American leaders studying the Gita

Posted on


American leaders studying the Gita

The concept of the crucible and the spark that sets off the alchemy was lucidly explained by a young man who had set his heart on conquering India. Alexander the Great, when 16 years old, told his secretary, Eumenes, “The gods put dreams in the hearts of men; dreams that are often much bigger than they are. The greatness of a man lies in that painful discrepancy between the goal he sets himself and the strength that nature granted him when he came into the world.”

This simple and profound statement points to three eternal truths about the essence of leaders. A leader has a passionately desired goal in his or her mind. A leader has the honesty and courage to admit a personal incapacity to reach that goal. Nevertheless, he strives to improve himself to obtain the goal and thus emerges as the leader we recognise.

Gandhi and Alexander, bot h great leaders , were very different persons: one a man of peace, the other a hero of war. Gandhi was a small man with a big dream. Like Alexander, he also had a goal he pursued relentlessly — though unlike Alexander’s his goal was to throw off a conqueror of India. His autobiography My Experiments with Truth recounts his lifelong efforts to find a better way to reach his goal and acquire the personal strength necessary.

We need more leaders in India in many walks of life. Our young people need appropriate role models, not all of whom may be powerful or wealthy. Moreover, any movement to develop leaders in India should hark back to some eternal truths. To become leaders, young people need opportunities to reflect deeply on the context in which they must lead and to ignite the spark within themselves. Because, to become leaders, they need much more than the style of leaders: they must care for others, have commitment to a cause, and the courage to take the first, difficult steps — the wisdom that Krishna gave to Arjun.
The skills leaders need are inseparable from the context in which they must lead. Sun Tzu will remain a good source of wisdom to win a war. But the Gita may provide better lessons for living in harmony with the world and with one’s conscience too. Therefore, in the drive to teach leadership through books and seminars, we must offer models that fit the needs of our times.

CEOs that create great wealth for their shareholders are good models for running a company. But they may not be appropriate models for many vital issues that must be addressed in the world today. Disillusioned by a spate of corporate scandals and by the macho but mindless invasion of Iraq, Americans need new role models. In India too we need leaders who win by inclusion and who secure peace and not merely win wars.

Therefore, the interest in the Gita in the US is encouraging, as well as the revival of Gandhi as a role model for Indian youth in a very enjoyable Bollywood movie, an idiom they can relate to more easily than erudite discussions of his philosophy.

MANY leadership summits that showcase powerful and wealthy leaders and popular books on leadership fail to get to the heart of leadership. Books that present lists of the common traits of leaders expect that others will become leaders by applying these lists in their lives. Such lists may describe the management systems that leaders employ to get to their goals, but not the process of combustion within: they do not explain what makes leaders emerge.

In contrast to such lists, Warren Bennis , an authority on leadership, describes the process of emergence of leaders in his book, Geeks and Geezers. He says that while leaders may come in many forms and have very different trai ts; all leaders are born in a ‘crucible’ within which, through an intense alchemy, they acquire their leadership mettle.
The concept of the crucible and the spark that sets off the alchemy was lucidly explained by a young man who had set his heart on conquering India. Alexander the Great, when 16 years old, told his secretary, Eumenes, “The gods put dreams in the hearts of men; dreams that are often much bigger than they are. The greatness of a man lies in that painful discrepancy between the goal he sets himself and the strength that nature granted him when he came into the world.”

This simple and profound statement points to three eternal truths about the essence of leaders. A leader has a passionately desired goal in his or her mind. A leader has the honesty and courage to admit a personal incapacity to reach that goal. Nevertheless, he strives to improve himself to obtain the goal and thus emerges as the leader we recognise.

Gandhi and Alexander, both great leaders , were very different persons: one a man of peace, the other a hero of war. Gandhi was a small man with a big dream. Like Alexander, he also had a goal he pursued relentlessly — though unlike Alexander’s his goal was to throw off a conqueror of India. His autobiography My Experiments with Truth recounts his lifelong efforts to find a better way to reach his goal and acquire the personal strength necessary.

We need more leaders in India in many walks of life. Our young people need appropriate role models, not all of whom may be powerful or wealthy. Moreover, any movement to develop leaders in India should hark back to some eternal truths. To become leaders, young people need opportunities to reflect deeply on the context in which they must lead and to ignite the spark within themselves. Because, to become leaders, they need much more than the style of leaders: they must care for others, have commitment to a cause, and the courage to take the first, difficult steps — the wisdom that Krishna gave to Arjun.

One thought on “American leaders studying the Gita

    Anonymous said:
    July 4, 2007 at 3:01 am

    very informative piece. if you’d like to read more about how the gita inspired gandhi, check out http://www.gitananda.org/about-gita/index.php