In the modern era ‘great’ is used so carelessly that we forget that ‘great’ is not the norm, but the exception. Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King were great, but when we describe any person who dons the mantle of a President or Prime Minister as great, it is perplexing. Federer and Tendulkar are modern greats, but when one describes Murray and Yuvraj Singh as great, we lose our awareness of real greatness.
Similarly, we describe anyone who is in a supervisory role as a leader. People like to label themselves as being in a leadership role, just because they have a few people reporting to them. That is the state of the modern corporate world where the word ‘leader’ is used without constraint. The problem is what do we call the real leaders – the real exceptional leaders?
People who have a team are managers and they can become good managers if they really work on themselves. Why do most of us become only good managers while rare people become exceptional leaders? There are many leadership theories and techniques that promise to manufacture great leaders out of us – techniques of creating a vision, techniques of inspiring and motivating people and many such things. However, becoming an exceptional leader requires much more than the multiple theories and techniques of ‘leadership’. At best, these theories and techniques can create good managers.
In the book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins insists that an exceptional leader’s greatest quality is his humility.
During a talk, I said, “All these leadership techniques can at best make you a good manager, but to become an exceptional leader you need to be spiritual! What is being spiritual? You need to become humble, empathetic, loving, concerned, understanding and trusting.” As soon as I said this, an HR manager stood up in the crowd and said “Madhu, give us new insights, we know all this stuff! In fact, we train our managers to show concern, understanding, empathy etc.”
I asked, “But, isn’t there a difference between showing concern and genuine concern; pretending to understand and authentic understanding? Let’s take an example! You have a personal problem and you meet your boss. Most bosses will show concern because they have been taught that showing concern is important and is the quality of a leader. But can’t you easily sense that your boss is only acting concerned. If you can sense the acting, can’t your team members recognize when you are sincere and genuine, and when you are not?”
Leadership trainers tell us how humility, empathy, trust, and understanding, are important qualities for a great leader. Nobody can teach us how we can genuinely be humble or trusting, and we get lost. Since we realize how important these qualities are, we pretend that we have them. We are easily caught out by our team members because they can sense the insincerity pretty fast.
Isn’t it better to show these qualities rather than not display them? No doubt! It definitely is better to act concerned rather than not show concern at all. The actors become good managers, but the people who are genuinely concerned, understanding, and trusting, become exceptional leaders. How to become spiritual? The first step is to say NO to happiness!
The obstacle to genuineness is our hyped-up goal of happiness. Our goal of happiness is strongly linked to enhancement in our career or more money. Our team members become tools to achieve our personal happiness goals. It is all about I, me, and my happiness, which drives me to become selfish. When I am selfish, can there be a genuine concern, understanding or trust? Impossible!
Saying No to happiness makes us far less selfish, humble, genuinely concerned, and trusting, and we start to view our team members as fellow-travelers and not tools. We take our first step in the direction of becoming an exceptional leader.
Many corporate executives have asked me, “How do I become genuine and stop pretending? Why does the goal of happiness make me selfish? When I say No to happiness what should I say YES to?”
When we SAY NO TO HAPPINESS, we become less selfish and we start becoming an authentic leader. But it is not as easy as it seems, because this will become just another new technique until we really realize how ‘happiness’ is a hyped-up goal. Even though happiness is elusive, at least it exists as an illusory goal. The paradigm shift of removing happiness as our goal creates a sense of purposelessness. This purpose vacuum has to be filled with an alternate goal because it is impossible for us to live without a goal. Otherwise, we will switch back to our goal of ‘happiness’. This alternate goal is elaborated in the book SAY NO TO HAPPINESS.
The book is about moving from pretense to genuineness. This approach of ‘SAY NO TO HAPPINESS’ is not only about authentic leadership but also about relationships, parenting, spirituality – in short, every aspect of our life. It is a counterintuitive approach to living a far more authentic and fulfilling life and is founded on my personal experience of jumping out of the happiness paradigm.