Sudhir Chadalavada

High Performance and Enlightened Leadership
Last week I indicated that highest levels of effectiveness and fulfillment can be achieved by unleashing our full potential. Some of us are leaders in and leaders of organizations but all of us are leaders of our respective lives. So let us talk about this in the context of leadership effectiveness.

Some of the universally accepted characteristics of high performance leadership are intellect, passion, drive, courage and being tough, decisive and hardnosed. But is this sufficient? What else does one need to reach higher levels of effectiveness? My experience with exceptional and enlightened leaders uncovered an additional dimension. In addition to these traits they display, utilize and embrace qualities such as humility, compassion, unconditional love and complete inclusiveness. These are qualities associated with deeper emotional and spiritual development.

A high performance leader has strong analytical/intellectual and reasonable emotional skills whereas an enlightened leader unleashes his or her full potential to fully develop analytically, emotionally and spiritually. Spirituality in my experience is independent of religion, meaning one doesn’t have to be religious to be spiritual. In fact a narrow minded religious dogma comes in the way of spiritual development.

We talk a good human potential game but don’t do much to help unleash that in our organizations. There seems to be an implicit view that it is not possible for a leader to be passionate and compassionate, have courage and humility, be hard nosed and inclusive and be intellectual, emotional and spiritual at the same time. They are perhaps seen as mutually exclusive and conflicting qualities. We therefore do a poor job of identifying, rewarding, promoting and hiring people and leaders who exhibit these enlightened qualities in our businesses.

While it is true that the percentage of population that exhibits these enlightened qualities is less (25% according to some experts), there are clear signs that it is increasing. Progressive organizations that recognize this have programs, practices and incentives in place to develop their high performing leaders to enlightened leaders. For example a high performance leader relies more on intellectual knowledge, academic learning and experience; whereas an enlightened leader additionally works on self awareness and self mastery.

The benefits of enlightened leadership are too strong to be ignored. A high performance leader inspires with material and emotional incentives with a focus on achieving financial results. An enlightened leader inspires by appealing to the innermost, deep human yearning for material, emotional and spiritual well-being, and achieves higher levels of engagement in an organization. A high performance leader is focused on the bottom-line but could be swayed by human attachments and relationships. An enlightened leader treats all with respect but is “detached” when it comes to human attachment. A sense of duty and responsibility is the primary motive which actually leads to stronger top-line and bottom-line results.

Example: An enlightened leader is quick to take a decisive action on a non-performing executive even with a track record of strong performance and longstanding personal relationship. More importantly there is a dispassionate calm in the decision with no feeling of unease, stress or guilt.

Following are some other critical leadership traits in which an enlightened leader excels by utilizing the full repertoire of intellectual, emotional and spiritual skills:

Judgment: Experience is the basis for sound judgment in the case of a high performance leader. However experience alone is not sufficient to deal with the complex issues leaders have to face. An enlightened leader derives the capacity for judgment by “being present” 24×7.

Universality: A high performance leader identifies with and derives strength from a social, religious, ethnic or political affiliation and tends to alienate those that do not share the same affiliation. An enlightened leader looks beyond affiliations and works to do the right thing and unite.

Listening: A high performance leader listens politely and intellectually with an open mind and possible internal static. An enlightened leader listens deeply, viscerally with empathy and an open mind and an open heart.

An enlightened leader personally pursues holistic development and creates an environment that

  • Is fun, inclusive and collaborative
  • Has a compensation model that is fair and is based on contribution and value provided by the individual and the team
  • Promotes programs for self mastery, provides time off and offers flexibility for community service and charitable work

Many high IQ and high performance leaders do a good job of articulating the importance of such an environment whereas the enlightened leaders translate it to effective and consistent implementation. They bake self mastery programs in the DNA of the organization. Adherence to enlightened values and qualities is recognized, rewarded and tied to compensation.

Next week we will explore the Practices and Principles of exceptional and enlightened teams in Strategy development and execution.