Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

One Legitimate Use of Power

--by Keshavan Nair (Aug 17, 2009)


Gandhi never held any official position in government, he had no wealth, the commanded no armies -- but he could mobilize millions.  People were willing to serve with him and for him because his life was devoted to serving them.

Many of us have come to believe that leadership is the attainment of power.  But as long as power dominates our thinking about leadership, we cannot move toward a higher standard of leadership.  We must place service at the core; for even though power will always be associated with leadership, it has only one legitimate use: service.

The importance of service to leadership has a long history.  Ancient monarchs acknowledged that they were in the service of their country and their people -- even if their actions were not consistent with this.  Modern coronation ceremonies  and inaugurations of heads of state all involve the acknowledgement of service to God, country, and the people.  Politicians define their role in terms of public service.  And service has always been at the core of leadership in the spiritual arena, symbolized at the highest level by Christ washing the feet of His disciples.

Service exists in the context of a relationship.  In politics, it is between elected officials and their constituents, in academia between teachers and their students, in religion between priests and their congregations, and in interpersonal relationships between loved ones.  In business it is between companies and their customers, shareholders, management and their employees.

The ideal of selfless service -- you see everybody as yourself and expect no reward.  But if you wait until you can serve without any selfish motive, you may wait forever.  Gandhi insisted that the best way to attain the ideal was to start on the journey: "If we all refuse to serve, until we attain perfection, there will be no service.  The fact is that perfection is attained through service."

--Keshavan Nair, in A Higher Standard of Leadership


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

6 Previous Reflections:

 
On Aug 20, 2009 Pancho wrote:

My family calls me Pancho and I love you all... I'm writing this post from the Kindness Temple. This place has so much love, that at the very least, I want to express my gratitude in this form: sharing the aliveness growing in me thanks to all these Wednesdays of unconditional love. 1. Hermano Sri. 2. Definition of Greatness and the Drum Major Instinct. 3. Invaluable Heritage 1. Hermano Sri. Last night, brother Sri (a young and inspirng Doctor/Poet: Sriram Shamasunder) was the guest speaker at Wednesdays and he shared some truly remarkable stories from his five months of service in one of the poorest regions on the planet. It is hard to describe with words the images he showed us about the extreme poverty in Burundi and equally hard is to describe the shining eyes and beautiful smiles of the healed children. [I hope I can post soon one of the poems he wrote there, specially the one he read yesterday]. This man is the embodiment of service, a citizen of the World bringing th  See full.

My family calls me Pancho and I love you all...

I'm writing this post from the Kindness Temple. This place has so much love, that at the very least, I want to express my gratitude in this form: sharing the aliveness growing in me thanks to all these Wednesdays of unconditional love.

1. Hermano Sri.
2. Definition of Greatness and the Drum Major Instinct.
3. Invaluable Heritage

1. Hermano Sri.
Last night, brother Sri (a young and inspirng Doctor/Poet: Sriram Shamasunder) was the guest speaker at Wednesdays and he shared some truly remarkable stories from his five months of service in one of the poorest regions on the planet. It is hard to describe with words the images he showed us about the extreme poverty in Burundi and equally hard is to describe the shining eyes and beautiful smiles of the healed children. [I hope I can post soon one of the poems he wrote there, specially the one he read yesterday]. This man is the embodiment of service, a citizen of the World bringing the best of him to bring our lives into harmony with divine purpose. El hermano Sri is a leader who serves, a servant leader like many other servant leaders who are striving for the soul of live...

2. Definition of Greatness and the Drum Major Instinct.
Another servant leader was Martin Luther King Jr. He said:


"We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. ... And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct. It is a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity."

"The definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great,  because everybody can serve.You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

 
3. Invaluable Heritage
"I'd like somebody to mention that day [when I die] that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum majorfor righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."
 

For me, it is clear how Gandhi, King and Shamasunder connect betweeneach other through service. This quote from Martin Luther King Jr will disipate any doubts:

"If we are to have peace on Earth…we must develop a World perspective."

The inspiring service of hermano Sri, his committed life and his World perspective, altogether is an example of how a citizen of the World can planetize the Movement of the Ahimsa Revolution one heart at a time.

All these extraordinary human beings have left (and are leaving!) the best heritage we can have: to find the reason why we are on this planet, to find the meaning of life through service.

May all become compassionate courageous and wise.

Hide full comment.

On Aug 19, 2009 Brandi Remington wrote:

But if you wait until you can serve without any selfish motive, you may wait forever.  Gandhi insisted that the best way to attain the ideal was to start on the journey: "If we all refuse to serve, until we attain perfection, there will be no service.  The fact is that perfection is attained through service." These words spoke to me. I spent two years of service as an AmeriCorps member. I started to serve because I felt that I needed to give back because others were doing so little. I started my service on a path of superiority. I looked at those not serving and was afraid to see myself. This service was out of fear. Then as I went along my service was from guilt. I was given so much, so I needed to give back. This service too was out of fear. As I went on I was told that I needed to have job skills to survive in the real world, and my service became a way to receive recognition and credibilty. I was serving still out of fear. But as you can see my understanding  See full.

