations.

This  is manifested through outcomes like:

  • Creating a joyful and engaging environment at work
  • Valuing interconnectedness and working across interfaces in Government and  civil society
  • Stewardship of organizational resources and
  • Actively working for an area of social concern .e.g. environment, child rights etc

This sort of Leadership which is based on an understanding of our intrinsic “oneness” and “interconnectedness” is called “Wholesome Leadership” tm. Wholesome leaders actively deliver value to all stakeholders.

What does it take to be a Wholesome Leader? Leaders, irrespective of their industry, need to be good at creating a powerful vision, inspiring people to follow that vision, thinking strategically through various business options, adding value  through innovation, leading teams and people  and most importantly, being in integrity and acting as role models for  their teams.

As Wholesome Leaders, we also need to be grounded in “Self Mastery”. Self Mastery means  both being aware and in control of our attitudes, thoughts, preferences and mental paradigms. It is about the ability to see, understand your mind and its tricks. It involves understanding that we have tools and options for thinking , and having the discernment and awareness to know what to use at the appropriate time.

As  a Leader, it is only when I am helping myself that I am in a position to help and serve others. I can lead others only when I have first leant to lead myself. Self mastery is the ability to make the most out of your physical, mental, and spiritual health. In other words, to be the best you can be. As a result of your efforts, you will be able to help and lead everyone around you.  In order for you to change the world around you, for the better, you have to change yourself for the better, along the way.

As  Business Leaders, self awareness  helps in making the right business choices. Self mastery refers to mastery over self. Being in control of ones emotions, feelings and not letting preferences, biases and prejudices sway  one from making the right decision helps us in Leadership. Paying attention to “self” is the foundational step in Leadership. When we work at the “roots”, only then can we expect significant changes to happen in our behavior and our actions. Self-Mastery refers to these roots. When we nurture the roots,we will automatically get the “fruits” which is the  business outputs we  desire.

Self Mastery refers to a number of attributes that have to do with  self awareness and self management.Some of these are:

  1. Awareness and Presence: Being in the now, unblocking all that comes in the way of being fully accepting and present in the moment Awareness is the foundation for self-mastery. Awareness has its roots in the deep understanding of  life and existence. An aware and conscious leader would be able to see the reasons for a problem/challenge and make choices that look at  the larger picture. All situations in life are inter-connected. What we do in one situation has it implications in another. As situations are interconnected, so are human beings. Being grounded in Awareness helps us to remain centered, calm, and see the oneness in all of life .Presence comes from Living in the now. Being present to the present moment helps us to develop the quality of “Presence”. This is not to say that one shouldn’t learn from the past or plan for the future. Remebering that the”now” is the only part of reality that we have to work on helps us to be grounded in awareness. Practices that help to build awareness  include meditation, yoga, reflection, practice of being in the now etc.
  2. Attitudes of Abundance: Attitudes broadly refer to the way we see things and consequently act on them. Attitudes refer to the mental models that we hold about ourselves, work and life. It is therefore abundantly clear that the attitudes and mental models that a Leader holds will shape not just her behaviour and actions but also impact the way she runs the organization.As a leader, if we consciously choose to see “Life and Business” as realm of possibilities, then we create a very different aura around ourselves. We think big, think out-of-the box and genuinely feel that “all is possible”. Along with this is the attitude of  gratitude and appreciation. This is well exemplified by the best selling book ”The Secret”.

    Attitudes of Abundance refer  to the attitudes that help us to build self-mastery. It is about being abundance inspired rather than deficiency driven. Working from an inner space of acceptance, appreciation and gratitude. This helps Leaders to attract abundance and positive outcomes through steadily held positive and appreciative thoughts. Thinking in ways that attract abundance is a conscious choice as a leader. It is not a matter of coincidence that “good things” seem to happen more to aware and conscious leaders.

