Leadership: Managing Hunger (September 2011)
In the current days of rat race and peer pressure, most of us struggle hard to find happiness at workplace, regardless of the nature of the organisation -- be it a local corporate or a multinational. Resurgent capitalism has added fuel to the fire. It does not at all know, or does not know enough, about the boundary conditions of profit maximisation. A ceaseless aspiration of higher rate of profit drives people mad and could probably be a major source of dissatisfaction throughout the levels in an organisation. The question comes loud and clear if there is a sense of balance in the level of aspiration.
In his recent book â€œThe art of happiness at workâ€ by HH Dalai Lama, the great spiritual leader has given some very practical suggestions to alleviate the contemporary pressure of achieving success to the detriment of our holistic well being. These conditions are also very much applicable to the persons in position of leadership, which involve them in managing conflicts.
Frequently people are defeated because, though they are doing their best, they make mistakes in how they assess and engage their environment. Sometimes we bring ourselves down by forgetting to pay attention to ourselves. We get entangled in the cause and forget that exercising leadership is, at heart, a pure personal activity. It activates us to face challenges, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically. With the higher flow of adrenaline, we can work ourselves into believing we are somewhat different and therefore not subject to normal human frailties that can defeat more ordinary mortals on ordinary missions. We begin to act as if we were physically and emotionally indestructible.
Let us look at the example of Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton came to the White House in 1993 sleep deprived and physically exhausted; rather than â€˜prepare himself physically for the ordeal aheadâ€™. Clinton spent the period between the election and the inauguration working, playing and celebrating in endless 24- hr days. By the time Clinton got to Washington, heâ€™ seemed worn out.... and hyper....â€™ He refused to rest. It may be that Clinton had a real drive to keep that pace as was observed by David Gergen, the presidential advisor. It would be quite logical to think that we are vulnerable to falling prey to our own hungers. It is strongly believed that self- knowledge and self-discipline form the foundation of staying alive.
It canâ€™t be denied that we all have hungers, which are expressions of our normal human needs. But we get reminded many a time that those hungers disrupt our capacity to act wisely or purposefully. Perhaps, one of our needs is too great and makes us vulnerable. It could be so that the setting in which we operate enhances our normal level of need, inflate our desires and in the process benumbs our usual self controls. A seed of unhappiness gets sown in the process.
It cannot be denied that every human being needs some degree of power, control and importance, as well as intimacy and delight. It would be very difficult to find someone who prefers to feel entirely powerless and unimportant in life. However, it is a proven fact that each of these normal human needs could land us into trouble if not handled judiciously as one tends to lose personal wisdom and discipline required to manage them effectively.
In a leadership role, the utmost difficult part is to manage people as one requires tuning their needs as well as oneâ€™s own. There is another danger, in connecting with peopleâ€™s hopes and frustrations; it is easy to become a depository of their yearnings! Nevertheless, the desire to fulfil the needs of others can become a vulnerability if it feeds the leaderâ€™s own normal hunger for power, importance etc. They get so caught up in the action and energy that they loss their wisdom and self-discipline, and slip out of control.
When you take on the tasks of leading, invariably you resonate with many feelings expressed by people around you. Many of the feelings in our jobs are produced by the way we resonate with the job environment itself. In each professional role one takes on, one must be careful about own emotional inclination to carry the issues and sentiments of others in the organisation. This, of course, is a very challenging proposition to deal with successfully. As discussed earlier, a failure to properly deal with these essential but complex psychological behaviour, would trigger unhappiness in the workplace as also in personal life.
Once again I would like to refer back to HH Dalai Lamaâ€™s advice of clearly understanding where we are standing and what we want to achieve. He has had no hesitation in making it clear to us that uncontrolled ambition would become the bane of all unhappiness. So, it would be good to pay heed to his valuable advice that we need to make a choice between peace and ambition. Leaders of this age would require to exercise more caution in successfully playing their roles, as the lure of ambition unlimited would always remain latent, to drift oneâ€™s mind towards .......perhaps unhappiness.
(Mundul is a Director with Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Ltd)