“I have two shrinks – a corporate and a personal one,” says Pret a Manger and Itsu founder Julian Metcalfe. “They are the best business consultants you’ll find because answers are generally found in the head and the heart and not in a spreadsheet.”
Is he right? Whatever the answer, the rise of the personal mentor – part psychotherapist, part coach – is one of the great boardroom phenomena of recent years, with great swathes of shrinks sweeping through India in particular. The swelling band of conglomerates claiming to use executive coaching successfully reads like a Who’s Who of corporate India. The roster includes: the Aditya Birla Group, Dr Reddy’s Lab, Mahindra & Mahindra, Murugappa Group and the JK Organisation.
Attitudes have undergone a sea-change. “Many years ago, coaching was perceived as a stigma. Executives were reluctant to be coached as it was viewed by peers and subordinates as something negative… a last resort for correction of negative behaviours or performance,” says Dr P.V. Bhide, head of corporate HR at the JK Organisation. Now it’s the sign of ‘High Potential Talent’ that is going somewhere. You haven’t, in short, arrived until you’ve been shrunk.
Yet Indian companies, of course, have their own tradition to draw upon. As well as taking on board western forms of coaching, many are also returning to their own roots: incorporating philosophies and techniques derived from ancient Hindu ayurvedic or vedic principles into their management development programmes. Given that ayurvedic medicine – a system of living harmoniously and maintaining the body to enhance mental and spiritual awareness – is used by 80 per cent of the population in India, this overspill into the workplace isn’t surprising.
As one HR practitioner remarks: “This is a holistic approach. We’re all intellectual, emotional and spiritual beings and we want the ‘whole person’ to come to work.”
In fact, thanks to ayurvedic evangelists such as Deepak Chopra – founder of the famous Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California – management training based on Indian ethos and eastern spiritual values is quietly pervading boardrooms across the globe. Techniques such as yoga, meditation, ‘spiritual intelligence’ and even laughing exercises are dismissed as ‘new age’ by some. But, as Prof S.K Chakraborty of the Indian Institute of Management notes, a key cause of workplace stress is the lack of depth in the modern value system. People want meaning from their lives and their work.
“External situations only mirror what employees are [facing] within,” adds Anil Bhatnagar, one of India’s leading proponents of the fusion of management and spirituality. “If their lives are unwholesome, distressed, imbalanced, disintegrated and out-of-sync with the laws of nature, the external situations for themselves and their organisations cannot be otherwise.” The higher up the company you rise, the more pertinent this becomes. “Sometimes a brilliant insight downloaded from nature through silence or ‘nondoing’ can save months or years of work.”
Hence the growing support for the theory that, in forging a healthier and more spiritually-grounded organisation, vedic principles are a vital component to its longevity and success. “You’re inevitably going to see more programmes like this in the future,” concludes Michael Rennie, managing partner of McKinsey Australia. “CEOs are wondering: how do I get my intangible assets in order? These programmes speak to that. What’s good for the spirit is good for the bottom line.”