Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, Septemeber 21, 2012
I am CEO of a large well known MNC. I have always coveted the corner room and worked with single minded devotion to get to the position. But after achieving my goal two things happened: first, the achievement wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be, and second, I have become increasingly more insecure. So much so that my personal and professional life both are in turmoil. In frustration, I have started an affair with a young rising star in the company. How do I deal with my situation? I can’t even go and discuss this with anyone.
According to Jain chronicles, after Bharat (after whom India is named Bhaarat) conquered the world he climbed Mount Meru in the center of the world to hoist his flag only to find the peak covered with countless flags of kings before him who had conquered the world and had since been forgotten. You are having a Bharat moment! Suddenly, you feel insignificant despite your achievements and your acquisitions. This is when myth (subjective truth) meets reality (objective truth). Objectively you have all that you thought would make you happy. But subjectively something is missing – a vacuum that needs to be filled.
Management Science is based on the principle of goal. Everything is driven by objective. You were driven by objective, like the Greek heroes seeking Elysium. And you have achieved it, like an Olympic runner. Everyone has called you a winner. You have the laurel wreath (the cabin?) but this does not feel like paradise. For suddenly you see more goals ahead of you and more runners running beside you. It never ends – the goals keep coming, the competition never lets go. And then you stop and wonder, for achievement grants you no special value. You want to be valued.
In performance driven organizations, you are valued for your performance, not for who you are. You know that in time you will, like an old tiger, lose the edge in hunting. One day, you will not perform. And the adulation of today will shift to the next CEO. What little attention you are getting today will also go away. That fills you with great anxiety. You want to be seen for the great person you are. The great hero. More than goal, you seek gaze. You seek darshan.
And the young girl perhaps gives you that darshan. Something your shareholders never will, nor your peer group. The shareholders are greedy for the next goal. The peer group envies you for your cabin. The girl adores you for the hero you are, or at least, that is what you think. That is what you want to believe. Maybe she too admires you for your performance, your success – not you. But that is a truth you do not want to face. You want to feel like the young tiger, who still has the mojo. Maybe, along the way, you did not focus on the gaze as you were so focused on the goal. Now, sitting in your cabin, the gaze matters.
But perhaps you need to gaze upon yourself. Who are you? Are you trapped by your imagination of yourself? Are you trapped by how others imagine you? Why were you so obsessed with the corner cabin? To understand this, look around you and ask why do people around you also want to imitate you. Why do they also want what you so desperately want? Why do we all want to be like Bharat, kings of the world?
At the heart of it comes our desire to dominate. We achieve so that we can dominate. We have affairs so that we can show a finger to the world, feel we can get away with it, because we deserve the forbidden, we are the alpha that no one can stop. This desire to dominate comes from fear – the fear that nature does not really care for us, and society only cares for what we bring to the table. This fear will only go away when you start looking and empathizing the fear in people around them. Only when you help others outgrow their fear will you outgrow yours.