Client Buying Experiences

It’s not about how long you’ve been a practicing attorney.

It’s not about how big or small your law firm is.

It’s not about how impressive your network is.

You can get outsized clients if you know how to construct the buying experience.

The research backs me up:

“The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) found that 53% of customer loyalty is attributed to the customer’s buying experience, according to a survey of over 5,000 people at members’ customer organizations. Compare this to company and brand impact (19%)…and value-to-price ratio (9%).”

Have you ever constructed a Client Buying Experience (CBE)?

I’ve identified 9 different variables you can use to construct your own CBE in 5 minutes or less.

I’ve created a short email course to get into this topic.

5 Ideas. Shared over 5 Days. Actionable in 5 Minutes.

Success! You're on the list.

Copies of Copies

“What’s your plan to provide value to your prospective clients?” I asked the lawyers.

“We will publish thought leadership and post it on LinkedIn and our site,” they replied back.

“Does anyone read it? Have you gotten any business from it?” I asked back.

“Uhh…we aren’t really sure.”

Without optimizing any content, without any measurement, without any calls to actions, law firms are all following the same “playbook” of publishing content that no one reads or engages with.

It’s the blind leading the blind.

This is a way of deluding yourselves into thinking you’re doing big things with little to no payoff.

No, this is not about asking for likes on an article. But you do need a strategy.

Even if you rise conversions from 1% to 2%, you’ve just DOUBLED your revenues or client base. Are you measuring this? Do you have a plan?

In the interest of walking the talk, I’ll make an offer: If you’d like to talk about how to have a coherent game plan for business development, keep reading these posts. Over the next month, I’d like to pull back the curtain on how to do this all right and identify the biggest mistakes that lawyers make right now.

If you’d like to short circuit that and move faster, check out my services here.

Setting Yourself Apart

“I don’t know why a client would choose me vs any other lawyer or law firms out there.”

This is a common thing I hear when working with lawyers. Despite all the posturing, most lawyers I’ve spoken with are deeply unsure about their place in front of the client.

To combat this, most of them were putting in even more effort. Attending more virtual events. Writing more pieces. Grinding even more to become more technically proficient. And of course burning out in the process.

This is so unfortunate.

The fact is simple: you don’t need to do MORE.

Your success in front of the client has everything to do with being able to deeply understand your client and solve their needs then and there. You don’t need to be a superhero lawyer for this.

You just need to be more human.

Thankfully, this skill is learnable. It is the first thing we go over when I work with lawyers.

Sadly, lawyers are often taught to suppress this. They aren’t taught how to do this while being professional.

The other antidote is to find your unique selling proposition or USP. This is one of the first things we do when we start working together. If you’re curious about this, check it out here.

The Dharma of a Leader

The bedside clock flashed 5:12 am. My phone was ringing and I instinctively answered it.

“I need to talk. Nothing is working out. Can we talk?”

Half in a daze, I was trying to figure out what was happening. It was a friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in 6 months.

“My entire business is falling apart. My life is falling apart. I don’t know how to do this anymore. I don’t know how to make this all work.”

We had left school almost a decade ago, and had sporadically exchanged messages on birthdays and holidays. He had gone on to become a successful entrepreneur, leading one of the fastest growing online fashion companies in North America.

He started speaking. At first hesitatingly, testing the waters to see how I reacted, but then in big bursts of vulnerability.

He spoke about his struggles and challenges, the pressures he faces as a leader, and the burden of expectations from his customers, his employees. Not to mention the self-imposed pressure from his family.

“I just had a second kid last month. A girl this time. Did I tell you that?,” he asked.

We spoke for the next hour, trying to abate the mental breakdown he was having. He spoke about his hopes and dreams when he graduated with me. He spoke about all he had accomplished. And through it all, he spoke about the hollowness that came from getting everything he wanted.

His business was struck deep from the CoVID-19 crisis and the economic downturn.

“What I don’t understand is why I feel so empty. What’s going on right now has just increased the weight of hollowness in my heart. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

As the sun started to rise outside my window, I couldn’t help but reflect on the universality of this feeling. Of the challenges that come during critical times when the mind cannot find solutions and the heart’s voice becomes louder. The bumps are felt more sharply in critical times, as the pressure to act is ever greater.

This had been the silent voice in my heart as well, and the voice of many other entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs I work with.

As my friend finished his story and waited for me to respond, I found my mind wandering to the lessons I had learned from observing the friendship between two unlikely people, and a silent practice of my life.

