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The Leadership Odyssey- From Darkness to Light.


The Leadership Odyssey- From Darkness to Light by Pritam Singh, Asha Bhandarker and Snigdha Rai, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2016, Pages 322, Price Rs. 975/

This book of 322+ xxxi pages, a prologue and an epilogue and an erudite introduction by noted management thinker Prof. Jagdish Sheth is a masterpiece on leadership. The Leadership Odyssey, according to the authors, represents the inner quest and journey to move from darkness to light and from toxicity to virtuousness. The primary purpose of this book is to enable leaders and various role holders to embark on the odyssey of self transformation so that they can live and lead consciously.

Typical to the style of the authors, the first chapter sets the context of the work--the broad contours and valleys of leadership, both toxic and virtuous. Rulers like Chengiz Khan, Nero, Hitler, Stalin made venal use of power to exploit people. On the other hand, emperors like Akbar, Ashoka, Julius Ceasar, Qinshihuang, Vikramaditya, Claudius etc. used their despotic power for the service of the people and the state. In the 20th century some of the greatest leaders were mostly political leaders. Gandhi, Mandela, Lincoln, Jefferson, Churchill, Washington, Martin Luther King etc. combined their vision of better tomorrow--free, equal, just and democratic--and concern for the people with hard work, persistence and sacrifice. In the corporate world, business houses and honchos like the Tatas, Birlas, Narayan Murthy, Kiran Shaw, Azim Premzi, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet etc. have earned repute for balancing their concern for their business with that for their employees, society and community. These are virtuous leaders---also described as ethical, authentic, inspirational, transformational, charismatic, servant and spiritual leaders. For, each one of them operated by inspiring and uplifting their people and bringing out the best in them through their positive behavior.

The second part of the chapter outlines the research architecture of the book to study the phenomenon of toxic and virtuous leadership in the organizational context and their impact on subordinate's emotional state and in particular the coping mechanisms adopted by the follower- victims of toxic leaders. Apart from the questionnaire based survey to identify, compare and contrast values, attitude and behaviours of toxic and virtuous leaders, case studies were also used to study the chemistry of toxic and virtuous leaders. Based upon the leaders impact on company, subordinates and the impact at the institutional and national levels, the authors identified 5 representative leaders who fitted the portrait of a virtuous leader viz. Mr. R.V Shahi, Ex Secretary Power, Mr Vinod Rai, Ex CAG, Major General Khurana, Ex D-G, AIMA, Mr. M.D, Mallya, Ex-CMD, Bank of Baroda and Mr. R.K. Dubey, Ex-CMD, Canara Bank. Grounded research method, involving interviews, were conducted with around 81 persons to construct the case on each of them.

Chapter two profiles the Toxic Leader based upon questionnaire data, 11 case studies and content analysis of interviews. Who is a toxic leader? He is the one who is arrogant, puts the blame on others, self opinionated and closed minded. At the middle management and senior management level, he tends to be quite narcissistic, sadistic and Machiavellian; at the top management level, he tends to become even ruder, abusive, self promoting and humiliating of others. Case after case, anecdote after anecdotes revealed the deleterious impact of the toxic leader on the organization and its people. What is the workplace of a toxic leader? It is a hotbed of politics, game playing and one-upmanship. There is no fabric of collaboration and of the community. And the employees are disengaged, compliant, conformist, disaffected, apathetic and emotionally distressed. Inevitably, over time, the organization slide into the abyss of performance doom.

Chapter three unravels the attributes, behavior and the impact of Virtuous Leadership. Virtuous leaders are characterized by their humanistic approach, sensitivity to people, ethical behavior and performance focus. They are humble, visionary, courageous, lead by example and hugely empowering. The case studies on the five epitomes of virtuous leaders are extensive, interesting and revealing in terms of their attributes, styles and impact on their followers and organization that they led. These leaders not only led their organizations to the dizzy heights of performance excellence but, as their followers emphasized, they also mobilized, groomed, developed, inspired and ennobled the people within it.

