A yogi and a management guru decode happiness
Coimbatore: An American leadership coach and writer who not just practices Buddhism but incorporates it into his programmes; a yogi and spiritual leader who leverages technology, enjoys a game of golf and is an unabashed motorcycle enthusiast—the occidental and the oriental truly collude (and sometimes collide) here.
In a free-wheeling conversation, moderated by Vellayan Subbiah, managing director and executive director of Cholamandalam Investment and Finance Co. Ltd, and held at the Isha Foundation, Coimbatore, its founder Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and management guru Marshall Goldsmith talk about leadership, happiness, business, religion and life. Edited excerpts from this conversation:
Subbiah: How do leaders bring about lasting change both to themselves and the people whose lives they touch?
Goldsmith: The more successful people become, the more positive reinforcement you get. This is called the superstition complex. You think that if you behave this way, you are successful. And you are successful because you behave this way.
For instance, has anyone in the room been promoted in the last two years? Now those of you who have been promoted—have you noticed that your jokes have gotten a little funnier, everything you say is very wise; you even look like you’ve lost weight (laughs).
It is very hard not to let this nonsense go to your head. It is very important, I think, that the more successful we become, we learn to demonstrate our humility and tell ourselves, “I am here, I am successful because of something and despite others.”
You know at home I do programmes for retiring CEOs and now they are entering a new phase of their life. The first thing I tell them is that you need two things: happiness and meaning. You need to love what you do and you need to find it meaningful to you. If you manage to find both happiness and meaning you win.
Playing bad golf and eating chicken salad sandwiches while discussing gall bladder surgery is really not that great.
Sadhguru: Most people today are only making a living. When you are only trying to make a living, you will not make anything significant. You may do a little better than somebody else. Because most people’s joy is only in another man’s failures: unfortunately a lot of people feel joy when they see someone else doing not so well.
Activity is a way of building a life, whatever activity you perform should be a way of building a life, not making a living. A leader needs to instill this, both in himself and in everybody around him, that the simple activity you perform ultimately makes your life.
You can use that activity to grow in a phenomenal way or use it to make a living. When you are spending a major part of your life in the work that you do, why is it not your life?
Also, what is your problem with golf?
Goldsmith: I suck at golf (lots of laughter)
How should people look at this concept of happiness? A lot of people today fall prey to this great Western disease—the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome. Your thoughts on this?
Goldsmith: It isn’t just a great Western disease, it is sweeping the world. I’ll be happy after I get something—a BMW, a condo or a promotion. Look, the fact is we are all going to die. So be happy now.
You know, if you look at research, you find that three years after people win a lottery, there is no increase in happiness compared to those who don’t win. This clearly proves that happiness doesn’t come from out there. It has to come from in here (points to the heart). Be happy now—not this week, this month, next year—but be happy now.
Sadhguru: The concept of happiness? I do not know what that is. Is it a concept? If it is, since I have discarded all concepts, this goes too.
You know, everyone desires happiness but not everyone is happy. We can chant happiness, happiness, happiness but for me, honestly, it is just a simple exuberance for this life.
Take, for example, a mango tree in full bloom. The problem is that in today’s world, everyone is interested in consequence. For instance, everyone is interested in the mango but not in the tree, in the soil. They have no idea how mangoes come.
If you keep the soil rich, mangoes will come. You have to be interested in manure—yes, basically you have to be interested in shit (laughs). The mangoes will be sweet if you know where to put it.
This focus on consequence makes us very distorted in our minds. We become too goal focused. The thing is, if you have one eye set on the goal, you have only one eye to find your way. It is an inefficient way of finding your way. If you employ both your eyes, you will find your way more efficiently.
This goal orientation has become our entire life, right from our kindergarten, it is about who is first and second. You desperately want to be ahead of somebody: which means you enjoy the failings of people less than you. It is an unfortunate, sick way of development of humanity.
Can you elaborate on the power of metrics or measurement—how, how much, what—to make an organization a better place to work?
Goldsmith: When my daughter Kelly was 11 years old and my son Ryan was 9 years old, I began asking my children a question. A question that parents don’t normally ask their kids—“What can I do to be a better parent?” The problem with asking that question is that you get an answer. My daughter Kelly said, “Daddy you travel a lot. That isn’t what bothers me. It is the way you behave when you come home. You don’t spend time with me.”
