I live in a world where everyone knows everything. And if some of them don’t know everything, they don’t know that. So, most of the people I meet are not just self-assured, they are self-righteous.
I work with different kinds of people: educated, uneducated; fresh from college, people with decades of experience; employees, unemployed folks, self-employed, business owners, entrepreneurs; followers, leaders; teachers, students; friends, family, strangers; artists, musicians, scientific minds … all kinds of people.
The employed fight for recognition; unemployed for employment; self-employed for more security; business owners vie for business; entrepreneurs for legacy.
Me? Thankfully, I am not a leader. I am just a Thinker and Writer and Mountain Walker who has opportunity to work with leaders and people in leadership positions. And I can tell you one thing I am sure about: I don’t envy them one bit.
I have always had doubts and questions at every step. Like right now, I am standing 15,000 feet above sea-level, at Kunzum Top (above Kunzum Pass) straddling Lahaul and Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh, India. This is my first long hike in a while, and am plodding through it, and am plodding through questions that I have been trying to answer for a while. Questions like: what is it that stops some leaders and entrepreneurs from building effective, sustainable organisations in spite of having clear vision and goals? Questions like: What would I be fighting for if I were a leader?
“Are you asking what should you be fighting for as a company owner or shareholder?”
I looked around, and there was The Wind, talking to me.
“I suppose so.”
“Well, what are you fighting for?” asked The Wind.
“The Company?” I ventured.
“If you are a shareholder, especially a major shareholder, you already own the company.”
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean I own it own it. Or that I can drive people to the direction I want them to go.”
“It is because you own the company that you must never try to own it. When you have the power and do not know how to wield it, it is important to learn how.”
“But how do I learn? How do you learn something that you do not know? How do you learn to wield power?”
I thought about it as the Wind stopped blowing for a minute, providing a still silence. A starting point would be to find out: what is power? What is the object of owning power? Is it to announce that you own it? Is it to grow it? Is it to protect from the possibility of losing ownership? Is to demonstrate that ownership such that others do not forget it? Is it to protect others? Yourself? What is the object of power?
So I asked the Wind: “What does it mean to be you? To be free? To roam wherever you want, whenever you want? To rustle up a gale or a hurricane or to calm yourself to a stillness that brings the whole world to a silence of nothingness. How does it feel to have such tremendous power?”
And the Wind said: “It is odd that you think of power as freedom to do as you please. That you think of power as a great force to be exerted on the world, outside of you. That you think that the exercise of power is what makes the world stand still or move in the direction you desire it to. That you think that it is having this power that gives you freedom to great things that in turn will have people in awe of you, of the tremendous power that you can control, harness.”
Me: “Isn’t that so?”
Wind: “It must be for you think so.”
“And how do you think? What in your opinion is the purpose of power?”
“Purpose comes from the person who wields it. Purpose gives intent, gives direction, provides reason. Do you think power itself has purpose or reason?”
That made me think. Does power have reason? Or Purpose? If it does, how can it be controlled or harnessed by another? And so it dawned: power is colourless, tasteless, formless … it is a will that is created by the desire of an individual seeking something. It takes form, shape, taste, intent, direction from that individual’s desire. In the corporate world, desire is vision, while power is the drive to fulfil that vision.
“You are beginning to see.”
“But that doesn’t explain how I can wield this power.”
“Why not? Why can you not see? If the power comes from your desire, what is it that would enable you to control it?”
“Freedom. Freedom would enable me to control it.”
“Freedom from what?”
“Freedom from people, expectations, judgment.”
“You have a desire which is giving you power over others, and you think freedom from those others will enable you to fulfil your desire?”
It didn’t make any sense when the Wind put it like that. What is power? At its core? Ability to move others, influence them so that they will apply themselves to achieving a goal. If I am free of others, it gives me power to do what I want. It doesn’t give me power to get them to do what I want.
“What use is Power then?”
“You tell me. You are the one who thinks power is freedom to do what you want.”
“I get it. It isn’t freedom to do what I want. But then what use is the power if I can’t get others to move with me, for me, for my vision?”
“Are you asking the right questions, making the right assumptions, fixing the right fixables? What is your goal? What is fixed? What is not in your control? What should change?”
I felt the Wind on my face as it whispered a cool nothing that soothed me, calmed me, gave me new life. I came out of my reverie and looked at the great Himalayas sprawled all around me, and at the expanse of the mighty Chandra river way down below. I was still a couple of hours walk away from Chandratal (Moon Lake, if one were to translate literally).
I closed my eyes, realising how small I was. A speck of dust on a speck of dust, as the great thinker and stand-up comedian, Sarah Silverman, might say.
The Himalayas are grand and powerful because they are huge, remote, and made up of a series of harsh lands where a very hardy kind of people live. But those people are gentle and kind and inclusive. Just like the Himalayas. You only realise the greatness of these mountains when you walk them, climb them, conquer them (so to say), slide down them, and generally become a part of them. Like the Wind, and the Rivers, and the Earth, the Himalayas is great because it is hard but humble, it is lofty but accessible, it is goal, journey and destination all by itself.
I opened my eyes again.
I must give myself up, I must give up my vision to the care of others. Only then will they walk with me, climb with me, slide and fall and get up and run with me. If I have to wield power over others, I must give them power over myself.
“And that is why I rustle up a gale or still myself to a void – because that is what nature and people need of me. Power gives you freedom if you give up the desire for power itself. The greatest power is to give up power,” said The Wind.
What then is a leader but a person who takes responsibility of others, a person who gives up their vision to the care of others, and takes up the responsibility of caring for those others? Hmm?
Damn, but that’s a scary thought.