Leadership Training for Sathya Sai Students - By Lt. Gen. (Retd) Dr. M. L. Chibber

After forty years in the Army, during peace and war, crying does not come easily to me. And yet I sat there watching Bhagavan Sathya Sai Baba and cried. It happened at Prasanthi Nilayam in November 1989 and again at Brindavan in January 1990. On both the occasions, it was bhajan time and the melodious voiced student Ravi Kumar was rendering the lilting tune addressed to Bhagavan as the universal mother "O Ma Tu Kitni Achhi Hai" - O mother how good you are - and then goes on to describe her sacrifices, her sleepless vigils and the boundless love she showers on her children.  

I cannot rationally explain why I cried. However through my tears, I could read the real meaning of a 'Mahamantra' on leadership which I have been teaching for years. It was perhaps the culmination of my ten years of apprenticeship which is the way Bhagavan hopes His devotees on the spiritual path to make them fit for Seva in his Divine Mission. What was my apprenticeship about? 

Bhagavan has obviously made a 'Sankalpa' to rectify the current state of affairs in India, and ultimately the whole world. He intends to knit all mankind as one family with the bond of love. To achieve this goal, He has launched an educational system aimed at training generations of young men and women who will ultimately become India's future leaders thus injecting spirituality into the whole secular scene. The mission of the Sathya Sai educational system is quite clear - TO GROOM EVERY SATHYA SAI STUDENT TO BECOME A LEADER WITH HIS FEET FIRMLY PLANTED ON THE FOUNDATION OF SATYA, DHARMA, SHANTI, AHIMSA AND PREMA. It may be worthwhile to briefly describe my apprenticeship and the holistic and practical approach to leadership that has emerged for leadership training in Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. 

Two things happened in 1979 when I was commanding India's counter offensive force against Pakistan. I was asked to examine if we could achieve better results with the resources allocated to my force and about the same time, my wife and I came across some books about Bhagavan which made a tremendous impact on us. Soon thereafter, Col. Subba Rao, a devotee of Bhagavan in my headquarters helped my wife to organize a Bhajan in the Army "Flag Staff House" at Chandi Mandir. This was really the starting point in my apprenticeship. 

My examination of our counter offensive plans revealed that we could certainly achieve very substantial goals if we could somehow improve the leadership of our officers — right from generals down to lieutenants. Thus started the quest and experiments to find a structured way to improve the effectiveness of leaders appointed at junior, middle and higher levels of responsibilities.

From 1979 onward we started getting Bhagavan's grace and in 1980 we went down to "Prasanthi Nilayam" for our first Darshan. At the same time my quest and experiments to improve leadership in the Army continued, including a five year stint, at the Allahabad University for a PhD in this subject.

Years rolled on and when I retired from the Army in 1985, I got involved in running the prestigious Management Development Institute at Delhi. It was Bhagavan's way of launching me on another phase of apprenticeship to study and teach leadership to a cross section of government officers and managers of public and private enterprises. Needless to say, His love and grace for us continued unabated.

Management Development Institute, Gurugram - Delhi NCR

At the Management Development Institute during study of syllabi of all leading Management Institutions in the world, to structure the curriculum for the prestigious National Management Programme, I discovered an interesting feature. Sri Sathya Sai University was the only one in India, and possibly in the world, where the MBA programme had a full credit course on "Leadership". It was during a visit in July 1988 that Bhagavan in His own way, conveyed to me that I should lecture to His students. He perhaps sensed that the apprenticeship on which He launched me in 1979 had reached a stage where I was approaching fitness for Seva in His Divine Mission. 

My contact with Sai students has been a most rewarding experience. I have never come across a finer group of young men in my life. They are alert, well mannered, intelligent, well adjusted, and possess an excellent presence. 

The final shape of the leadership course that emerged is based on the discussions with Bhagavan. It reflects the emphasis He places on 'action' in His maxims like "Mukh Mein Ram; Haath Mein Kaam" - the name of the Lord on lips and dedicated work with hands. Or the one He articulates to explain the secret of invincibility of "Hanuman Namasmaran plus action leading to divinity".

The importance Bhagavan attaches to leadership is echoed in a recent finding by the Stanford Research Institute, USA, that "12% of effective management strategy is knowledge and 88% is dealing appropriately with people". It is, indeed, a good leader who gets the best out of people. The essential features of the leadership course developed over the years and now in use at the Sathya Sai University may be of interest to the reader. It runs uniformly as a thread through-out an undergraduate or a graduate programme and integrates the entire curriculum. 

Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanthi Nilayam

There are more than 350 definitions of the word "leadership" which reveals the complexity of this phenomenon. The most practical definition of the word is the one coined by Lord Moran — a medical doctor. The following definition which we have adopted is based on what he evolved: 

"Leadership is the capability to frame plans which will succeed and the faculty to persuade others to carry them out in the face of all difficulties- even death"

In simple terms leadership means "knowing what to do plus GETTING THINGS DONE". Getting things done by dealing appropriately with people is eighty-eight per cent of leadership. To be a good leader an individual has to be a "Stitha Prajnya". In the West, it is a common advice that 'you have to be a gentleman before you can be an officer'. And the substance of a gentleman has been explained in words as though taken straight out of Bhagavad Gita: 

"An honest man, a man with a sense of duties and obligations of his position, whatever it may be; a man who tells the truth; a man who gives to others their due; a man considerate to the weak; a man who has principles and stands by them; a man who is not elated by good fortune, and not too depressed by bad; a man who is loyal; a man who can be trusted". 

If we put together the universal truths which are common to all good leaders, then an integrated framework emerges. Selflessness is its very hub and heart, with knowledge and character as the two main components. There are hundreds of qualities, traits, theories and styles that research scholars on leadership have identified - they have unfortunately counted all the leadership trees and missed the wood! It is important, therefore, that Sathya Sai students fully understand the holistic and practical approach to leadership and realize that there is in fact a 'universal inner structure' which is common to all good leaders. Also, that on the STRENGTH and BALANCE of this structure depend the effectiveness of a leader. Knowledge of the job helps a leader to know what to do in any given situation. The strength of his selflessness and character enables him to handle people appropriately and get things done. 

In today's self-centered pursuit of careers and cut throat competition, the potential leaders are reluctant to accept selflessness as the very core of leadership. It needs patient persuasion to make them realize that selflessness is a relative virtue, but the truth about it is almost mathematical - that the potential for good leadership is directly proportional to the degree of an individual's selflessness. Indeed, selflessness is composed of all that is noble in human personality.

The German General Staff - the most effective group of leaders ever created in history by any society - had adopted selflessness as the cardinal virtue for its officers. This philosophy was reflected in their motto "TO BE THEN TO SEEM". Any officer who was perceived to be a "climber" (a person interested only in his own advancement) was promptly and unceremoniously thrown out. The most potent example of total selflessness, of course is Bhagavan Himself. His authority, consequently, is derived from love rather than from the orthodox headman ship. 

Bhagavan is also the most vibrant personification of the 'Mahamantra' which enables a leader to deal with people and inspire those to great heights - 'a good leader knows his people better than their mothers do and cares even more'. These are simple words but embody a profound meaning- If a leader handles people with the deep knowledge and selfless love of a mother, then he gains their utmost strength - indeed they would be willing to die for him. 

Sri Sathya Sai University, Prasanthi Nilayam

The operative part of the leadership training is what Bhagavan emphasizes the most - Action. Indeed, it is not theory but action that produces results. The action part of the training is woven around the goal that every Sathya Sai student should reinforce his universal inner structure of good leadership' during his stay in Bhagavan's university. Two techniques of self -development are used, and both are spread over the entire period of undergraduate and graduate studies. 

The first technique is derived from the Indian experience of thousands of years of Sadhana (persistent effort to reprogram one's personality). Bhagavan declares — "examine every day what you do and with what motives; then you can yourself pronounce judgement on your progress it all looks so easy, but it is one of the hardest assignments". The technique of maintaining a self -development diary is aimed at reinforcing one's virtues and eradicating weaknesses through the process of a daily check this concept was expounded by Swami Sivananda as the spiritual diary for aspirants who came to him for guidance. His experience was that anyone who used the diary with sincerity and honesty for three months or more, meet with 'unfailing success' to improve his character. Benjamin Franklin, the well-known American President, also used the diary as a friend and a whip to improve himself and achieved commendable results. I had encouraged officers in the Army to use this technique and those who honestly persisted did succeed in reprogramming their personalities.

The second technique in use is the time-tested method of self-development by studying the lives of great leaders in history. At "Prasanthi Nilayam", the lives of selected spiritual leaders like Lord Rama and Krishna, Swami Vivekananda; social leaders like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Gandhi; political leaders like Shivaji, Abraham Lincoln, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose; scientific leaders like Einstein; enterprise leaders like Jamsetji Tata and many others are carefully studied and analyzed by the students. They make presentations in the class, and each life is then discussed in detail. Bhagavan Himself takes considerable interest in imparting deep insight about these leaders to the students. With His inimitable universal and timeless awareness He explains to them numerous facets of their character which are not to be found in books. 

Leadership training at Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning is an exciting part and unique aspect of His educational system. It is to prepare students to shoulder leadership responsibilities as teachers, executives, managers and officers in various fields, and become spiritual warriors of the twenty first century to unite humanity with the bond of love. 

About The Author:

Lt. Gen. (Retd) Dr. M. L. Chibber retired from India's Armed Forces after a long distinguished career and was awarded PVSM and AVSM for his outstanding distinguished services to the country. Later he was the Chief Executive of Management Development Institute, New Delhi till January 1990. He has been a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow and a member of the Academic Council of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Has a number of publications and research work to his credit- including the book “How to be a Successful Leader” and "The Mahavakya of Leadership".

Source: Sai Vandana 1990 (65th Birthday Offering)

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