The President and the Monk

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was the man that turned India into a nuclear power. He was a nuclear physicist, the chief scientist of the country, inventor of stents, and a writer of books. He was the chief scientist of the country. He represented the pinnacle of critical and scientific thinking.

He was tasked with the work of finding how to advance India into the 21st century. He scoured far and wide to find answers to this question.

He created a vision that was focused on 6 areas. Food production, healthcare, education, technology, infrastructure, and security. He would consult with politicians and business leaders, scientists and thought leaders on these topics. This vision became his rallying cry. It was this vision that turned him into the most popular President of the country with unanimous support across party lines, and won the admiration and respect of a billion people.

He had heard about Pramukh Swami, a humble monk who had traveled the world with no possessions, without a penny to his name. He had heard about his love and compassion and how it had brought clarity and focus to the hearts of thousands across all walks of life. Dr. Kalam wanted to meet this monk.

A Muslim scientist meeting a Hindu monk. This was never meant to be more than a formal meeting of two leaders to exchange pleasantries.

Dr. Kalam presented his vision to Pramukh Swami who listened quietly with a smile on his face. At its end, the monk decided to suggest something.

“In addition to these areas you have spoken about, add one more: Faith. Nothing will happen without faith. It is faith that will bring people together. It is faith that will change the vision of people. It is faith that will unite.”

As Pramukh Swami kept talking, something started to shift inside Dr. Kalam. He had found the missing factor in all his critically thought out plans. It was the hidden dimension that he had not considered.


Dr. Kalam found an awakening in his spiritual consciousness by that meeting. Over the next 14 years, he had 8 more meetings with Pramukh Swami. The final book of his life was titled “Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji.”

This is altogether remarkable since Dr. Kalam was a Muslim, who learned his most profound lesson from a Hindu monk.

In it, he wrote “[Pramukh Swami] has indeed transformed me. He has removed I-ness and My-ness from my life. He is the ultimate stage of the spiritual ascent in my life… Pramukh Swamiji has put me in a God-synchronous orbit. No maneuvers are required any more, as I am placed in my final position in eternity.”

This is the lesson we must embrace again.

Spiritual Leadership

The concept of spirituality feels taboo. This is meant to be a deeply personal and intimate area of life, not meant to be discussed openly and in public, let alone in the cold sterile corporate environments we often find ourselves in. After all, no one wishes to impose their views on another.

But this viewpoint stems from a lens where for one perspective to be true, another one has to be false. The lens through which Pramukh Swami was operating, and the lens through which much of the Dharma traditions of the East operate claim that there are multiple answers on the path of spirituality. No one path becomes wrong for another to be right.

From this perspective, the personal becomes universal. It becomes a means of exploring, understanding, and learning from others to broaden one’s own repertoire.

Peter Drucker felt similarly. He writes in Landmarks of Tomorrow, his lesser cited work: “Society needs a return to spiritual values–not to offset the material but to make it fully productive…Mankind needs the return to spiritual values, for it needs compassion.”

A broader spiritual consciousness lies at the very heart of widening the vision of a leader. A spiritual consciousness is what elevates the ability of a leader to lead in critical times. It is not critical thinking, the ability to think like an algorithm that defines critical times.

A true spiritual lens is also meant to be practical, not reserved for yogis and theologians. Limitations of Knowledge & Power It is tempting to think that the work of a leader during critical times is to gather more knowledge and power so that one may lead more effectively.

In response, Drucker writes in Landmarks of Tomorrow that “knowledge and power have been problems of man since the Garden of Eden. Now they are in the center of his existence. The solution to them which the new age finds will, in the last analysis, determine its character and meaning. If it fails to solve them, it will not only be a dark age…it may well be the last age of man — and conquest of space will not alter this. If however the new age succeeds in solving these problems, it could become one of the greatest eras of man.”

More knowledge, information or power will not help one lead better. To lead through critical times, we must think outside of ourselves, outside of the prejudices and snap judgements that the human mind is prone to. To not let ourselves be influenced by cold hard numbers that give the illusion of certainty.

Therefore, good judgement and the courage to act stems from the ability to get out of one’s ever-changing mind. After all, how can one make a tough decision when we are influenced by the problems of the world, by our own stories, prejudices, and priorities?

The Dharmic idea of spirituality offers a way to help us step outside of ourselves.

