Deepak Chopra: The Two Questions Every Business Leader Has to Ask

Last Updated Jan 27, 2011 3:16 PM EST

You may associate Deepak Chopra with mind-body healing, yoga and pop spirituality. But he also spends a lot of time these days in corner offices, helping managers improve employee morale and get in touch with their company's brand identity. (Improving one often takes care of the other.) When he recently visited BNET's offices, we asked him what his travels had shown him about the issues now facing American business leaders.

To see a video of BNET's one-on-one interview with Deepak Chopra click here or scroll to the bottom of the page.

How would you sum up the state of the union, as it were, regarding U.S. business?

We've become a little complacent. We have a sense of entitlement. And since 9/11 there's also a sense of being victimized. So we're wasting a lot of time feeling sorry for ourselves while other countries are catching up--not only catching up, but moving ahead. As I travel across the world, I see better infrastructure, better roads, highways, airports, even technology. So, we have to do a little reflection right now as to why is this happening.

I was actually at a private function where President Clinton was speaking, and he observed that in the aftermath of a U.S. recession there have never been as many job postings as there are today. But we're not filling the jobs because we've lost the skills. The service jobs are going to India. The manufacturing is going to China and other places. And even the building of infrastructure in our country is going to illegal immigrants who we don't want, but without whom we wouldn't be doing the very basic jobs that we need to have done.

Do you blame the political leadership for this?
I have tremendous faith in President Obama's skills. He's a long-term visionary. But, you know, Washington has 28 lobbyists for every Congressperson. What's a poor President to do? And we have a political system where every four years there's a re-election. So, after two years you lose your focus. You have to start worrying about the re-election.

Can we look to business schools to create business leaders?
What business school does, effectively, is look at the past. In fact, that's all they do. They look at case studies. They look at case studies. Then from the case studies they try to elucidate the principles of success in business. Business school's not futuristic. When I teach my course at Kellogg, I tell students, "Forget the case studies for now. Let's look at what is not being done, rather than at the success stories of the past." If you don't look at that, you're not going to get out of the box.

What companies do you think are well led, or are fostering leadership in their ranks?
Right now, I'm working Frito Lay, the division of Pepsi. Frito-Lay's CEO, Al Carey, is extraordinary. He is taking the company to carbon neutral manufacturing. They've cut their water consumption by six billion gallons. They are teaching leadership down the chain of the organization. They're repackaging their foods and making them nutritious. They're getting involved in health and well being, a goal you would normally not associate with Pepsi. But it's good business, right now. Not only that: these days, it's also a great news story.

I teach leadership with the senior management and have been doing so for many years with Al Carey and his colleagues. So, he works with 50 leaders, and they, in turn, work with 50 others down the chain like that. All told, the program touches 52,000 people.

Who else?
Yesterday, I spent the day at LinkedIn. They're getting a member every second; they're up to 95 million right now. It's a huge network of professionals, but I told them to stop talking about networking and emphasize relationships. It's a different and more positive thing. The CEO, Jeff Weiner, has followed this trail for a while now. He has created a division at LinkedIn--LinkedIn for Good--which is not about increasing sales, but rather about taking those 95 million members and helping them have a part in changing society.

Where is there a particular lack of leadership?

I've been to a lot of Wall Street offices recently. I think I can sense energy when I go into places and I'm not sensing much of it in Wall Street firms. Everybody's so serious. There's no humor. There's no laughter. And there's no playfulness. At all.

Once you've lost that energy can you get it back?
It helps to regain control of your own story, and to do that, you have to ask two key questions. When I sit down with senior management, I say, "Who are you? What do you want?" Everything starts with those two fundamental questions, and then you move on to: "What's your story? What's the story you want to create?"

People have a lot of fun creating the story. A while ago I met with the senior vice president of Kentucky Derby, which to my surprise was losing a lot of money. And we sat down in our Kellogg class and rebranded the story. It's no longer about betting. It's all about the romance of horses.

You have to think of your brand as a kind of myth. A myth is a compelling story that is archetypal, if you know the teachings of Carl Jung. It has to have emotional content and all the themes of a great story: mystery, magic, adventure, intrigue, conflicts, contradiction, paradox.

And romance.

Yes, and romance.

BNET Editor-in-Chief Eric Schurenberg talks to "The Soul of Leadership" author Deepak Chopra about how to reveal the visionary leader inside us all.