  1. Courage and Audacity: Courage has been defined in many ways. It is deep faith in self and the universe and the conviction that life  will support what you intent to do. Courage is an attribute that we see in most Leaders. It may be a physical act or a business or people related decision. Having courage and relentless faith enables  a leader to tread  the pathway where others would hesitate. Having courage does not mean that there is no fear. Courage is persisting despite the fear. Freeing oneself from the outcome, helps in reducing the hesitancy and also the fear. As a Leader, when we live and demonstrate courage, we would  take on large audacious  goals for our organization, live in integrity with our values, work and hire people better than ourselves, develop people to take on our roles, speak up when things in the organization are not aligned with the values. Without demonstrating personal and professional courage, a Leader would not be able to be effective.
  2. Living out ones Values: Self mastery would be incomplete without a deep awareness and alignment with ones values. A wholesome leader reflects and is clear about  his/her value system – what they hold dear and for which they are willing to stand up. Living out ones values is  a indicator that the Leader has the capacity, conviction and the courage to take the tough road to  success. There would no compromises on Values. Taking tough decisions is  a test of self-mastery.

Where do we start learning the secrets of self mastery? If you accept things around you, without demand, you already have taken the first step. There are two important factors here.

  1. Once you accept people, and situations, for what they are, you won’t waste time and energy with frustration. This causes inner frustration, emotional turmoil, worries, and depression.
  2. Once you change yourself, through positive self mastery, the world around you will change for the better, without much effort on your part.

Self-Mastery is an ongoing journey for a Leader. At every stage in the Professsional Life of a leader, he/ she needs to work on themselves at the foundational level to go to the next level of capability and effectiveness. This is best done by working at the roots of  awareness and building the self-understanding  to mature to the next level. Building skills and competencies comes at a far later stage. Business Leaders who understand this mature into effective leaders early enough. Unless one can lead oneself, one can hardly lead others. As the Gita says ”Atha Raja,tahtha praja” (As the leader,so the people).

About the author: Anu Wakhlu. View Anu Wakhlu’s video profile.

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Developing a Second Line of Leadership

Leadership is ultimately about developing other leaders. There are many qualities of leadership that we seek in our leaders that are highly valued e.g. Integrity, Business Acumen, Power of Vision etc. These are certainly important. However the primary task of leadership is to develop other leaders and therefore build organization capability for the present and the future.

The role of a leader is to create successors for their role and that of other critical roles in the organization. However, in most cases this is the one aspect of the leadership role that receives inadequate attention. At the organizational level too, this remains an area of challenge.  In a recent study conducted by Bersin and Associates for over 700 Human Resource and Learning and Development Managers- the number one challenge they all stated was “filling gaps in the leadership pipeline.” And yet there is overwhelming evidence that organizations who have a depth of leadership deliver better business results! In another study conducted by Hewitt Associates (TCFL – Top Companies for Leaders study), a clear co-relation was identified between building leaders and achieving significant business targets.

Companies are realizing that building leaders and developing potential successors for critical roles in the organization is of strategic importance for the organization’s growth. Indian companies have started putting this on top of their strategic people initiatives. In the same study it was also found that five of twelve companies that have robust practices of developing leaders in the APAC region, were Indian! These included organizations such as ICICI Bank, Aditya Birla Group, Infosys, Wipro and Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

The role of developing leaders from within is the responsibility of three broad stakeholders:

  1. The CEO and the Board of Directors: The role of most CEO’s is to grow the business and ensure operational excellence. What attracts their attention therefore in most cases is the strategic planning process, future growth prospects, operational optimization etc. The role of the CEO in building leaders is often delegated to the Human Resource/ Learning and Development functional head. And yet, this is probably the most important aspect of the CEO’s role: building the human capital for the organization to grow and flourish. The role of the CEO is therefore to be the catalyst and champion for Leadership Development at all levels. This would start by personally identifying and developing as many potential CEO candidates for his/her role. It would then continue by offering opportunities to these candidates to learn, excel and grow in their exposure to the business by personal coaching.

    Similarly, there are very few Boards who would have the agenda of CEO and senior Leadership Development as part of their regular Board agenda. In cases, where the Board asks for reports on the Leadership Development as much as they ask about profitability and strategic alliances, the agenda of People Development gets a firm footing in the company.