The Lessons of Spirituality

The dharmic lens teaches us that the greatest illusion and delusion we harbour is the belief that we are this body and this mind. We believe the story of us as definite. We cannot imagine a world that exists after we have passed on. We insert ourselves and our legacy into everything. But it is your true self that allows the body and mind to exist, to perceive, to experience, to be conscious. This consciousness is the real you. Not the body and the mind that you inhabit. This consciousness or awareness is the experiencer of everything that you consider to be “your” life. Thus, “you” are completely distinct from it all. This is not an intellectual exercise, but a plane of existing and seeing if one pauses and tries.

The dharmic lens asks: Who are you?

Consider this. Look at a picture of yourself as a baby. You were that person, yet somehow, that person you see is a different person than what you are now. It seems like a completely different person altogether. All those memories, all those moments—were you any of those?

In other words, at what point did you become you? Was the child, the newborn photo not you as well? Yet, that baby can seem like a different person completely to what you feel like today. Similarly, if that person—the boy or girl, seems like a distant person, perhaps a different person altogether, then it is equally possible that the person whom you believe to be you right now is not you either.

On closer introspection, we realize that the mind’s conception of “you” is flawed. It takes an amalgamation of your memories and makes it your identity. This identity always keeps changing. The mind’s conception of you is also ever changing.

When we keep asking ourselves this simple question “who am I?” we are forced to realize that all the problems, successes and failures, the weight and pressure that we feel as leaders are not really ours after all. They belong to the body and the mind.

Like the bulb that gives light to a room, it is the consciousness of our true self that gives light to the body and mind, which allows us to think, which allows us to feel. It challenges the adage “I think therefore I am.” It tells us instead to realize “I am, therefore I think.”

When we live and lead from this perspective, we are able to see the critical challenges we face more dispassionately. It removes the burden of leadership and gives us courage to act with our conviction. It removes our ego and lets us lead with freedom.

In Action

In January 2001, a 7.7 ML earthquake had devastated Western India. More than 20,000 people died, and more than 160,000 people were injured. Everyone was completely unprepared for this. Pramukh Swami, the humble monk who had advised Dr. Kalam, was one of the first on site in the areas which were most affected.

He inspired other monks who would otherwise spend their time in a monastery to serve others. Spirituality after all is meant to help us live in the world, not retreat from it.

Many months later, President Bill Clinton was visiting India and had decided to visit the affected sites. His work led him to be introduced to the work of Pramukh Swami. A brief 5 minute meeting was scheduled between the two leaders.

But 5 minutes became 15, 20, 30, 40 minutes. Their dialogue happened through the intermediary of an imperfect translator, and yet President Clinton felt a sense of ease and peace in the presence of Pramukh Swami.

He later remarked: “When I look into his eyes, they are filled with integrity. I saw in his eyes that he is a man who has not come ahead by eclipsing others. He has come forward by always placing others before him.”

A simple monk like Pramukh Swamiji had just received the validation, recognition, and attention of a world leader with considerable power and ability.

Far from being elated however, Pramukh Swamiji immediately spotted two brothers in a distance who had arrived from a nearby village. As soon as the President left, he went to the two brothers and started talking with them asking them about their families, their safety, their accomodations on the volunteer grounds. He arranged for their meals, and consoled them through their crises.

This is the essence of the spiritual leader. Someone who can completely step outside of themselves, and not be bound by praise, personal biases, or the weight of an ego.

Perhaps it is this state of realization that helped so many people, including President Clinton, and Dr. Kalam experience such profound love and peace from him.

Perhaps it was this spiritual leadership that inspired Dr. Kalam to remove the “I-ness and My-ness in life…where nothing else remains to be done.”

The Effective Human

As I shared my experiences, insights, and anecdotes with my friend, I heard him confused at first. But this state of being outside of himself sounded so appealing to him, that he committed himself to a process of self-inquiry to help him touch this experience more tangibly. He committed to asking himself two questions:

• Who am I?
• And if I am not that, then who am I?

The first question engages the mind to give an answer, while the second question gets one to go continuously deeper. He committed to repeatedly ask himself these two questions in a regular meditation practice.

The last time I spoke with my friend, he had scaled down his operations to tide through the shifting landscapes. He had to let go of some staff, but he paid them well above what was required of him. He is happier now too, less stressed about running his business.

I too find myself asking these two questions above. As I deal with unemployment, economic turmoil, and the barrage of anxiety producing news, when panic and anxiety overwhelm me, I try to find a center of existence through these two questions.

