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Leadership Conversations - Yin and Yang Leadership - lessons from a Himalayan trek

The Persona of a Leader

As a leader, we operate from our intellect, instinct or intuition. Perhaps this means that the persona of a leader is not static and is often a reflection of the response to the situation around a leader.

On a recent trek through the Himalayas to Gomukh situated at a height of 4255 m above sea level (the source of the river Ganga) with friends, the conversation was a heady mix of nature, spirituality, life skills and leadership. The terrain being hostile, resources scarce and the weather inclement, the journey long did provide opportunities to test our leadership skills and learn through our conversations.

What we experienced was truly moments of ‘duality’ as our persona took on several dimensions much like a ‘Yin and Yang’ phenomenon be it the weather, handling depleted oxygen levels, limited resources, the way we connected with nature or how our mind shifted through perceptions and reality quite rapidly. The insights that I gathered from my friends, from the experience and self-learning are shared below and aptly called ‘Yin Yang Leadership’.

Lessons from Nature – Yin and Yang

We were warned before our trek on rapidly shifting weather which went from bright and sunny to windy and dark, rainy, snowfall or from warm to sub-zero temperatures. Isn’t that quite analogous to our life be it work or home? So what does one do then? Today’s weather and business environment are equally unpredictable, hostile and volatile.

Which leadership skill do we apply? Or are there situations we simply follow others? The insight we had based on the constant improvisation we had to do was all about being ‘present’ while being ‘contemplative, reflective and alert in our thoughts’ (Yin); always observing the moment as it presented itself; and as required by the situation, ‘seizing the moment and demonstrating through action’ (Yang) even if it was a milestone result / progress completion while working with incomplete information and limited resources often with high risk.

To operate this way, we need to tune our mind everyday and align / motivate ourselves through various activities that can be habits, rituals, experimental or experiential. This allows our creative potential to expand as we live life in its many colours and hues moving away from our fears.

Lessons from our values - Mind of a Leader and Duality

Our spiritual conversations led to a debate on Duality of human existence. A leader perhaps creates his / her leadership philosophy based on a foundation of value systems and these show up as value based leadership behaviours. If this is true, where is the space for non-duality? Don’t we all believe that strong and committed leaders operate from an integrity to their values regardless of the situation? I guess this is how we progress spiritually as well and evolve when we connect to our higher consciousness and operate from our inner self.

Interestingly, if you look back at several situations in your work life, we may have subconsciously shifted between Yin and Yang states several and yet maintain our value focus – maintaining the fine balance between stated and practiced values is a question of whether we are willing to stand by or compromise our integrity in moments of crisis. In the current corrupt business environment – this is a tall order for anyone considering we live in a VUCA / Wiki world!

Lessons from the journey - Choosing the right tools, team & resources

For part of the journey, we rented mules on the journey back from the glacier as we had a time commitment having eaten up all buffer time allocated. Since there were only two handlers and four mules and one of the mules was carrying some equipment for repairs, my mule did not have a handler. So while following the minute by minute instructions from the handler, my dilemma also voiced by my friends was whom to trust – the handler or the mule. Since I did not have a handler, it was ‘Hobson’s choice’ I guess.

Even without a handler, the mule would only listen to the handler’s commands, occasionally stop for snacking on shrubs or for water when crossing the river – in a way I had no control despite sitting on top of the mule! (Sounds familiar I guess...). While the Yin leader in me was calm and serene and stayed grounded despite the rapidly changing terrain, weather and mentally adapted and accepted the next step; the Yang part of me was the alert, assertive rider adapting continuously and shifting one’s weight to ensure the ride was safe as well as watching my companions to see if they needed some help!!

Once I ‘connected’ to the mule at a deeper level with complete focus (calling out its name occasionally, stroking it, praising and being more aware of its presence at every step), I found my natural flow both with the journey and the experience and I found a sense of peace very similar to my earlier connect with nature during the trek. So, do reach out dear leaders and connect with your teams and skip levels everyday!

The other insight - the trade- off of a mule ride (saving time) was equally risky for an untrained or not so confident rider! It is pretty much a similar situation for a leader who does not take the time and effort to familiarize himself / herself with relevant details, terrain, and resource to make judicious and informed choices. The half informed leader is therefore unable to gauge/review the action on the field effectively and efficiently and provide directional shifts and decision swiftly.

Lessons from the river – serene, harsh and mighty

Since the main journey anchor and motivation was the river Ganga and our primary objective to reach its origin, it was but natural to seek some learning from the river as well. The simplest to observe was that the river started as a glacier deep in the mountains and flowed at various speeds, volume and grace depending on the terrain – a great example of Yin and Yang energy!

It was enthralling to see how the river relentlessly flowed across mountains, harsh terrains, serene valleys, how it sounded, how it blended in with the rest of nature and how it nurtured people and animals and trees – the very fact that the river water tasted the same for several kilometers itself was a simple yet powerful lesson that the inner core of an evolved leader is does not change – the Yin and Yang behaviours are but states of response to external situations (the sound, speed of flow, the color of the water, the mineral content, the temperature, the turbidity etc.).

So the leadership lesson from the Ganga is that while outwardly the leader’s Yin and Yang actions and performance are visible, tenable, tangible and accountable as he / she is watched by others, it is truly the inner alignment that maintains the internal core balance and ensures that the leader stays grounded. The river also personifies the leader’s influence and vision which is analogous to a leaders’s words and communication, which are powerful, consistent, encouraging, value aligned and precise whatever be the situation and the obstacles.

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