A successful leader relates to human beings differently from the way he or she attempts to solve a computer problem or a car breakdown. The human psyche is not designed to function in a robot like fashion. Although we may work diligently for hours, and be tough with ourselves and others, deep within, each soul seeks to love and be loved. Although men and women today are highly career oriented, and work hard for money, inside the hard shell of an ambitious go getter is a soft, tender heart that’s looking for appreciation, encouragement, and reciprocation. When it comes to human systems, a leader has to be sensitive to the needs of others and seek lasting solutions to problems. At such times efficiency becomes secondary; the report maybe delayed, deadlines not met and you may incur a higher financial cost. However an effective leader while seeking to always improve efficiency also invests on people and this leads to sustainable efficiency in the long run. A leader is efficient in managing things; but with people, he or she prefers to be effective.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
Efficiency refers to doing things right; effectiveness has more to do with doing the right things. Efficiency focuses on the ‘means’; effectiveness deals with the ‘end’. A leader is a visionary who wouldn’t seek great results in the short term at the cost of future instability. Spiritual leadership recognizes human resources to be most precious, and seeks to invest in people first. A spiritually trained leader does give importance to efficiency, knowing this comes with rigorous discipline. However such a leader is careful to avoid the resultant inflexibility and rigidity from creeping into the organization. He or she is flexible and adapts to the changing environment without compromising on the principles. Radhanath Swami’s approach in creating a vibrant spiritual community in downtown Mumbai has more to do with caring for people than building super efficient systems. The systems followed when his people were inspired. Radhanath Swami instructed his students during the early stages of the Mumbai project, “A humble sincere offering for the upliftment of humanity and service of God will please God more than great unbelievable projects created for money and prestige. A simple, devotional character is what God ultimately sees.”
When a leader attempts to be efficient with people the same way as he or she is with things and systems, the results can be disastrous. Efficiency by definition seeks to use the lowest amount of inputs to create the greatest amount of outputs. As a leader you may be tempted to invest the least amount of time on people- after all time is precious and scarce- and desire maximum possible results from them. Your expectations are most likely to be frustrated for humans don’t respond the way the machines produce.
A Lesson from Ashram Life
I learnt my lessons the hard way. Our ashram has more than hundred residents and our day is packed with various services involving cleaning, community prayers, classes and group discussions on scriptural study, guest reception and more. We have different managers and systems to ensure smooth functioning of the monastery. I was once overseeing the services of a group of fifteen residents, one of whom had been neglectful of his responsibilities, and I was given the job of giving him a feedback. I thought since I had more pressing things to do, I should get the correction job done in five minutes. I meticulously follow a weekly planner; I decided the day and marked 5-10 minutes for reprimanding him. On the appointed day I saw him alone occupied in a task. I thought I could quickly wrap up the matter and then busy myself with other things I need to do. I went up to him hurriedly and said he needs to improve, and the management feels he’s been careless in his duties. No sooner had I said that, he angrily blurted out, “you guys are isolated from the real ashram. You live in a make believe world and are pathetically unaware of my services and challenges. I am disgusted with you.” I instantly knew I had blundered but my passionate instinct got the better of me; I downloaded the evidences that the management had gathered about his non performance. This infuriated him more and he rattled off the statistics he had about our lack of credibility. The planned five minutes went on for half an hour and the conversation was getting intense and heated. Meanwhile I had to attend another meeting and I excused myself assuring him I’d meet him later. We met the following three days and sought clarifications and counter clarifications. A week later both of us had sobered up; finally I apologized for my insensitive dealings, and he too was honest to admit his mistakes and promised to improve. What I thought was an easy five minute job eventually took more than five hours. For the next few weeks, I met him often and reaffirmed my affection and love for him. He was pacified and our relationship revived.
Months later as we informally recalled the event, he confessed that during that period he was indeed shirking responsibilities, but that’s because he was treated badly and his suggestions were disregarded completely by the team manager. Moreover the correction I thrashed on him was improper. He honestly said if I’d been more sensitive in my admonishment and if I had also heard his concerns, he’d have accepted the reproach more easily. I realized if I had spent quality half an hour that evening with him understanding his needs and concerns, the issues could have been resolved more amicably. Now it had taken weeks to convince him, make amends, and revive the relationship.
The incident set me thinking about my priorities as a manager; I can’t afford efficiency at the cost of sacrificing my long term goal of being a servant leader. My aspiration is to serve the monks who have joined our spiritual organization for rendering selfless service. My life’s mission is to please them but I realized in the passion of getting things done, I was charting a different course. I then asked serious questions to myself on what really are my goals; if I want to serve the monks I need to withdraw from the fast paced life and also ask deep questions on what steps I need to take for realizing this goal.
Discovering the Balance
I had been fascinated by the award winning entrepreneur and author Jim Randel whose ‘skinny on’ book series set me thinking about my priorities. He exposed the lacunae in my leadership service when he pointed out how most managers avoid the uncomfortable process of analyzing their dreams and goals by keeping themselves busy. “We strive to become efficient at what we are presently engaged in – whether or not those activities are moving us anywhere near where we want to go. By staying busy, we are too preoccupied to ask the hard questions and making the tough decisions.”
I knew to be effective in the long run, I have to ask the difficult questions to myself; can I afford expediency over long term team building? Is efficiency worth the effective loss of friends? I knew both efficiency and effectiveness are important for any organization to flourish but as a spiritual seeker, I had to take the call on discovering a balance.
Now as I introspect on Radhanath Swami’s leadership lessons, I see he’s grounded on people over projects. He revealed his vision for the Mumbai project, “What will it take for each and every member of our community to be enlivened, inspired, and protected so that they could practise active spiritual life centred on selfless service to God and humanity till the day they die. We seek to facilitate systems to achieve this goal. This is our mission”
I figured out that the natural stewardship role taken up by the project leaders in Mumbai, in the mood of a humble instrument in the hands of God, is percolating downwards; most members in this community have imbibed this spirit of service. Radhanath Swami once pointed to us that one of the most efficient managers of our community has been Sahadev das and his family. He revealed how this family is involved in most of the projects, yet always unassuming, and in the background. No one notices them; in fact many new members aren’t even aware of their existence and their contribution. I knew the family and I concurred with Radhanath Swami on his observation. Since the family only serves and puts others in front- the ideal servitude and cooperative mood- all other members have subconsciously imbibed the mood. The family members are certainly efficient; but they are one step higher. By appreciating others’ services and not seeking credit and glory for themselves, they are contributing actively to create an effective foundation of selfless service for the long run. Competitiveness and egoistic clashes is nipped in the bud when effective leaders like Sahadev das are free from it. When the leader only wants to serve others with love and affection, the other team members by default inherit the virtue.
As I reflect more on the role of caring for people, I realize I’ve a long way to go in being an effective servitude leader. Till then and beyond, my pure aspirations to serve and care will determine the effectiveness of my service; this mood alone will lend substance and meaning to my life.Google+