Who am I? And if I am not even that, then who am I?

More than anything else, finding and identifying with this unchanging core as the real me has been the most effective way I have found of leading and managing myself.

Now more than ever, we must find a way to incorporate this spiritual lesson if we are to lead effectively through these critical times.

This type of dharmic spirituality, the lessons that Pramukh Swami transmitted and helped Dr. Kalam experience, is not just the need of an effective executive, but of an effective human.


Abdul Kalam, A. P. J., and Arun Tiwari. Transcendence: My Spiritual Experiences with Pramukh Swamiji. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India: Harper Element, 2015.

Aksharvatsaldas, and Trivedi Yogi. Eternal Virtues: Spiritual Attributes of Pramukh Swami Maharaj. 2. ed. Ahmedabad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2011.

Drucker, Peter F. Landmarks of Tomorrow: A Report on the New “Post-Modern” World. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers, 1996.

Drucker, Peter F. Managing Oneself. Harvard Business Review Classics. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press, 2008.

Drucker, Peter F. The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. New York, NY: Harper Business, 1967.

Be Human, Be An Imperfectionist

Perfectionism is the greatest trap we fall in. Our entire society, our businesses, our culture runs on this idea. We’re all lesser for it.

This past week, I had a meeting scheduled with a successful entrepreneur in Atlanta. Before the call, I started hoping he wouldn’t attend the call. I was unsure of what value I had to contribute to him. I was thinking about all the ways I fall short in life.

We try so hard to be perfect, to keep up an image that others have about us. Even the image that we have for ourselves.

“I was meant for more. I should’ve been further along. Why am I like this?”

We beat ourselves up. In this way, we become our own worst enemies.

It’s hard to not feel defeated, overwhelmed, out of breath sometimes when everyone else around us appears to be running ahead just fine. Everyone else appears more accomplished, more fit, richer, with better relationships and partners.

We’re all in this. Men and women who are in their 30s, 40s, 50s who are afraid to admit they have any feelings of doubt, insecurity, vulnerability, loneliness.

“Oh no, everything is going great!” they say with a fake cheeriness.

Businesses and governments put on an armor of invulnerability. Everything is structured, static, sterile. There’s a reason why hundreds of millions across the world with these jobs are dissatisfied, disengaged, and unhappy in their work. They feel they have to suppress a big part of themselves to do the work. Their vulnerabilities, their doubts, their fears.

I am giving up this idea. Embracing imperfectionism is freeing. It lets us connect with others more authentically. Happiness, satisfaction, success, growth all comes from rich connections and relationships. This is possible when I don’t have to pretend to be perfect.

This is not about avoiding progress. This is not about stopping ourselves from improving.

Just to be clear…

This isn’t a “trick” to make you happier. Remember, the unrealistic, ridiculous side of this coin is perfectionism. The idea that we can do anything perfectly is completely and irreversibly contrary to logic, the history of mankind, and every person’s experience. 

Against a giant tortoise, we’re all speed demons! Against a cheetah, even Usain “The Human Lightning” Bolt will get embarrassed. Your confidence in your foot speed depends on what relative benchmarks you consider to be adequate, poor, or remarkable…Every confidence benchmark is arbitrary, so we may as well create our own.

The two quotes above are from Stephen Guise and his excellent book How to be an Imperfectionist.

We don’t have everything in our lives figured out. That’s okay. We’re all going to be okay. I don’t want to be perfect anymore for anyone else. It takes too much energy.

When I started talking with the entrepreneur, I decided to be a bit bold and tell him about this feeling of insecurity I felt when we started the call. And it was such a relief. We connected authentically and genuinely. It was good.

As a consultant, I am trying to do this with businesses. I want to help businesses make change more human. I want them to account for human psychology, human imperfections in their work. I want organizations to sell without treating someone else like an object.

You can read about what work I am doing here (and if you think of any business that can use a gentler and more human way of managing change and growing, let me know).

I hope this week you will let go of a tendency to be perfect and instead be imperfect while trying to be a bit better. To stop comparing yourself with others. To stop making yourself seem invulnerable. Don’t resist the doubts and fears. In fact, have a conversation with someone who can respect it and your relationship with them will become richer for it.

If the above email resonated with you, join the weekly Ideas newsletter dedicated to connecting thinkers, doers, leaders, teachers, and humans to build the future by connecting the heart and mind.