Chapter four provides a road map for moving from Toxic to Virtuous Leadership. This, according to the authors, first requires the removal of the block. The biggest block is the inability to see life holistically and live in a conditioned manner, mechanically and in an autopilot mode. The authors assert that people with this mindset are governed by the sensory motor centric mind which records and consigns all experiences, events and interactions that causes pain, anxiety, conflicts and unpleasantness or even positive experiences into the unconscious level of the psyche and that it is this which later gets expressed in the form of bias, stereotypes and prejudices. The authors conclude that those who do not lead their life consciously get out of touch with reality and do not live in a fully functioning, productive and creative manner and eventually become toxic leaders. In contrast, virtuous leadership is posited on leading one's life consciously. This is possible only when there is a clarity of life purpose, life goal and life role.

The authors believe that leading consciously requires being holistically healthy at all the four levels of self viz. physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The paradigm of gestalt holisticity conceives that all the levels of self are closely aligned, complementary and seamlessly integrated and in a state of equilibrium. This is possible only when one leads a disciplined life and performs yoga asanas, pranayam, meditation etc. This will lead to the unlocking of the emotional power due to the connection established with one's heart within and between it and one's stakeholders and constituency. However, the authors contend that the odyssey to change from toxicity to virtuousness can start only when the person knows himself, sui generis. There is a power in self therapy and when that self therapy is followed up and complemented with self reflection, deep introspection and meditation, the change becomes transformational.

The crowning glory of the book is in the epilogue. It starts with the quintessential questions that have excited the minds of all philosophers right through ages. It starts with the quintessential questions that have excited the minds of all philosophers right through ages viz. (1) why do human beings lead their lives so mechanically, (2) why are they unable to move beyond their myopic and self serving routines, (3) why are they unable to recognize their inner block and barriers and transcend them and (4) why is that when there is a plethora of writings and advice on the subject, only a few succeed in attaining the holy grail of self actualization. According to the authors, the answer lies in the fact that human beings live and lead their life in an unregulated way without questioning, reflecting and confronting their unconscious conspiracies, habits and assumptions. The book ends with the 10 commandments to help human beings transcend themselves in their journey towards virtuous leadership. It is worth reproducing the commandments over here:

(1) Clarify the purpose of your existence--think of the life beyond self

(2) Be True to yourself and listen to your inner voice

(3) Abandon cynicism and embrace optimism

(4) Be courageous and never give up in the face of adversity

(5) Have faith

(6) Do unto others what you would like others to do unto you

(7) Let Karma, not reward, be your driving force

(8) Look beyond, look around and look within

(9) Strive to lead a holistic life, integrating your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves

(10) Lead life mindfully and consciously.

The book is epochal. It is philosophical in nature, normative in its approach and recommendatory in its implications. No book in the recent times have used the tenets of philosophy, psychology and spirituality to research, interpret and understand the toxic world of leadership. This book directs its attention to possibly the most powerful mechanism and reason for human suffering--the toxic boss and his leadership--and makes him the object of change and transformation. It does that by holding the mirror to them, persuading them to evaluate themselves in the light of their psychodynamics and its impact on the others, and providing them with the road map of the journey for self transcendence.

The remarkable fact of the book is that it researches with as much rigour as it theorizes with the richness of our tradition--philosophical, spiritual and managerial. Indeed in recent times, management books driven by the positivistic thrust and commitment to methodolatory, have become ideologically sterile and intellectually barren. It is therefore that the research methodology--which in itself is grounded and triangulated--and rigorous data analysis must be seen subservient to the power of the theory and the import of the propositions.

I believe that a book of this genre should be evaluated more in terms of the moral reasonableness of its arguments and the logical consistency of the ideas.

The Ten Commandments at the end is Christian in nature, without pushing the reader into spiritual ghetto. Each and every commandment, singularly and collectively, is enough to unleash the disequilibrium or create a new equilibrium, so much are they seamlessly integrated. Mahatma Gandhi had said we are all "being in the process of becoming". The two end of the continuum are the ideal typical choice points: toxic and virtuous. In the real world, the human being is a trapped antinomy in which both toxicity and virtuousness co-exists. This book digs out the disharmony, bares the contradictions, and provides the wherewithal for transcendence, for harmony, for being carved in the image in which God had wanted us to create, as his particle. If each of us undertake this odyssey and change, if those in the seats of power do the same, the world will change. This book promises; it is optimistic; it kindles hope; and above all it is liberating--even for the Toxic leaders.

Subir Verma

Professor, FORE School of Management, New Delhi.
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Author:Verma, Subir
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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