Excerpt from Shakti Leadership Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business, by Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia. Reprinted with permission from Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016)
Recent years have brought a dawning realization that we need to rethink the foundational bases of capitalism, starting with the idea that it is solely rooted in the pursuit of narrowly construed and material self-interest. Human beings have multiple primal drives, including the need to survive and the need to care. Love and work define what it means to be human. The emerging Conscious Capitalism philosophy is about blending the two. It starts with asking the question "What is the purpose of business?" The answer: it is not to maximize profits but rather to uplift humanity, by meeting real needs, providing meaningful work, spreading prosperity, and enabling more of us to lead more fulfilling and more fully human lives. The second pillar is stakeholder integration. Companies should consciously create multifaceted value for customers, employees, communities, suppliers, investors, the environment, and beyond. The well-being of each stakeholder should be seen as an end in itself, not as a means to the end of making more money for shareholders.
The next pillar of Conscious Capitalism is that companies should create nurturing and life-enhancing cultures imbued with values such as trust, accountability, caring for, and transparency. Most businesses are characterized by high levels of fear and stress; conscious businesses are built on love and care.
Perhaps the most fundamental pillar of Conscious Capitalism is about reimagining leadership. Conscious leaders are fundamentally selfless. They care about people and the purpose of the enterprise ahead of their own ego or personal enrichment. They seek power with rather than power over people.
The stated purpose of Conscious Capitalism is to "elevate humanity" through the practice of business as a force for good. Its narrative is centered on the need to cultivate a new consciousness of how to lead and conduct business. For that, we are going to need a new base of power. "Business as usual" runs on ego-based power; Conscious Capitalism runs on Shakti-based power. Shakti is power that comes from an infinite source within you that you can tap into at all times. This power is linked to everything, including money, which is what business has traditionally focused on.
Why do we consider Shakti an infinite source? Unlike the ego, which can be broken down, no one can take Shakti-based power away from you. You may feel that your power derives from your position. If you are the CEO today, you are vested with privilege and power, but if you are not CEO tomorrow, who would you be? Would people still respect you, look up to you, follow you? Can you hold your sense of self, and can you help bring about meaningful outcomes from that true source rather than from the position vested in you?
This whole game is about power; everyone wants and needs power. Without power, everything remains stagnant. Nothing can become manifest, become actualized. Shakti is the transformative power that manifests ideas into reality.
You may ask, why Shakti? Why not, for example, the Tao, which works with the core principle of qi (pronounced chi), not just as a philosophy but also its power? The compelling difference in the yogic tradition is that Shakti is not an impersonal, inanimate force; it is intelligent and conscious. You can enter into relationship with it. Once you do, it serves you, moves you, and fuels you.
Critically, Shakti also brings in the feminine dimension, which is lacking in the world and has been for a long time--if not for all time. Shakti is understood as creative and generative, and is therefore represented as feminine. Men as well as women can tap into it. In the yogic tradition, the human journey is one that seeks to end the duality between masculine and feminine, or Shiva and Shakti. It's not about "separate but equal," but about evolving into an integrated and synergistic combination of both.
How does Shakti fuel us? Consider the north and south poles of a horseshoe magnet. There is potential in the space between the poles, but you can only tap into that energy when you insert a wire in that space. We exist in this duality and polarity between male and female. We may prefer our traditionally masculine or traditionally feminine leadership styles, but that means we're basically split beings, operating from half of our selves. As a result, we barely operate, because energy only flows when both polarities are leveraged.
Shakti, the power that is latent in your being, gets unlocked when you become whole, flexible, and aligned with your unique purpose. Shakti is an evolutionary force, moving you toward fulfillment. The more you put yourself in accord with your purpose as a being and as a leader, the more energy starts rising up in you to move you forward. There is a beautiful reinforcing pattern there: the more you are on purpose, the more power you get to meet your purpose. It is similar to the idea of being "in flow."1
Becoming a conscious leader requires a transformational journey. You do not become a conscious leader just by getting behavioral skill training in "what leaders do." Deeper, foundational shifts are required to connect you to new and true bases of consciousness and power. The person you are is the leader you are; therefore, you have to make the journey inward to transform yourself. The "hero's journey," Joseph Campbell's masterwork, maps perfectly onto modern leadership and business. You need to push beyond your known zone. It takes hard work and you will face many obstacles along the way. It is also a dangerous journey in which you're going to have to "die" in some ways.
Human beings and the universe are evolving in a certain direction; there is a distinct trajectory that can be discerned. There is an evident purpose to this process; it is not all based on random mutations. If we can flow into that trajectory and be part of it, rather than be at cross-purposes with it, we can have access to extraordinary power. We become agents of what needs to be. If not, these infinitely powerful forces quickly cancel out our feeble efforts. How do you connect with a place that fuels you continuously? How do you become a whole person in order to be a whole leader? How do you become a flexible person in order to be a flexible leader? These are the questions this book will answer.
1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics), 2008.