You can sign up for it below:

Love in the Time of Corona

In these times of great anxiety, we need something to ground ourselves, give us hope in our ability to get through this. Our relationships are the greatest source of resilience and strength.

The man came to see the woman, a long lost lover.

He came from the town into the big city, without much money. Withering away in his small town, as the local businesses slowly and painfully died.

He had held on to what little opportunity he could find in his town, until he couldn’t. Until the debts piled up, and the opportunities dried up.

He wanted to see her again. And hope that he could find a fresh start again. Fix his life again. He came with what little he had left in his wallet and a briefcase.

He called on the woman in the big city, arriving unannounced.

Taken aback, but glad to see him again, the woman let him in.

They stood awkwardly at the front porch, a dash of unsaid things running through both their minds.

But soon they went inside and started talking. First the usual small talk, until it wasn’t.

It looks like it will rain. Yes, so-and-so is still doing that. No, I haven’t gotten married yet, but congratulations to you! No, I’m just visiting.

They talked and reminsced about the past. The minutes turned into hours as memories of the past came flooding back.

The skies shattered and heavy droplets of rain drowned the city. Even though it was midday, it became dark.

She was married now and lived well, he thought.

He felt ashamed to ask for what he wanted. Her love, a chance to start again.

The doorbell rang, and the man decided to leave.

It must be her husband. I’m a huge fool to even be here.

“No, stay,” said the woman.

The door was left unanswered.

They spoke some more. Until there was nothing left to say, except of course that which actually mattered.

What if I had showed up then?

What if I had said that to you?

What if life had played out just slightly differently? What if we had loved more deeply? What if we had said what was on our minds, our hearts?

She asked to leave for just a few minutes to go buy some food from around the corner. The man was hesitant to stay any longer, but agreed on her insistence. She borrowed his raincoat and dashed off.

A few minutes later, the door bell rang.

The man opened the door, surprised to hear her come back so soon.

But instead, there was an old man standing in the door way.

Is the woman in? I am the landlord. They have not paid their rent for yet another month.

And it all started making sense to the man.

What seemed like luxury suddenly looked different. He saw the damp walls, the empty pantry, the unlit and unheated room.

The landlord left, disappointed at not meeting the tenants of the home.

Soon, the woman came back, breathless from the rain.

They ate in silence.

He thanked her for helping him relive shared memories, and told her that he must be getting on. And with that, he left.

As he made his way back to the train station, disappointed by the turn of luck, he reached into his raincoat, and pulled out a beautiful pendant that came with a note.

I read the letter in your pocket that laid you off. I did not know you had lost your job and you came here with nothing. Here is something to help you get by.

And as she cleaned up the scant meal she had served her guest, she saw a small stack of bills underneath the cushion.

He had left what little he had, save the fare he needed to go back to the town.

I hope this can help you keep your home.

Both the man and the woman gave, and gave deeply.

That was the gift that only love can provide.

In times of uncertainty, when our own mortality becomes abundantly clear, the only thing that can ground us is love.

There is a lot of panic right now. Panic for our health, the economy, our livelihoods, our families.

Life can seem out of our control.

But in times like this, the only thing we can rely on is not our bank account, although that is necessary. It is not our businesses and jobs, because they can turn for the worse at any time.

It is love.

The crisis we face today reminds us to latch onto the things that matter. The things we forget, the people we take for granted, the gifts we have received over our lifetime that we have ignored in the pursuit of more. They can never be taken from us.

It is hard to do this sometimes. I believe it is often because we do not feel we have done enough to prove that we are worthy of it all. So we must do more, achieve more, impress more. But none of that gets us there.

The only pre-requisite to be grounded in our relationships is to accept the gift of love that we have received and freely give others from the same bottomless well.

The crisis is an opportunity to become grounded in the unchanging things of our lives.

Love in the Time of Corona is the cure to our anxieties, our worries, our panic.

In my last post (The President and The Monk), I wrote about Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the Hindu guru who became the “ultimate teacher” in the life of Abdul Kalam, the Muslim President of India.

Later on in Abdul Kalam’s book, I read a quote by Pramukh Swami that resonates deeply with me.

He said, “In the joy of others lies our own.”

And I think to myself, what an apt expression to guide us through trying times (or even not so trying times).

He not only said this, but lived it his entire life. He himself visited hundreds of thousands of homes, guiding families on how to resolve conflicts and bring people together. He answered close to a million letters from people with questions about their families, their businesses, their worries and anxieties about health, and of course deep spiritual problems.

