The Yogi

Deloitte recently released a global study of millennials that found about 2/3 of this population plan to look for a new employer in the next 4 years. One quarter expect to make the jump this year. One of the main reasons for millennials’ pending job switch relates to a perceived lack of opportunities for leadership development. The second, as noted by Shana Lebowitz in Business Insider is existential. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed felt that business success must include measures both internal (employee growth) and societal (job creation and the offering of goods and services which improve the lives of others). Millennials want work that carries substance beyond purely financial or industry ranking measures. Deloitte calls this the “purpose gap” and it could not have come at a better time in terms of the global economy.

The past 50 years of economic life has seen the rise of globalization, corporate downsizing, forced rankings and increased productivity, all at the expense of employee health and sanity. Meeting Street expectations drives an inordinate amount of decision-making among senior leaders, creating an environment unsupportive of a long-game view about strategy and execution. It can feel as if, in extreme cases, meeting targets matters far more than how those targets are met.

It’s time for leaders to think like yogis.

What is a yogi? In simple terms, it’s a person proficient in yoga. Before you assume I’m advocating that leaders revamp their work wardrobe at Lulu Lemon or start breaking out yoga mats in business meetings, hold up. Yoga is a lot more than an exercise program, gateway to meditation or lifestyle fad. It’s a 5,000 year-old body of Vedic (ancient Hindu) knowledge encompassing physical, ethical, mental and spiritual life. The term yoga in derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means union or yoke.

Yogis, known as yoginis if you are a woman, live by ethical rules called Yamas and Niyamas. They are essentially a life list of Do’s and Don’ts, or rules for right living, that require compassion, honesty, fortitude, moderation and non-violence, among others. The actualization of these rules requires practice. In fact, yoga itself is known as a practice, a continual mindful set of activities that sustain and inform daily life.

The millennial cry for purpose finds its counterpoint in the yogic model. Imagine if leaders approached their positions as a form of practice, linking goals within oneself to the overall betterment of an organization. Leaders stand at a very powerful and visible apex of organizational life, which means their actions embody what that organization stands for in word and deed. As millennials challenge organizations to focus on purpose in equal measure with profit, the fulcrum to reshaping these organizations is leadership. Millennials are effectively opening the door to a more holistic definition of business success: balancing people, product, results and expectations to leave lasting positive impact.

Given this, how would a practicing yogi lead?

First, a yogi is aware; aware of the continual flow of data, belief and emotion happening in the business environment. What are my competitors doing? What do my customers want and need? Are my people doing their best work and being acknowledged for their accomplishments and needs? Akin to how a weathervane picks up subtle changes, a yogi’s ability to be in the moment gifts far more relevant and actionable information than living within the context of past or future action, both of which distract one’s mind from what is truly occurring.

Second, a yogi does not judge or ascribe his own belief set to this information. The yogi simply observes and uses these observations to make improvements or modifications. This is far more difficult than it sounds. It is quite hard for most people, especially during periods of stress, to observe without judgment. Yet leadership calls for us to be calm, rational and, dare I note, grown-up.

Third, a yogi strives for the betterment of others and the world at large. Here is where the concept of purpose comes to the fore. Yes, an organization must have a certain level of self-interest and self-preservation to survive. Yet there is a notable and sometimes detrimental difference between wanting to persevere and doing so through harm to others. For centuries, we have occupied ourselves with a world view that assumes limited rewards. For me to get mine, you can’t get yours. While such a view creates competition it veers too often in the direction of unhealthy competition, resulting in loss and deprivation for others. A yogi competes and strives and works to succeed. A yogi does not, though, base this effort on harm, to himself or to others.

The yogi-leader unleashes the purpose-filled organization. Awareness, non-judgment, non-harm are powerful and profound means through which an organization can fulfill its mission and create positive impact across every group and area it touches. And because the yogi-leader leads as a form of practice not static perfection, the organization and by extension its people will find it natural to continually learn and improve. They will be be part of an organization that is fundamentally and palpably alive.

If the millennial desire to find purpose in work creates space for the yogi-leader, wonderful. The newest to the workforce may have just created the blueprint for 21st century economic life.








  1. Gen X yogini March 6, 2016 Reply

    I think you probably meant “etheric” rather than “ethical”? Nothing wrong with ethical but etheric is the layer of energy body between the physical and mental.

  2. Bangfleasters March 8, 2016 Reply

    Ethical actually makes more sense. Great article!

  3. WomensNews June 19, 2016 Reply

    Archeological evidence suggests that in some contexts and regions, yogi of the Nath Siddha tradition were respected and recognized in India. For example, inscriptions suggest a general of the Yadava king Ramacandra donated a village to a yogi in h-century.

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