Developing effective leaders is a challenge faced by every forward-looking organization, but what defines a leader and the individual ingredients are questions certain to generate a colorful array of potential answers. According to Forbes, the following are the top ten qualities that make a great leader: honesty, ability to delegate, communication, sense of humor, confidence, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, intuition and the ability to inspire. Spend any time with a dedicated yogi, and you’ll see these qualities emerge. Yoga creates leaders.
In Sanskrit, the word yoga means to connect, to yoke or union. Yoga is the practice of drawing together the mind, body and spirit. The tools of the trade are ancient teachings and practices including the physical poses called asanas, breath-work called pranayama and meditation called dhyana. These practices are employed in order to attain liberation from habits that keep us from realizing our potential. Yoga encourages the practitioner to live authentically in order to better serve the world. The transformative nature of the practice cultivates self-awareness, develops possibility and underscores purpose propagating fertile ground for leadership.
The fundamental tenets of an ongoing yoga practice or yogic lifestyle focus on physical health, self-awareness, ethics, present-mindedness and an ever-evolving commitment to the path. The physical practices of yoga take care of the body so that we are unencumbered to fulfill our greater purpose. In his book The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope writes, “In the case of the yoga of action…it means to bring every action into alignment with your highest purpose. And in the process of doing it, energy begins to gather itself into a laser beam of effectiveness.” Leaders unequivocally define their purpose and their goals and move forward intent on the task at hand.
The yogi abides by the ethical principals of yoga called the Yamas and the Niyamas. The Yamas and Niyamas guide the yogi to carefully consider their actions and ultimately the effects of their actions on the world. This deep respect for the law of karma honestly builds and serves the communities in which yogis engage. It is a moment-by-moment practice of self-awareness and living presently. Dr. Paul E. Olsen writes, “The journey of authentic leadership begins with understanding the story of your life.” When we become very clear on our life stories, we are able to set aside our insecurities, step into our authentic self and show up fully in every interaction. This affects not only how we develop our relationships, but also how we evolve as leaders.
Some might call the practices of yoga ‘cleansing.’ Asana, pranayama and dhyana all serve to clear away the minutiae of the small mind that keeps us well, small-minded. In that open space, yogis are able to confidently communicate more clearly, tap into our intuitive nature, creatively and resourcefully solve problems, showcase others’ skills, and approach work and life with an energetic positivity that inspires. These qualities enable each and every yogi to be a leader. Independently and successfully leading their lives, the yogi’s daily practice and diligence enables the yogi to make unique or even not so unique contributions to their families, partners, neighbors, colleagues, communities and the world at large.
Yogis become keenly cognizant of their choices, which begin with their thoughts. Lokha samasta sukhino bhavantu is the Jivamukti Yoga invocation or mantra that translates: “may my thoughts, words, actions and reactions contribute in some way to happiness and freedom for all.” Leadership begins and ends with how our choices will impact those around us. True leaders thoughtfully consider the ramifications of their actions inclusive of their reactions before they deliberately apply their positional power. Yogis are no different. And whether or not that action is related to a strategic plan, an economic decision or a boardroom tactic, the evaluation process is the same. Yogis think and act like leaders in all aspects of their lives. Attentively approaching even the mundane tasks with integrity, the yogi is considerate and this translates across all relationships. It may simply be a pause before saying something that would otherwise warrant an apology, being willing to be the first to say I love you or I don’t love you anymore or merely when to say or do nothing at all. Yogis practice sattya, truthfulness. Sattya enables the whole self to show up with an inclination to lead an un-fragmented, unguarded life driven not by agenda but by a genuine desire to serve.
As conductors of their lives, yogis choose a rigorous pathway of discipline and connectedness. Those who step on their yoga mats are committed to a greater purpose, a greater existence, and a more meaningful experience of life, not only for themselves but also for the people and communities with whom they engage. Stanton Kawer, CEO of Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide commented, “Even before I started practicing yoga, Blue Chip made a clearly articulated pledge to all of our stakeholders. We call it 'The Promise of Uniting.' It embodies a philosophy that none of us alone is as good as all of us together. It recognizes that a culture that unites the best of heart and mind will achieve remarkable results. Little did I know that many consider the definition of yoga to come from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to unite, or the practice of uniting body, mind and spirit.” The unification of our true nature with our actions reveals a clear pathway to leadership. Yoga is the path.
10 Outrageously Successful Yogis
- Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corp
- Padmasree Warrior, CTO, Cisco Systems
- Tony Schwartz, Founder & CEO, The Energy Project
- Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company
- Oprah Winfrey, Chairwoman & CEO, Harpo Productions, Inc.
- Larry Brilliant, CEO, Skoll Global Threats Fund
- Ray Dalio, Founder & Co-CIO, Bridgewater Associates USA
- Russell Simmons, Co-Founder, Def Jam Records; Founder of GlobalGrind.com
- Robert Stiller, CEO, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.
- Arianna Huffington, President & Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post Media Group
Every day, we yogis unroll our sticky mats, humbly kick off our shoes to get closer to the ground, and bow down to the vast possibility uncovered through this ancient practice. Sifting through our stories to reveal our highest potential, yogis stand poised in the role of the leader. Ready, eager and disposed to live unbound by the small mind, yogis go big.