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Mobius Conference--Deepak Chopra - Deepak Chopra on the Soul of Leadership

Deepak Chopra, author of the best-selling books Perfect Health, The Path to Love, and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, and a leader in the field of mind/body medicine, delivered the Möbius Leadership Forum keynote address to an over-capacity crowd at Harvard Business. His message: A leader should be the symbolic soul of a community.

Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra

In 1946, shortly before he was elected as first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru came to a factory in a small town in India to cut the ribbon at its opening ceremony. Thousands of people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the great leader. As the cavalcade drove through town it suddenly stopped. Nehru produced a rose and tossed it to a beautiful woman standing at the side of the road. When she stepped forward to pick up the flower, the crowd applauded. Weeks later, people were stopping by her house to see the rose from Nehru's hand. The woman was Deepak Chopra's mother, Deepak Chopra said at HBS, and that event was his first encounter with leadership.

In Chopra's keynote address at the Möbius Leadership Forum, he related the above tale to illustrate a point: Leaders should be the symbolic soul of a community.

There is no inner and outer.
— Deepak Chopra

Though it's not fully understood in the West, said Chopra, leadership should strive to encompass a "differentiated consciousness." He explained that "thoughts, feelings, emotions, dreams, fantasies, electromagnetic storms"—are all transmitted through our synapses via what he terms "messenger molecules." When people become aware of the connection between mind and body, inside and outside, self and others, he said, spirituality can find room to manifest itself in all practices, be they business, interpersonal, or political.

Awareness seems to be the key to successful soulful leadership. However, said Chopra, "the domain of awareness has nothing to do with a self-righteous mentality." Just as there are tyrants in the world, so, too, exist "saints"—Gandhi, Jesus Christ, and Mother Theresa, for example. Most humans are neither tyrant nor saint, he said, but a little bit of both. Those two aspects—dark and light—are found in the macrocosm, as well. And they are complementary aspects of any complete entity. "The sinner and the saint are merely exchanging notes," Chopra said.

As you're listening to me, just be aware of who's listening. There's a presence there. That's your soul.
— Deepak Chopra

What does this all mean in the context of leadership? Perhaps this thesis may be perceived as an opportunity to become aware that a "soul" of leadership exists. And that's exactly the point. Simply recognizing that one is aware is half the battle. Chopra asked a favor of the audience: "As you're listening to me, just be aware of who's listening. There's a presence there. That's your soul." The room became silent. When he asked the audience members if they had felt a connection, many murmured their assent.

If a leader fails to become aware of his role as the soul of a community, he or she will not be able to lead effectively because ego and self-indulgence will corrupt them and they will lose followers. "Some people live their entire lives without ever catching a glimpse of their soul," Chopra said. He went on to say that, like everything else, the leader/follower paradigm is "co-arising" and interdependent. "Followers and leaders co-create each other," he said. "States of consciousness are all interwoven" and "determined by self-conception, beliefs, values, memories, meanings, context, relationships, and archetypal themes of a culture."

Evolving consciousness
In the beginning, Chopra said, humans were ruled by a series of responses, what he as a medical student called "the 'four Fs': fleeing, fighting, feeding, and procreation." As humans and their responses evolved, so did their hierarchy of needs. It was no longer enough to have warmth, food, safety, and, well, you know. Humans began to be aware of their existence. The ego was born. Some may say that's about as far as we've come. But Chopra shared a list of responses that developed beyond the ego: inner direction, knowingness/intuition, creativity, vision/higher guidance, and ultimately, unity.

Some people live their entire lives without ever  catching a glimpse of their soul.
— Deepak Chopra

When leaders turn bad, says Chopra, it's probably the result of what he calls "shadow energies" at play. Shadow energies are "the dark side of the soul," and emerge when needs are not met or are thwarted. How can we keep this from happening? Chopra recommends creating a model to train leaders.

"We leave leadership to whims," he said. "If I wanted to learn physics, I'd go to MIT. If I wanted to learn math, I'd find the best mathematician to teach me. If I wanted to improve my golf game, I'd seek out a golf pro. But we leave leadership to chance!" Chopra submitted that implementing a systematic training and selection process is the answer to the dearth of excellent leadership today. "Whether someone is going to shave his beard or not," he scoffed, alluding to the media's treatment of Al Gore's possible 2004 presidential run, "that is our criterion for choosing leaders."

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Related links:
Mobius Forum

Photo by Wendy Guild