A Leadership Philosophy and Practice for the 21st Century

Afsaneh Nahavandi and Hema Krishnan, Professors, Xavier University, San DiegoThe new leadership practice and philosophy, Indo-European Leadership (IEL), which originated in India and Iran, and is most suited for this century. The shared historical, cultural and philosophical roots between India and Iran are evident in the common origins of their languages (Proto-Indo-European), and their religious traditions. India and Iran also both have a treasure trove of literature, religious texts and mythology that addresses leadership, presents leadership guidelines and principles, and provides numerous historical examples of effective and ineffective leaders. The world is now looking to the East, and India in particular, for an innovative leadership philosophy. India is one of the most important players of the 21stcentury from an economic and cultural standpoint. It has benefited from a growing middle class population, rising income levels and consumption, free market reform policies, demography (more than 50 percent of the population is under the age of 25), increased investments in R&D and infrastructure, and its willingness to embrace and integrate information technology at all levels of society. On the other hand, Western leadership philosophy which is governed by self-interest and capitalism, appears to be broken in the developed nations, as evidenced from sluggish economic growth, rising ethical and legal scandals,rising social and economic inequalities, declining education levels, and rising intolerance in their societies.

The Indo-European Leadership(IEL)is a unique and divergent approach which can help overcome some of the issues that Western companies and nations are challenged with. IEL is a comprehensive and balanced approach to leading, with a focus on six key principles: integrity, action, moderation, accountability, kindness and humility. It has been tested and has succeeded in ancient as well as modern and highly diverse environments that parallel many of the challenges
principles of IEL reveals the following. Integrity is a universal theme in leadership, but is practiced differently in the Western context. In classical writings such as Machiavelli’s The Prince deception and treachery are recommended as a means of achieving and retaining power. In IEL, the leaders are expected to be honest, truthful and ‘walk the talk’. Second, IEL is a bias for action rather than a passive observation of events. Leaders are seen as powerful and present and expected to take action when possible and necessary, in order to be seen as effective. Moderation the third principle in IEL, is also a key trait for leaders. Effective leaders shun extremes, are
global business and social leaders face today. A brief examination of the six key leadership
thoughtful, show restraint and avoid rash decisions and actions that can cause irreparable harm. The fourth principle, accountability, is a coveted trait as well. In IEL, leaders see themselves as servants and accountable to their followers, and, more importantly, accountable to a higher authority. Kindness is yet another trait which is the cornerstone of IEL.The ideal leader is kind, generous and compassionate to all regardless of their station in life.Leaders attend to their followers’ needs to secure the latter’s wellbeing and, as a result, assure their own success and salvation. The sixth trait, humility, is the most unique aspect of IEL. Leaders and followers are part of integral whole rather than separate parts. Arrogance, pride and hubris are undesirable and likely to cause the fall of leaders. Interestingly, these principles are now a part of the growing spiritual leadership movement in Western nations.

Leaders are seen as powerful and present and expected to take action when possible and necessary, in order to be seen as effective

The success of Indian organizations and CEOs, and Indian-origin CEOs in Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the U.S. and Europe, is partially driven by this unique leadership approach (IEL), which blends social concerns and caring for stakeholders with Western business practices. They have been quick to embrace and integrate the best practices from the Western world without compromising on ancient cultural norms and traditions. IEL is also at the core of Indian conglomerates that have existed since the 19th century, government organizations such as the Indian Railways, and companies in key industry sectors. This unique value system was practiced by Mahatma Gandhi, and thus serves as a powerful incentive for the next generation of leaders. This philosophy has also been embraced by Nobel Laureate Mohammad Yunus who pioneered a new business model- micro financing- that has the potential to help uplift the world’s billions who live below the poverty line. IEL’s strong action orientation appeals to the West,and its emphasis on kindness, compassion and humility connect with Far-Eastern approaches. IEL provides the middle ground that may make it both appealing and applicable to many cultural settings. Some of these themes are present in ideals of leadership in most culture. However, the totality of these and the strong emphasis on kindness and caring, moderation, and humility while still focusing on action, are unique and offer a novel perspective on leadership. Finally, this leadership philosophy (IEL) transcends gender and race, and enables women and other minorities to practice these traits and ascend the upper echelons of their organizations.