Perhaps that is why when people met him, they couldn’t help but feel completely at ease. Why he felt at ease no matter what the situation was.

When he was diagnosed with a severe blockage in his heart, he acted with complete equanimity. This was not a stoic coldness, a metallic indifference to the world and the body. It was a deep inner spring of joy that always bubbled. That is true equanimity, he taught.

As a leader, when there was major difficulties that threatened the very core of his position and his organization, he took it in stride. Those who closely observed him noticed that he remained light and unaffected as ever.

I hope to write more about lessons from Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s life and what I’m learning reading Transcendence, the final book by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in the coming months.

Today of all days, as anxiety, fear, and panic overwhelms us, we must dig a bit deeper to give the gift of gratitude, of love, and of hope. More than ever, we need the lessons that Pramukh Swami taught Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

Update from my life: My wife and I will be moving to Houston this summer. At the same time, I have decided to go deep into healthcare as the sector to build my career. Many of you who know me well know how passionate I’ve been about health from my days of going vegan. I’ve recommended books, documentaries, etc to many of you. I’ve also done some writing, and had volunteered for many years for NYTimes Best Selling author Dr. Michael Greger and his organization

I now want to go deeply into it. I’ve decided to start a weekly publication to share the things I’m learning about the healthcare world and use that as a marker of credibility to get work in that field. You can follow my journey here as a complete novice below:

And of course, if you feel like this resonates with you and you can think of others who would be good additions to our tribe, do share this with them.

Aside: Special thanks to O. Henry’s short story The Gift of Magi and Rituparno Ghosh’s film Raincoat for inspiring the short story above.

How are you feeling?

I believe in building a tribe. And a great tribe helps each other out. We check in with each other. How are you feeling during these times? What are you doing to keep yourself buoyant, hopeful? Do share below! It matters!

The President and The Swami

photography of mirror building
Ivey Business School, London

It was a cold November evening in London. The sun had started to set by 4 PM.

Our days would start at 8 AM when the sun was barely visible. By the time the day would end, it would be dark again.

But on this particular day, after a hasty dinner, a group of fresh faced business school students were crawling back to the school. Dressed in suits and heels, their legs and ears were shivering in the subzero temperature as they walked across the campus to the session, ready to impress.

The big firm was coming today. One of the most prominent management consulting companies was over to recruit today. They had driven a few hundred kilometers to visit this campus, and find the best and brightest of Canada to join their firm.

It was an informational night. Their goal was to talk about their firm (but everyone already knew all about it of course). But really, their goal was to get a feeling of the people and get an insight on who might be the right material for their firm.

The presentation ended, the cocktail hour began. And everyone immediately swamped the one partner who was there.

Everyone started asking questions, hoping to impress and leave just enough of a mark to be memorable and make their odds of getting the job more likely.

What’s it like to work as a Partner? What are some of your biggest challenges? What do you look for in a candidate? How do you progress? What’s the most interesting challenge you’ve faced?

The partner was quick in answering all these questions. There was a practiced manner in his answer, as if he had encountered these same queries dozens of times before.

It’s very challenging but very interesting…

Yes, this one time I advised the CEO of a major auto firm…

Of course, here’s my card. Good talking with you…

He was polite, to the point, and cordial.

The crowd cleared away. I was convinced that this wasn’t the job for me at that age. I decided I could just be me (something very hard for me at the time) and have an actually meaningful conversation.

I wandered over to the partner as the hour came to an end, and all the business cards were handed away to the eager b-school students, who would undoubtedly send him an email the next day saying what an absolute delight it was to talk with him.

He looked exhausted. Turns out, he had just flown in from Europe the day before, and he had to come here for recruiting. No one had asked him about that. We had a good conversation about that.

But there was a genuine question burning inside of me that I wanted to ask him: “All these years you’ve been at the firm helping others turn their businesses around. You’ve worked with Fortune 100 CEOs. You’ve traveled the world…”

The partner got ready to give a rehearsed answer to a question he was anticipating. What do you enjoy most about all this? was perhaps the question he thought I would ask.

“…in all this time, what have you learned about yourself?”

He paused. He looked away for a while, staring into the space. He turned to me and said:

“You know, I’ve been doing this for 10 years now. No one has ever asked me this question. I…don’t actually know.”

This is the real question that I am obsessed with. In everything we do, what have we learned about ourselves?

