This incident took place in 1895. The place was London. Swami Vivekananda was to give a public lecture and he had come to London with Swami Saradananda. When it was time to stand up and speak, Swami Vivekananda suddenly announced that Swami Saradananda would deliver the speech instead of him. Though taken by surprise, Saradananda did an excellent job that day, and thereafter too. Swami Vivekananda had realized that all Saradananda needed was a little push to bolster his self-confidence. This incident in isolation may not say much, but we need to see it from the perspective of the leadership and management style of Swami Vivekananda.

Swamiji was not only an inspirational leader, but was also a very pragmatic one. He not only believed in ‘Servant-based Leadership’ but constantly endeavored to empower all those around him. In dealing with his brother-disciples and followers, he evoked what is today popularly known in the management world as the ‘Pygmalion Effect’. Management expert J. Sterling Livingston describes it as the effect of enabling subordinates to excel in response to the leader’s expectation of them. Swami Vivekananda had a high expectation of his followers and he communicated that to them clearly, thus eliciting a high level of performance. Leaders empower their followers by believing in them, and they rise to greatness as a result. The leaders make themselves larger by enlarging others. The leader constantly aims at moving people around him from dependence to independence to the state of inter-dependence. Swami Vivekananda had chosen ’empower and facilitate’ philosophy over ‘command and control’ long before modern management realized its potential. Trust plays an important part in the process. If the leader does not trust his followers, he will use control instead of empowerment. Swami Vivekananda while exhorting his disciples to the highest levels of work had the fullest trust in them and their abilities. His urge to motivate people around him to aspire for higher levels of performance can be seen from this letter of his to his direct disciple Swami Shuddhananda in 1897. He writes, “…Lastly, you must remember i expect more from my children than from my brethren (his brother disciples). I want each one of my children to be a hundred times greater than i could ever be. Every one of you must be a giant – must, this is my word. Obedience, readiness, and love for the cause – if you have these three, nothing can hold you back.”

This also shows Swamiji’s interpersonal skills and the ability to motivate and develop people. One can even say that Swamiji’s call, “Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is reached” was nothing but an attempt to empower people en-masse. J Carla Nortcutt had once said, “The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.” This is perhaps the best description of Swami Vivekananda, the greatest leader of our times.

Kannada version in Prajavani (17-May-12)