That was not right so I decided to start measuring how many days I could spend 4 hours with my family. In 1991, I spent 92 days; in ’92, 110; in ’93, 131; and in ’94, 135. Then in 1995...I said, “Kids, look 135 days with daddy in 1994. What about the goal this year? 150?”
And they both go, “No, daddy, no. You have overachieved.”
What I am trying to say is, measurement tends to drive away what we don’t measure. And sometimes, we measure things that don’t matter.
Sadhguru: If you see the things we are doing—in terms of managing physical situations—they must be measured or you don’t know where it is going. But when it comes to myself or the people around me, I have never measured anything. It is very difficult to explain this and most people will not even understand: when I look at them today, I may have known them for years but I don’t have an opinion about them, good or bad.
I always see people, how they are now. I never form good or bad opinions of anyone. To use an analogy—it is like a forest, not like a manicured garden. A manicured garden needs lots of taking care of and it has its beauty but if you don’t attend to it for a month, it is finished. A jungle is not like that. If you let it, it manages itself. In many ways, Isha is like a jungle: little managed but every creature here has his own place.
This is a different type of management or leadership but you really can thrive with it.
Structure vs chaos. When Westerners come to India, things always seem a little chaotic here, for instance. Basically, is it important for leaders to manage in chaos or do they need to bring structure into that chaos.
Sadhguru: Chaos is not a choice.
Take for example the forest, for a gardener, a jungle may look chaotic. But no, there is a very deep order in this chaos and a forest will live for millions of years while a garden will not last for a month.
What people think is chaos is because they have an external view of things, not an internal, integrated view of that. If people actually understand an ecosystem, they will know it is in order because it is the only thing that lives for a million years.
When we say chaos, something that looks chaotic is not necessarily so. Simply because you have a linear mind and something doesn’t fit into your straight line, you think it is out of order. Take a snake, he has no limbs but he can move from place to place very effectively. Maybe he won’t race with Mr Bolt but he finds his way, chooses his terrain and he manages perfectly well.
You know, you have to harness different people instead of trying to beat them into one system. You may produce some level of efficiency with this but you will destroy the existing ecology of the world in the process.
Chaos is not a choice; there is always a certain order which is not logically correct. The order of the jungle is not logically correct but it is the best order because it has lasted longer than anything else.
Everyone is talking about building sustainable business today. If you want to build a sustainable business, you should consider the order of the jungle—and no, that doesn’t mean the jungle raj we refer to so often in India.
People assume that a jungle means disorder. I am using the word “jungle” as a very superior order. It is a highly sophisticated order where you don’t see any straight lines but still everything is in place. Everything is in such a way that it can function like this for a billion years.
Goldsmith: I liked that. This was good.
Marshall, you have said that you are now a philosophical Buddhist. Have you felt that religions and belief systems have changed your approach to leadership and how leaders develop today? Have you incorporated any of that in your work?
Goldsmith: In my work as coach, yes. One method I teach is feed-forward, a fascinating concept. In feed-forward, people reach out to one another and say, “My name is x and I want to get better at y.” You ask for ideas and people give you ideas and you treat those ideas as a gift. You don’t put the person down; you say thank-you and then you listen and follow-up on it.
Amazingly, people get better and it’s positive and it really works. Buddha says, listen to everything but only choose what works for you.
Well, that is the essence of feed-forward—I ask you for ideas, listen to you, I try to seek value in what you are saying, I don’t promise to do everything you say but I do promise to listen and pick up the ideas that I can use.
Sadhguru: Religions of the world have brought peace and brought war; have spread love and spilled blood. It is an inexpensive psychiatry, if you are looking at treating yourself in a certain way and want to find some substance to stand on. But when people say you are a leader, you aren’t just responsible for one life but many lives. When this comes, one has to strive to enhance one’s perception, not get into belief systems of any kind.
It doesn’t matter from where it comes. Too many people have been screwed up by the scriptures as holy as they are, because these scriptures are like constitutions written by God. Constitutions are fine if we can amend or change them when they have to be changed. But this cannot be changed.