I think this is the real challenge of leadership at the highest rungs of corporations, governments, non-profits, and even start-ups. Leaders are obsessed with creating a great company, serving customers, serving their employees. They constantly upgrade their skills, their tools to make them more productive, more informed, more ready.

And perhaps that’s you too. Relentlessly trying to change everything that the world throws at you.

And it’s never enough. The world moves forward. The day ends and each peak conquered becoming unfulfilling after a while.

Of course this is unfulfilling. There is a lot of criticism of capitalism that asks the question: how much is enough? We expect Wall Street to change, to not demand such expectations from companies. We expect businesses to stop marketing to us, making us desire things we don’t really need.

We criticize a culture that is bent on shopping, binging on TV and movies, and being in a perpetual state of adolescence.

And nothing changes. It is unfair to criticize the system without looking at the root cause of all this.

I believe this outwards orientation is at the heart of everything.

This doesn’t apply just to corporate CEOs, government officials. This is not just about leadership at the highest levels, but it’s about you and me. Those who are trying to live together everyday.

But there is a different model of leadership, of being, that also exists. One where “enough” is a natural byproduct. One where it is much easier to get into action, work, and have the wisdom to stop.

That’s what this is about.

Few Americans have heard of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. But for more than a billion people, he was the most popular President of India. A rocket scientist, an inventor of low cost stents, an author of books, amongst many other things.

He was a humble man. When he won the most Presidency by the widest margin in the history of the country, he had barely 1 bag of clothes to pack as he moved to the Presidential mansion.

He was loved deeply. His mission was to put “Wings of Fire” in children to make them soar beyond whatever circumstances they faced.

He himself came from a humble background. Born to a fisherman’s home in a Muslim community in a corner of India, it was his curiosity and focus on his work that helped him climb up to the highest ranks.

But this isn’t about his accomplishments.

It is about his realization in the last decade of his life that inspired him to make a radically different set of choices. This, more than anything, became the final calling of his life. Sharing this insight became the most important project of his life, more than launching rockets and inventing medical devices.

What realization was this:

“Who am I really? Am I so-and-so with a certain past and a certain body and personality and certain roles, talents, weaknesses, dreams, fears and beliefs? Others may define me in these ways, but that is not who I really am. Who I really am can only be discovered through deeper questioning and exploration, and through a subtler experience of that which is beyond all ideas about myself. It can only be revealed when the mind is quiet and no longer telling me who I am. When all the preconceptions about myself are stilled, what remains is who I really am: consciousness, awareness, stillness, presence, peace, love and the Divine. You are that which is nameless, and yet has been given a thousand names. “

Since that moment, his work became to talk about this vision about how to manage in the unprecedented changes that we face.

It was his experiences with the great Hindu teacher Pramukh Swami Maharaj that brought him this realization.

Pramukh Swami Maharaj (left) with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (right)

The outcome of this?

He wrote in his final book, Transcendence:

“No maneuvers are required anymore, as I am placed in my final position in eternity.”

A profound feeling of satisfaction and completeness. But not one that makes one inactive, unengaged from the world. But a freeing realization to engage more deeply in life and strive to make a greater impact.

I believe that is what we need more than ever. This newsletter is really about the vision that Dr. Kalam had while holding the hand of Pramukh Swami Maharaj:

“In a revelatory flash, I realized that the struggle between happiness and unhappiness that had so far been the story of human existence–and the struggle between peace and war that had been the history of the human race–must change. I heard in the silence of his grip on my hand ‘Kalam, go and tell everyone that the power that would lead us to eternal victory amid these struggles is the power of good within us…The vision would be greater than any other goal ever aspired to by humanity.’ “

This is what we need more than ever right now. It is not an abstract aspirational aim, but a real state to cultivate.

Please join me as I spend the next year going through this theme. It is this vision that we want to explore.

It is not about religion or meditation or mindfulness, but something that engages the whole intelligence, body, emotions, and soul. This vision will take us down many paths. It will take us through the fields of psychology, business, economics, culture, spirituality, history, leadership, and a whole host of other disciplines.

This is about becoming the complete person. And this has massive implications for our economic systems, how we lead businesses, organizations, our families, and our communities.

Join me as I try to understand the pieces of this vision and how to put it all together. And please do share with other friends, colleagues who might be interested in this. It makes a difference.

How do you think the world would look if this is how leaders led? If you led your life from the place Dr. Kalam writes about?