“The greatest leader is not someone who is the only leader. The greatest leader is one who inspires others to be leaders.” – Radhanath Swami
Most of us grow learning to be ambitious and get what you want at any cost. As we sing praises of individual gold medals and idolize heroes who fight for rights, somewhere we lose sight of the big picture. Some people believe they are the entire picture; the whole world revolves around their aspirations, needs and desires. Unfortunately we are rarely trained to subordinate our individual goals and feelings for a larger good.
Spiritual leadership calls for men and women to be part of something bigger than themselves. A spiritual leader understands that the goal is more important than the role.
The ‘Big’ goal and the ‘Servant’ role
Once the big picture- the vision- is clear, a spiritual leader is willing to be part of a team that aims to achieve it. Then in order to achieve the goal, he or she doesn’t mind playing any role that is needed to help achieve the goal. The role then becomes secondary; a spiritual leader is not enticed by the ego trap of wanting to be somebody important. The goal is more important; whether the ‘game’ is sports, family, business or government, the leader sees the purpose and vision, and is willing to make sacrifices to achieve it.While working sincerely towards the goal, inadvertently, the leader inspires others to also progress forward.
Nineteenth century American President, John Quincy Adams, put it remarkably, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”One such sterling example comes to my mind.
While in college I was impressed by Jimmy carter, the former US President’s dedicated services for the ‘Habitat for Humanity’, a non-profit organization aiming to eliminate poverty and homelessness from the world. Although Carter was a former President, his willingness to serve in the project, even doing something as menial as swinging a hammer to help construct a house, inspired thousands. He stayed and ate with everyone else in the team, with no airs of being the former President of one of the most powerful countries of the world. He thus inspired thousands to see the big goal of helping the poor, and many got involved.Carter was duly recognized in 2002 with the Nobel Peace Prize. A true leader thus inspires service, and extracts the best out of others. And that’s because he first internalizes the servitude principle.Max De Pree, the author of Leadership is an art, said it beautifully, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
Beware of the ‘power’ trap
Abraham Lincoln warned, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” As one gets power and leadership position, it can certainly go to a person’s head. He could easily be distracted by the comforts and facilities and lose sight of the big goal; the intoxication caused by false pride blurs the vision. The facilities are provided to increase our service; however when not focussed on the big picture, a leader gets tempted to use the facilities for one’s own gratification. Getting attached to personal comforts, and forgetting the goal is a deadly trap. Once tempted by desires for personal ambition, a leader naturally violates the sacred ‘servant’ principle. His idea of a team is a whole lot of people doing what he tells them to do. He doesn’t realize that team isn’t a bunch of people used as a tool by one individual for selfish gain. Instead of being a team builder he becomes a dictator. Ray Kroc was succinct, “None of us is more important than the rest of us.”
Remaining grounded fetches lasting rewards
A spiritual leader, on earning worldly glory and acclaim remains grounded on being the servant. He prefers to work silently towards the team’s goal. The servitude spirit founded on humility fetches far more enduring rewards than what the cheap media thrills or worldly glory can give. The Indian scripture, Atharva Veda extolls, “One, who earns leadership of the masses by working ceaselessly for people’s welfare finally realizes that he has been rewarded with many added advantages.” These benefits are the abundance of lasting joy, sought through adding meaning and worth to others’ lives, and being founded on timeless principles. To protect oneself from the negative traps of power and pride, one needs to constantly meditate on how many factors are responsible for us to function as a leader. Mia Hamm, the legendary American footballer, having scored more goals internationally than any other player, male or female, in the history of US Soccer, writes a poignant fact of life in her Go for the Goal, “I don’t score all the goals, and the ones I score are usually the product of a team effort…I don’t plan our game tactics. I don’t wash our training gear (okay, sometimes I do), and I don’t make our airline reservations. I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.” A spiritual leader constantly meditates on his/her humble position; this helps us work for the team’s goal rather than get trapped by the mental hang-ups of our own selfish roles.