Deepak Chopra: How to Lead with Soul

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 7:23 PM EST

As a business leader, you may feel that your overwhelming responsibility is to produce results. Deepak Chopra, the physician, inspirational speaker and pop spiritualist sees it differently. Your main job, in his opinion, is to help your team find a deeper sense of meaning in their work. Do that, he promises, and results will take care of themselves. In a meeting with BNET editors, he explained why-and how-that might work.


In your new book, The Soul Of Leadership, you talk a great deal about imbuing work with a larger meaning. What does that have to do with business?
People feel good about their job when they think that what they're doing goes beyond just having a job. And when your team feels that they're doing good, that translates into economic well-being.

That's why when I work with business leaders, I ask about their deepest aspirations. I don't tell them that, say, increasing sales by 10% shouldn't be their goal, but I don't think that alone truly motivates people. Instead, I ask, "What would you want to have as a legacy? What kind of contribution do you want to make? What would you be proud of?"

And they come up with pretty profound ideas themselves. I don't tell them they should be saving the world. Those ideas come from them.

Your book frequently refers to God. Are you mixing religion and business?
No, and I'm very careful in defining what I mean by this word "God" because it's a loaded word. I talk to business leaders about platonic values - truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, evolution. Then, we go from there into the creativity of a higher consciousness. Where does insight or imagination or creativity or choice come from? I talk about spirituality being a domain of awareness that is universal, that we all have access to, and that doesn't require religious belief.

This isn't just me. The idea that business should be about more than business is catching on with a lot of companies. Because of my medical background I also try to get leaders to relate their workers' personal well being with the well being of the business. There's plenty of evidence that workers' physical and emotional well being has a direct impact on their effectiveness. Happy employees translate into happy customers. It's a direct relationship. And that translates into profits, which translates into happy investors. It's not much of a reach.

Do you have data that shows this connection?
Actually we do. You can find the data at Gallup.com. Here's an interesting stat: If you have a happy friend at work, your happiness on the job goes up by 15 percent. If your happy friend has a happy friend, your happiness goes up another 9 percent, even if you don't know that happy friend. If the happy friend's happy friend has a happy friend, it goes up another 7, 8 percent. Happiness spreads like a contagion.

Any advice on how to make happy employees?
I have people on a team stand up once a week, one person at a time. This week it's you, next week it's someone else. And the chosen person gives a five-minute speech of what's good about our company. That's it. And then everybody else anonymously writes what they learned from that speech. You go through enough weeks and you find you've compiled a lot of good things.

In our teams we also create a day in which everyone gives one person positive feedback. Monday could be your day. Tuesday could be someone else's day. On your day, everybody else on the team wishes you well-being. They send you emails with emoticons, things like that. Smiles. Hugs. It makes a difference.

What do you do as a leader to get ideas?
We do a lot of creative, silent brainstorming where people write their ideas on a piece of paper anonymously, and you post them. You might end up with 2,000 out of the box ideas. And then the members of the team pick winners and turn them down, down, down 'til we have five things that everybody agrees are worth following up on. The ideas are submitted anonymously, so the five winners truly come from the whole group.

It has to be silent, too. Once people start talking, they start arguing their point and want to be right.

Also we give anonymous feedback to the leader of the team. How's he or she performing? What are the good things? What are the not so good things? You then give it to the leader. The leaders posts it on a screen right behind his or her desk. And then looks at it everyday. And then you go through the exercise again in a couple of months and see how much has improved. Of course, the leader has to be open to this.

I'll say. You'd have to think self-awareness was a real virtue.
Well, we do a lot of sharing in our team. We ask everyone to take a test that identifies their strengths. Everyone has five things they're good at, and everybody else knows what you're good at. If you go to my office, there'd be a little placard like that tells you what my strengths are. Same thing for you in your office.

So, what are your strengths?
I'm adaptable. I'm a good communicator. I'm futuristic. I'm strategic. I didn't know that, but I am. And I'm a maximizer. I maximize the time I have available. I'm not good at execution, according to the test. But that's okay, because then I know to surround myself with people who are really good executors.

See Deepak Chopra's views on the leadership styles of Bill Gates and others:
  • Eric Schurenberg

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