  1. The role of Human Resource/ Learning and Development Function: Development of Talent and specifically development of leaders in the organization is one of the critical areas that the Human Resources and the Learning and Development Function of organizations needs to pay attention to. It would start by identifying Leadership Competencies for the present business as well as the future. People across the organization would then need to be mapped on this. Interestingly while most organizations do have a competency framework, most of the time this is limited to functional competencies or then soft skills. Clear leadership attributes and behaviours are not always identified.

    Then an integrated Leadership Development framework and programmes need to be institutionalized and implemented. It is very important to make this a business initiative and not just an HR initiative. Interventions for developing leaders need to be done at all levels in the organization. This would ensure that the leadership capability for all gets enhanced. This would then result in better leadership band-width in the organization. Special programmes for high potential/ emerging leaders also need to be run as accelerated leadership development programmes. These would need to have opportunities for the leaders to experiment with new business opportunities/ challenges beyond their existing roles.

    Internal Coaches and Mentors are helpful in developing internal Leaders since they can support and accelerate the process of tacit knowledge and experience sharing. The Essar Group in India has based their entire Leadership Development initiative on the practice of Coaching and Mentoring.

  1. The role of Individual Leaders: Each Manager and Leader in an organization needs to own their role of being mentors and people developers for their respective teams. In our own experience of working with over 1,00,000 people in over 600 organizations, we have experienced that when line managers assume the role of HR managers of their own teams, they are able to develop leaders for their functions. This can happen when People Development and Leadership Development are seen as their primary role. Getting results is a by-product of this primary role. Such leaders need to do so by paying attention to processes like the Performance Management System and by recognizing its importance in tracking both the potential and performance of their team members. Similarly they should be interested in the competency building and the training and learning initiatives for their teams. They could sit with their teams prior to them being sent for training and clarify their expectations. After the training, they further need to track the improvements the person is making on the job and give constructive feedback. Such Leaders should also spend time with their team on a one on one basis, coaching and supporting their colleagues. They need to ensure that the team has exposure to new concepts and best practices of similar industries, so that they are familiar with the external environment.

    They need to be passionate about their roles as “People Developers” and spend more than 50-60% of their time on this aspect of their role. Delegation will ensure that they are building capability within their own function.

Leadership Development would require leaders to be supremely confident of themselves and their capability. Only leaders who are secure and focused would want to develop other leaders in their own functions and teams.

Organizations that are led by wise and visionary leaders and are supported by a proactive and credible Human Resource/ Learning and Development function create a cadre of leaders who promote building the leadership pipeline from within.

About the author: Anu Wakhlu. View Anu Wakhlu’s video profile


Advaita and Wholesome Leadership

As we look forward to the start of a New Year, I feel a sense of both satisfaction and excitement, and write this blog post to share certain key insights with readers. I believe that these insights will help us to define new paradigms of business, that are based on treating people and communities with respect, sustaining our environment and serving the common good. The transformational power of these new paradigms will mean that it becomes possible to co-create joy, peace and wealth for all on Earth!

The reason I want us to start thinking and working in this direction is because I believe that the existing theories of business are no longer serving individuals, organizations or society as a whole. On the one hand, businesses are under pressure to improve profit margins and reduce costs, while on the other, all kinds of waste – of resources, opportunities and energies – is allowed to continue undeterred. Individuals within organizations suffer from the effects of high stress at the workplace, as well as a lack of engagement. This leads to a feeling of being cut off from their personal power and the expression of their natural talents and gifts, and even depression in extreme cases. The business environment demands constant learning and innovation, but opportunities to relate, converse and exchange ideas freely are getting scarce. We see many cases where organizations function without a sense of responsibility and cause environmental damage or contribute to corruption in society.

The new paradigm that I visualize is based on the concept of Wholesome Leadership, and assimilates the principle of Advaita, which is an ancient teaching (Vedanta) from India. Understanding and adopting these principles can help to build leadership that functions in an integrated and holistic manner, caring for people, the planet and profits. We can develop leaders who have a systems perspective …. greater breadth and new ways of seeing and responding to the challenges that life and business is throwing up rapidly at us. This also calls for understanding the interdependence, complexity and connections not just in organizational life, but in social, environmental, technological, markets and political landscapes as well.

