The Feminine Power of Conscious Leadershipa chat with Nilima Bhat
Don't let the title fool you: this is not an article about womens' power. Nope, sorry. What's in here applies to everyone.
When you know how — not where — to look, the extraordinary can be found anywhere, every minute. Inside and outside of us. That's one of the most valuable lessons I've learned over the last few years. With that, I have also been blessed to cross paths with more and more extraordinary people — actually, every person I meet now is extraordinary. Because that's what we are: all in our own way.
One of those persons is Nilima Bhat. She is a mother, a yoga teacher and practitioner, she founded a dance company, had a successful corporate career in communications and PR, owns a coaching and consulting practice serving companies around the world, gives lectures at universities, and created a unique leadership paradigm, based on ancient and new wisdom, that enables us to find our extraordinary power and become wholehearted leaders: Shakti Leadership. She co-authored the book Shakti Leadership with Conscious Capitalism's Raj Sisodia.
So what is Shakti? In Hinduism it embodies the source of creation, the life force throughout the universe. And it's nature is feminine. In leadership, this means reclaiming the feminine powers that have been pushed aside for a long time. The goal is to balance both masculine and feminine aspects in a leader: to become more creative, caring and cooperative — in business and our personal lives.
When I talked to Nilima recently, we started by exchanging thoughts about the strangeness of this year's weather, which led us straight into the heart of matters: "I think there are huge upheavals. The labor pains of a birth," Nilima says. She is definitely right.
We — the world, consciousness, business — are transitioning from one state to another, and it brings with it this turmoil, these birthing pains, as Nilima points out. Somehow we are on the way to bring new life into the world.
There are a lot of parallels between what Nilima and I do, the way we think, and what we want to give people. Not so long ago, we both had come to a point in our lives where we sensed that there must be more to life than the ego-driven mechanics of the traditional workplace.
"At each point of my career, I was looking for meaning," Nilima notes. "Sensing that there must be something more than the power struggles and so on. Then my own culture and my understanding of spirituality, and coming in through yoga, have led me into a search for self and self-mastery." She soon realized that the yogi journey is very aligned with what it means to be a great leader in the workplace. And then Conscious Capitalism came into play.
"When we are talking about the 4 tenets of Conscious Capitalism: the main one that will drive the other 3 tenets is conscious leadership. To be a conscious leader effectively means to be a yogi, to serve as a self-less me. Not to expect selfish results, but to surrender your work and yourself in service of the larger truth. That requires an inner level of mastery and humility which takes work to overcome the false ego drives. We need a healthy but not the unhealthy ego. That's what we do through yoga. It's a practice for life to become a more conscious human being. And that's what you need to be a conscious leader," Nilima explains.
Her background is Integral Yoga; the work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. "They say all life is yoga," she continues with a joyous laugh. Yet it's quite serious. Anything that can take you to a higher level of being, doing and having — of living — requires continued attention and commitment. Just like I tell everyone who is asking me about Conscious Business that moving that way is a big choice: it's a way of life, not something that can be taken off the moment you walk out of your office. It's a whole new mindset.
"In yoga you cannot say, 'Now I sit on my mat and do my yoga," and for the rest of the 23 hours you go mentally all over the place," Nilima adds. "You have to ask yourself how you can put all life into yoga. How can you surrender everything you do into your higher wisdom - so that your higher self takes over every breath, every activity."
I think this concept is not only something that is good for each of us, for the world, but that's beautiful. It's beauty itself. Inner beauty, but also outside of it. Beauty is just there.
"I love what you're saying," Nilima chimes in, "because 'All life is yoga' is the line Sri Aurobindo is known for, but The Mother's line is 'Let beauty be your highest ideal'. The way she explains it is when we are seeking to bring the truth from the realm of idea into manifestation, then when it manifests, how do we know what has manifested is indeed from the high plane? It's mark is beauty. Where there is true beauty, there is divinity." How great is that!
But are we all open to the beauty? Especially the one inside of us? Or are we scared?
"If you offer something to people, for example in a workshop, it all depends on the level of receptivity, openness, and capacity according to their readiness to receive it," Nilima says. "Our core message should be a seed we put in the soil. It will then germinate, it might not immediately sprout. Some audiences are more receptive than others. What is impacting our acceptance is the male and female journey in our patriarchal societies, where the masculine is given dominant status over the female. It's only now that we're coming out of that and realize that it's time to change that equation. It requires both men and women to acknowledge and honor their feminine side."
And for some of us, that's a huge — maybe at the moment even impossible — step to take. "Sometimes both men and women will be totally open to what I have to say. Other times it doesn't go so well with the men because the feminist movement has led to a lot of pain in the male: the movement has been done in such a masculine, battle-ground way. So when men feel that the subject is confrontational, about the wrongdoings of men, they get defensive and can stop momentum of the session," Nilima reveals.
Yet it's not only men that might run into difficulties opening up to a new way of thinking. Nilima describes that women can have just as much difficulty but for a different reason: "In women this work can stir up feelings about power deep within their being and they can get very uncomfortable due to the implication of what you're telling them. It makes them get in touch with their own powerlessness. And then there is the realization that they have participated or still do participate in those circumstances, however unconsciously. They can get defensive. Sometimes they are not ready to wake up and see this broader view of power dynamics, and then they want to remain entrenched, where they are more comfortable. When that happens I have learned to - without any judgment - not engage in that dialogue any further because it depletes my energy."
It definitely takes a lot of personal responsibility to open up to a new mindset. People suddenly recognize that they have a power for transformation inside of them and with that comes the realization that they carry full responsibility for their lives. They get scared: they don't want that power. They prefer to retreat because they feel more comfortable in powerlessness.
"Completely," Nilima agrees. "Sometimes I experience that also in personal relationships, for example with my children: same dynamics. They want independence, freedom in what they want to do. But in my mind that also means they need to become financially and emotionally independent: they can't put that back on me. Yet that's the tough part because emotions can be masks. They are like an indulgence: 'I Don't want to grow up (or wake up). I don't want to take that responsibility for myself'."
In our workplaces it definitely is time to take that responsibility for ourselves. For our own sake and that of our planet.
Ready for more from my chat with Nilima? Great! In the second part we will discuss the meaning of money, why you should have both purpose and profit, and how love (yup, it's love once again) fits into the picture.
External resources mentioned in this story:
Nilima Bhat & Shakti Leadership: shaktileadership.com
The Credo and 4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism: www.consciouscapitalism.org
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