But if you wait until you can serve without any selfish motive, you may wait forever.  Gandhi insisted that the best way to attain the ideal was to start on the journey: "If we all refuse to serve, until we attain perfection, there will be no service.  The fact is that perfection is attained through service."

These words spoke to me. I spent two years of service as an AmeriCorps member. I started to serve because I felt that I needed to give back because others were doing so little. I started my service on a path of superiority. I looked at those not serving and was afraid to see myself. This service was out of fear. Then as I went along my service was from guilt. I was given so much, so I needed to give back. This service too was out of fear. As I went on I was told that I needed to have job skills to survive in the real world, and my service became a way to receive recognition and credibilty. I was serving still out of fear.

But as you can see my understanding and desire was transforming. It changed as I served. Near the end of my service. I stopped seeing myself as superior to my peers who "did nothing." I stopped feeling guilty for what I had. I stopped needing recognition. My heart started to lead my journey. I stopped letting the fear in and I began to realize why I was really serving.

It was the message that had been in my heart all along. It was simply muffeled by my fear. I was serving out of love. When I noticed this, and recognized it for what it was the fear started to stop confusing me. I was serving because this was how I wanted to live, connecting with others, finding myself in others eyes and stories. I was serving because I saw myself in others and others in myself. I was serving because it helped me to feel balanced and it made the world make sense.

I served because when I gave of myself a part of me was found, and I was able to watch another person discover themself as well. I began to see self-less service as the purest form of communication, the quickest way to connect with someone.

I'm still traveling on this journey of service, but Gandhi was right. It is transforming me. It is stripping away the fear. It is letting me see myself as I really am, and each day is making my service a little more pure.

 

Hide full comment.

On Aug 18, 2009 Peruse E. Khachoyan wrote:

Inherent in the power of service as the pinnacle point of leadership and success in all areas of human life/endeavor is a soul deep understanding that community is the fundamental and overriding reality of human life. Not community in the flat, lump everyone together in a blur of sameness sense that we so often see, but dynamic community where each recognizes every other as a unique gift of the Divine, created for good purpose and worthy of love, respect, and caring.  Service is a function of wholeness and the most natural state of being. Psychological well-being surely requires clarity in boundaries and the ability to distinguish between self and others. However, we lose the point, and significant parts of our shared humanity, when the boundaries appropriate to healthy individualism are replaced by false dichotomies that elevate self and objectify [de-humanize] others. Genuine community never negates  See full.

Inherent in the power of service as the pinnacle point of leadership and success in all areas of human life/endeavor is a soul deep understanding that community is the fundamental and overriding reality of human life. Not community in the flat, lump everyone together in a blur of sameness sense that we so often see, but dynamic community where each recognizes every other as a unique gift of the Divine, created for good purpose and worthy of love, respect, and caring. 

Service is a function of wholeness and the most natural state of being. Psychological well-being surely requires clarity in boundaries and the ability to distinguish between self and others. However, we lose the point, and significant parts of our shared humanity, when the boundaries appropriate to healthy individualism are replaced by false dichotomies that elevate self and objectify [de-humanize] others. Genuine community never negates the self - of any of us. To the contrary! The paradox is true: we thrive best when living for one another. Service is, in fact, a fundamental rule for authentic living and healthy, productive, enduring human society. It's a no-brainer.

Hide full comment.

On Aug 17, 2009 Susan Bradley wrote:

Leadership as service, being part of a team as service, part of a friendship as service, participating in family as service… putting ourselves equally with another in context of relationship!  I get this thought, this ideal!  This ideal of service in leadership, in relationships overall,  resonates with me in the most delicious way! In my work the very best bosses or leaders I’ve worked for made me feel that they were there for me!  And the other members of our team felt the same way.  Our productivity was always high, commitment was foremost as was loyalty because we all felt the respect, trust, commitment from our leader - service! In my best and most successful friendships the mutual giving and nurturing, the service to each other, has been the “why” our relationships continue… We are equals, giving to each other because of the love we feel for one another - service. My family circle works so successfully because of service  See full.

Leadership as service, being part of a team as service, part of a friendship as service, participating in family as service… putting ourselves equally with another in context of relationship!  I get this thought, this ideal!  This ideal of service in leadership, in relationships overall,  resonates with me in the most delicious way!

In my work the very best bosses or leaders I’ve worked for made me feel that they were there for me!  And the other members of our team felt the same way.  Our productivity was always high, commitment was foremost as was loyalty because we all felt the respect, trust, commitment from our leader - service!

In my best and most successful friendships the mutual giving and nurturing, the service to each other, has been the “why” our relationships continue… We are equals, giving to each other because of the love we feel for one another - service.

My family circle works so successfully because of service to each other and the whole.  My vegan daughter often prepares our family meals.  This loving act ensures that all items are vegan, but more Maddie is serving her sister and I out of love!  Not to mention that her cooking is pretty darn good! 