Such a unifying and integrating paradigm is the paradigm of Wholesome Leadership.

Wholesome Leadership is leadership coming from a space of Wholesomeness. Wholesomeness is a space wherein all notions of ones limited self (or “I”) have dissolved. When we define ourselves in any limited way, we are not wholesome. We then “see” our capacities and potential in limited and bounded ways. This also limits our perception and thinking.

On the other hand, if we know ourselves as “that which sees everything and cannot be seen”, we are unable to define ourselves in any limited way. All notions of who I am are dropped. We let go into the silent space of the witnessing Awareness and all boundaries of my “self” disappear. This is ‘Wholesomeness’. It is also about being one with all of life. (When we are none, we are one!). Wholesomeness is the dissolving of all limitations and being one with all of existence. All seeming divisions and separations (which come from the mind) are transcended. Being Wholesome means being one with the indivisible, peaceful and unchanging reality which contains (and is) all things. We can also see Wholesomeness as a space of balance, freedom, joy, peace, love, compassion and gratitude. It is the space of pure Consciousness or Awareness which is the source of all values. It is non-duality.

Leadership that “happens” from the loving and creative space of Wholesomeness is “Wholesome Leadership”. Living a life based on a deeply lived experience of Wholesomeness is the foundation for being a Wholesome Leader.

Wholesome Leadership is leadership that emerges from being fully present in the “now”. It is spontaneous and creative. It is instrumental in unfolding wholesomeness in other people. Wholesome Leadership is about initiating action on things that one deeply cares about. It is leadership for the well-being of all.

As we practice Wholesome Leadership, we see things happening of their own accord. This includes an experience of one’s bodymind “doing” things! There is an amazing sense of wonder as we witness this paradox of total inner stillness co-existing with intense goal directed action. A deep attachment to people and things co-exists with a supreme detachment. There is just a vast stillness, peace and a deep contentment which is undisturbed by anything or anyone.

Advaita and Wholesomeness

“Advaita” is Non-duality (“A” means “non”, “dvaita” means “duality”) or absolute unity. This ancient teaching (also known as Vedanta) from India, comes to the conclusion that there is no duality between the subject that knows and the object that is known.

Both Wholesomeness and Advaita refer to non-duality or oneness. Both are grounded in the principles of Awareness. Awareness is that which sees everything but cannot be seen …,the innermost witnessing essence which has no boundaries. Since Awareness has no boundaries (remember, it is the witness of all boundaries), everything becomes Awareness. This everything is the Whole all together as One.

Both Wholesomeness and Advaita talk about the feeling of joy, freedom, exhilaration, totality, health and harmony that come from living from this space of understanding and awareness. Wholeness is the union of all opposites.

A discerning reader might wonder why we need another label for Advaita when Advaita and Wholesomeness are exactly the same? To respond to this, I would like to share a small analogy. Electricity at 250 Volts and 50 Hertz is the same all over the world. However, the shape of plugs and sockets in different countries are different. If you try to use the plug that works in India with a socket in Hong Kong, it won’t fit in. So we need adapters which help the connection to become easy. The word Advaita is linked to Vedanta and to India. For many, it is also the foundation of Hinduism. While it is a profoundly universal and all-inclusive concept, it may prejudice some people and therefore may not be accessible to them. The word Wholesomeness on the other hand, is culturally neutral. It is a scientific term easily understood. It is our hypothesis that the business and scientific mind may find it easier to identify and relate with the notion of Wholesomeness.

Wholesomeness provides an excellent foundation for a new kind of leadership that would help us to meet the current and future challenges of Business. The principles of both Wholesomeness and Advaita are eternal, and grounded in the dynamics of the wholeness of life. I will keep sharing more aspects of Wholesome Leadership, its applications and benefits, on this blog. I wish each of you a very Happy and Wholesome New Year!

