Home Thinking Aloud Soulful Leadership: Reimagining Leadership’s Purpose

Soulful Leadership: Reimagining Leadership’s Purpose


by Dr. Gaurav Bhalla, CEO of Knowledge Kinetics and author of “Awakening a Leader’s Soul: Learnings Through Immortal Poems

Colleagues Applauding Senior Businessman

New times require new narratives… and leadership is no exception. Especially since the story of leadership today is one of serial crises with the meltdown occurring in virtually all organizations of civic society, ranging from government to education to healthcare, NGOs, and even religion. The eager and animated post-mortems conducted endlessly on 24×7 news-analysis-opinion channels like CNN and the Internet are not going to help leadership wade its way out of its recurrent crises. What will – and is urgently needed – is that we embrace a new 21st century narrative that reimagines the purpose of leadership and leadership journeys.

Here’s why.

The dilemmas, quandaries, and problems faced by today’s leaders can’t be solved by simple-minded thinking: “yes-no,” “right-wrong,” “agree-disagree.” There’s always a “but…” hanging around somewhere to make leadership journeys and decisions more challenging: “Yes… but,” “Right… but,” “Agree… but.” Consequently, what is needed is bold, audacious leaps away from traditional methods of developing leaders that rely on personality-based approaches and effective execution of virtuous managerial tasks, like empowerment, job-enrichment, and having fun at work, to something deeper, more substantial, and more enduring. We need an inner awakening in leaders, so that they can bring their biggest asset into play, their humanity — who they are, what they stand for, and what they are willing to fight for. Because, while the head may be smart, the soul is smarter… and wise.

Next, old methods of nurturing and shaping leaders are just not working, and need fundamental transformation. Every year, billions of dollars are spent globally on leadership training and development programs, with the US alone reportedly spending between upwards of $10 billion. Regrettably, these enormous investments have produced pitiable returns.

Here’s just the tip of the iceberg as proof:

  • The 2017 Edelman Global Trust Barometer informs us that “trust in leaders” is in tatters.
  • Compounding the trust crisis, is the low employee engagement dilemma. Gallup’s research indicates that more than 50% employees evaluate themselves as “not engaged,” and between 15-20% as “actively disengaged.”
  • Lastly, it’s an atypical day when the media doesn’t carry stories of leadership betrayals and business scandals representing deliberate and vicious acts of wrongdoing. Takata, VW, Uber, Wells Fargo, and Retrophin – a small sampling from a list that grows longer every day.

Finally, we need a new narrative, because the current “market-centric” creed that dominates leadership behavior – profits and performance over all else – is not sustainable. Leadership is about action; leaders are hired to do something. Committing to action – any action – requires sacrificing something or somebody. But the planet and people without access to power, privilege, and resources can’t be sacrificed ad infinitum as they traditionally have been; “exclusion and inequality” are not the best growth strategy in today’s connected and interdependent world. The world deserves better from its leaders.

In my new book, “Awakening a Leader’s Soul: Learnings Through Immortal Poems” I propose a new narrative for reimagining leadership’s purpose. It’s called “Soulful Leadership,” and is defined as:

“Purposeful leadership journeys guided by an inner awakening that faithfully and diligently consider the full range of sacrifices embedded in leadership decisions so the ongoing prosperity and wellbeing of all involved – the leader, the organization, people (employees, customers, communities), and the planet (health and resources) – can be increased.”

There are several reasons why I believe embracing and implementing “Soulful Leadership” will help ease leadership crises and usher in a new era of wellbeing and prosperity for the greater many, not just the privileged few with access to power and resources.

First, Soulful Leadership shifts the purpose and focus of leadership from an exclusive “market-centric” focus to a more “human-centric” consciousness: one that aspires for greater “inclusion and equality.” This is vital in today’s diverse world with multiple and conflicting agendas

Second, it reimagines leadership’s purpose by focusing on what leadership should stand for – a public platform for increasing the “wellbeing and prosperity” of the greatest many. Too much emphasis has been placed on the personality and power of leaders for too long with too little return. It’s time we moved away from a spotlight on leaders to the necessary role of leadership.

Third, and most importantly, Soulful Leadership nudges us to look beyond the brilliance of leaders’ executive minds to an asset that’s even more important, their humanity—who they are, what they stand for, and what they are willing to fight for. Because, while what’s in leaders’ heads may be smart, what’s lies within that guides what’s in their heads is smarter…and wiser.

In order to trigger the humanity of 21st century’s visionary leaders and script a new narrative for leadership, the book urges current and future leaders to turn to a new and different set of teachers for guidance – the world’s immortal poems. Accordingly, with the help of these different teachers and their timeless wisdom, the book recruits the works of immortal poets, like Shakespeare, Rumi, Blake, Whitman, and Dickinson, and a few modern ones too, like Milosz, Rilke, and Gibran to take current and future leaders on a transformative journey of reflection and self-awareness, so they can understand their own humanity and that of the worlds in which they live in new and different ways.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be

and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.

Czeslaw Milosz, “Ars Poetica”

After seeing and hearing themselves in new and different ways, the book and the author hope that readers can start their own “Soulful Leadership” journeys, using the power and privilege of their leadership positions to make the world a better place. Younger and next generation leaders, such as the members of “youngupstarts.com” have a special role to play here. For two reasons:

  1. Tomorrow’s visionary leaders can’t be developed using yesterday’s worn out ideas.
  2. Leadership is a privilege, not an entitlement. Its purpose is to make the world a better place. If not you, the next generation leaders, then who?

Namaskar! Wishing you happy and successful Soulful Leadership journeys.



Dr. Gaurav Bhalla is an entrepreneur, consultant, educator, author, and speaker. Currently the CEO of Knowledge Kinetics, he has held senior positions at Richardson Vicks, Nestle, and TNS Worldwide, and has 35+ years of global experience – over 30 different countries – in the fields of Leadership, Innovation, Strategy, and Marketing. He is the author of “Awakening a Leader’s Soul: Learnings Through Immortal Poems“.