Deepak Chopra: 'Everybody Can Be a Great Leader'


 In recent years, Deepak Chopra has made his way from New Age circles to the top of the corporate world, where he lectures to CEOs and business managers. He has written scores of books, including The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which has been translated into dozens of languages. His latest book, The Soul of Leadership, describes how to become a good leader.

How is spirituality linked to leadership?

“A great leader is an agent of change who has clarity of vision and knows how to make that vision a reality. Such a person comes from a level of core consciousness, which is what we call the soul. Great leaders take time every day to reflect. They ask themselves meaningful questions. They are conscious of what they are observing. They’re feeling what is needed and know how to fulfill those needs.”

That’s not what people usually think about when they think about leadership.

“Leadership has been confused with power-mongering, influence, corruption, colonialism, control, manipulation and self-interest. In many ways we’re now seeing the fall of that kind of leadership across the world.”

Some say the economic crisis was brought about by poor leadership. Do you agree?

“Not just the economic crisis, but also climate change, ecological devastation, radical poverty—these are all a result of an obsolete leadership that has been very selfish and has not empowered people to be their best. Rather, traditional leaders seem mainly interested in power, in enrichment of the personal self at the cost of others.”

Isn’t it ironic that we criticize leaders we’ve chosen democratically?

“Our leaders reflect us. We get the leaders that we deserve. Leaders reflect our state of consciousness, so let’s forget about others. You should become a leader in your own life. We all have to have the ability to develop social awareness and the skills to manage relationships.”

What are some examples of great contemporary leaders?

“In politics, [former South African president] Nelson Mandela and [former Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev, but also Óscar Arias, a recent leader of Costa Rica, because what he did was amazing in such a small country. I think [U.S. President] Barack Obama has great leadership skills, although he is not connecting emotionally with people and therefore he is alienating them. In the business world, [Microsoft chairperson] Bill Gates and [American investor] Warren Buffet have become examples of great business leaders who want to do good and help others. In the Netherlands, I work with Fred Matser, who runs a non-profit called StartFund. Fred is not interested in power; he’s always thinking of the greater good.”

Is great leadership something to which we can all aspire?

“I believe that everybody can be a great leader. You have got to want to be one. Only people who have the desire to become great leaders will become great leaders. It is a self-selecting process.”

What are practical lessons we can learn?

“In my book I use an acronym for the aspects of great leadership: LEADERS. “L” stands for “look and listen.” You need to create a vision and learn to listen to your body, and listen with your heart, with your mind and with your soul. “E” stands for “emotional bonding.” You have to get in touch with your emotional feelings and stay away from feelings like anger, fear and hostility. “A” stands for “awareness”—what are you observing, what are you feeling, what is the need, how do you fulfill that need? “D” stands for “doing.” It deals with the ability to persist, to celebrate successes and to create goals. “E” stands for “empowerment.” It’s about empowering yourself and building your self-esteem: how can you learn to be immune to criticism but responsive to feedback? But you also need to empower others and identify their strengths. “R” stands for “responsibility”: the responsibility to take calculated risks, to take initiative, to live up to your values, to ask feedback, to take good care of your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Finally, “S” stands for “synchronicity,” which means knowing when is the right moment to act and when to take advantage of meaningful coincidences.”

Don’t you think business leaders should also be judged on financial results?

“That’s really a byproduct. Data shows that disengaged workers in the U.S. cost about $380 billion a year. If you and your colleagues ignore someone, that person’s disengagement goes up to about 45 percent. If you don’t ignore them but criticize them, it falls to 20 percent because people would rather be criticized than ignored. If you notice their strengths and put them in the right place where they can use their strengths, disengagement falls to less than 1 percent. So the bottom line is totally dependent on how engaged people are.”

So how do we engage our co-workers?

“By finding out their strengths and using them, by enhancing their self-esteem and by building careful, caring, compassionate relationships, including personal friendships. People want their leaders to offer them hope, trust and stability but also to maximize their own strengths.” 

What are your strengths?

“I’m futuristic, I’m adaptable, I’m a connector. I maximize my energy by not wasting time over things that are trivial. I’m strategic in that every time I make a plan, I maximize my relationships and my ­network. My weakness is mainly that I’m not good at details and I’m not a good executor because I don’t like to get involved in details. And so I surround myself with executors.”

Do you consider yourself a great leader?

“I think I’m maximizing my leadership skills. And I believe anyone can.”

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