About the author: Arun Wakhlu


Realism v/s Optimism

As the new financial year is about to begin, organizations and their leaders look at the goals they want to take for themselves.  The process of goal setting, and its results are often influenced by the mindset of the leader.  A lot of organizations often use the following clichés while goal setting.

  •          Let’s plan for a big leap
  •          We can certainly do lot more given the talent we have
  •          The market is huge, and growing, and it’s all up to us6-image
  •          Without strong growth, we will be letting down our shareholders
  •          Our board has given us the mandate to push harder
  •          Let’s aim for the Sky!

Sounds familiar?  While this looks exciting and promising and defines what I would call as an Optimist Mindset, it has several pitfalls which organizations and leaders fail to discover.  Optimism based on one’s ambition, dreams often can be disconnected or far from the reality.   While there have been many powerful stories and tales around how a big dream got realized – and hence the power of thinking Big, it fails to account for how, 99.5% other such big dreams never materialized.  So would it prudent to make the goals more realistic?

There is a case for a realistic approach. The difference between pure optimism based approach and a realistic approach is sometimes so obvious that people chose to ignore it or downgrade its role in making goals happen.   That small thing called “common sense” is often derided because it seems to bring down the lofty goals which an Optimist Leader is trying to project.  And History has always decorated the Optimist….Realists have hardly been recognized for their contributions.

optimist vs realist


There also can be something like an Optimism Fatigue which organizations need to watch out for.  Multiple occurrences of organizations projecting a bigger picture than what it achieves can lead to the team feeling fatigued and disillusioned. This is a situation which leaders need to avoid. The key is to keep the gap between Optimistic and Realistic goals and their approach to minimum. Plugging this gap is vital for organizations to grow in a sustainable manner!!


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Dark Forces. Yes or No?

The Riddle

Recently I was talking to a friend who had been experiencing a difficult moment in life. He mentioned that he’d gone to see people who read from purportedly ancient Tamil scriptures and revealed to him that he was under the influence of negative energies; dark forces that made him do unpredictable things. He wondered whether the answer for his uncharacteristic behaviour lay in his being possessed.


He asked me for my opinion on stuff like this. I told him that I was an active disbeliever. That I would always look for empirical or cognitive evidence to see whether these stories would hold true.

I also mused to him that I preferred not to externalise blame for my behaviour and that I preferred to look within.

The Musing

As we talked, I realised that a lot of the stuff that we struggle with is on account of us not learning critically important life skills like emotional regulation, practising restraint, carefully choosing our thoughts, leading a balanced lifestyle etc.

The Garbage In – images (1)Garbage Out formula works with human lives as well. If you sleep 9 hours, eat right, exercise, practise some form of stress management or relaxation, educate yourself on emotional control etc., your life will be good. If you sleep less, eat wrong, don’t exercise, don’t spend time on emotional regulation or relaxation, then your life will not be good. The chances of uncharacteristic behaviour with the former lifestyle are far lesser than with the latter.

I’ve heard people equating thoughts and emotions to “energies” or “forces”. Makes sense as “forces” drive us, propel us. If we also take into account the fact that in olden days anything negative was referred to as “dark” then we can suggest that negative thoughts and negative emotions are the same things as “dark forces”.


When people say that the universe has dark and light forces battling each other, they aren’t talking about anything esoteric; they could merely be suggesting that the way people think and feel affects outcomes in the universe. To my mind, it’s all brain science, psychology and emotional and interpersonal intelligence.

The Answer

I would like to propose that this confusing of “negative thoughts” with “dark forces” arose due to one or both of the following two factors:

  • The evolution of language: The difference in the way words were used then and now.
  • The tendency of poets (ancient and modern) to use metaphors that allude to something rather than being specific about things.

180px-Jacques_barzunThank God for those who wrote elaborate prose instead! Thank God for the left-brained, engineer type who look for and provide details and specifics all the time! Imagine the confusion this world would be in without them! Imagine receiving performance feedback in metaphors, in allegorical verse! Performance too then would be symbolic!

I propose that all of us stretch our cognitive abilities a little or apply the filter of reason whenever we are presented with talk of the esoteric or the occult or the vague.

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