The passage also has me reflecting on difficult or currently relationships that are not very successful. The missing element is “service” as much as the struggle for power.  I recognize that I cannot change anyone else, or cause anyone to behave in a particular way.  What I can do is begin the change with myself by finding compassion and understanding for the other(s) in these difficult relationships and also to be of service to them and the group.  The eternal optimist I am, tells me that this gentle loving approach might afford the change in our relationship that brings about a change in the overall attitude and intent of the other(s).


Service

Giving , doing and meeting another, there
Where they are at on their journey

Sharing compassion and understanding with another, where
We find ourselves together at this moment in time

Replacing expectation with the richness of giving, for another
Bringing about a change in self that ripples out to another, and another, and another…

Sb 8/17/2009


 

Hide full comment.

On Aug 17, 2009 Somik Raha wrote:

Nair's ending comment reminded me of Randy Komisar's book, "The Monk and the Riddle," where he talks about living the "Whole Life Plan," instead of the "Deferred Life Plan." It is easy to get into the deferred mode, but I find it is not that hard to live my whole life plan. It may take a little time and effort, and we may need to plan so transitions may be skillful.  The idea of leadership being about service is not new, although it is perhaps the most forgotten idea. We find that Plato talks about it in "The Republic," when he talks about a good leader being one who protects those he/she is chosen to lead.  Leadership studies are strangely not well-known, with in-your-face charismatic leaders taking the limelight from the media. Yet, inspiring and lasting organizations have consistently shown servant leadership, be it SouthWest Airlines, Toyota, or Semco. Semco has in-fact instituted a model where those who are led will appoint their  See full.

Nair's ending comment reminded me of Randy Komisar's book, "The Monk and the Riddle," where he talks about living the "Whole Life Plan," instead of the "Deferred Life Plan." It is easy to get into the deferred mode, but I find it is not that hard to live my whole life plan. It may take a little time and effort, and we may need to plan so transitions may be skillful. 

The idea of leadership being about service is not new, although it is perhaps the most forgotten idea. We find that Plato talks about it in "The Republic," when he talks about a good leader being one who protects those he/she is chosen to lead. 

Leadership studies are strangely not well-known, with in-your-face charismatic leaders taking the limelight from the media. Yet, inspiring and lasting organizations have consistently shown servant leadership, be it SouthWest Airlines, Toyota, or Semco. Semco has in-fact instituted a model where those who are led will appoint their leader, a controversial upside-down practice that is really, in my mind, an enlightened practice. 

Finally, my most inspiring manager was this man who would always ask me to work less and would try to make life easier for me whenever he met me. Every time he asked me to work less, I used to work double that of what I had planned - it was as if my heart couldn't control the joy and it had to find expression in creativity. And when I've had other managers who've had expectations on how much I should work, the heart has gone into a transaction mode. 

Nipun writes about this phenomenon in this post. (read toward the end about affection)

Hide full comment.

On Aug 17, 2009 Prasad, iJourney Visual Editor wrote:

I read the book by Keshavan Nair and deeply touched by his call for a higher standard of leadership. Even though it was several over 10 years ago and Mr. Nair is no more, it is more relevant now than ever. When I saw this passage, I felt a sense of sadness. The idea of leadership and its connection to power is very critical to management thought. Somehow, as the author points out, higher leadership position means higher power. Interestingly, Gandhiji who held no position or great leaders from various traditions — like Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna did not influence people from a place of power but from a place of wisdom. In Hindu mythology, leadership actually begins at the heart chakra. It is about ‘anahata’ -- unstruck sound — no longer governed by cause and effect that makes leadership different and special from management. The lower three chakras represent three modes of management: Muladhara Chakra representing survival is about management through fear. Swadh  See full.

I read the book by Keshavan Nair and deeply touched by his call for a higher standard of leadership. Even though it was several over 10 years ago and Mr. Nair is no more, it is more relevant now than ever. When I saw this passage, I felt a sense of sadness.

The idea of leadership and its connection to power is very critical to management thought. Somehow, as the author points out, higher leadership position means higher power. Interestingly, Gandhiji who held no position or great leaders from various traditions — like Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna did not influence people from a place of power but from a place of wisdom. In Hindu mythology, leadership actually begins at the heart chakra. It is about ‘anahata’ -- unstruck sound — no longer governed by cause and effect that makes leadership different and special from management. The lower three chakras represent three modes of management: Muladhara Chakra representing survival is about management through fear. Swadhistana Chakra representing pleasure and desire is about management through rewards and incentive. Manipura chakra representing greed is about management through power and control. They are Theory X, Theory Y and Theory Z in some form or another. But leadership is not about any of them so it is not connected with position, power, rewards or fear. It is about influence — getting people into the same flow that you are in or you getting into the same flow that they are in. it has nothing to do with role in the organization or community. In that respect, it is about tapping into personal power and tapping into power that is in others and igniting it.

I feel that only leadership that matters is the higher standard of leadership where one practices what one preaches, has commitment to share what is felt in an appropriate and developmental way to people around him/her and has the courage to follow the path of the heart. In some respects that alignment of head, heart and hands is integrity for me and integrity is the first and most important leadership step.

Hide full comment.