Leadership has been defined in many ways. It is possibly one of the most researched subjects in the world today. It has been estimated that around 25,000 books are published on this subject in the United States alone. Though so much as been said and written, it is still difficult to describe ‘Leadership’ even today. Vivekananda has been called a monk, a prophet, a social reformer, a nationalist, a philosopher, a yogi, a prolific writer, an orator par excellence, an educationist and so on. There has been very little analysis or research done on Vivekananda as a Leader.
Swami Vivekananda was an exceptional leader whose qualities are only now beginning to be gradually understood. Many of the qualities he manifested is now being described and taught by leadership experts in business schools today. Though there are many definitions of leadership, most people agree that developing and living an enabling and empowering vision is the very essence of effective leadership. Vision statements are the inspiring words chosen by successful leaders to clearly and concisely convey the direction of the organization. By crafting a clear vision statement, one can powerfully communicate one’s intentions and motivate the team or organization to realize an attractive and inspiring common vision of the future. One can only think strategically and outline a vision after having a complete understanding of the existing reality. Max de Pree, businessman and leadership expert states unequivocally that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. Adi Shankara in his Viveka Chudamani observes that the highest form of discrimination is to be able to distinguish the real from the unreal. While Max de Pree wrote in the context of the reality of the external world, Shankara focused on the more subtle and absolute notion of reality. Vivekananda was one of those rare persons who could straddle both worlds and created a remarkable vision which not only unified the external with the internal, but also reconciled it and gave a sense of purpose to people struggling to discover their true inner nature. He at once created a vision which kept in mind the harsh reality that India was in and gave the young of the country a sense of purpose in working towards the upliftment of the masses. And through this work, he wanted them to discover their true inner selves. An understanding of this reality and his vision based on this reality can be seen from the letter he wrote to the Maharaja of Mysore in June 1894. He said, “The one thing that is at the root of all evils in India is the condition of the poor…The only service to be done for our lower classes is to give them education, to develop their lost individuality. That is the great task between our people and princes. Up to now nothing has been done in that direction. Priest-power and foreign conquest have trodden them down for centuries, and at last the poor of India have forgotten that they are human beings.”
In another place he writes, “And, oh, how my heart ached to think of what we think of the poor, the low, in India. They have no chance, no escape, and no way to climb up. The poor, the low, the sinner in India, have no friends, no help – they cannot rise, try however they may. They sink lower and lower every day, they feel the blows showered upon them by a cruel society, and they do not know whence the blow comes. They have forgotten they too are men. And the result is slavery.”
The Visionary Vivekananda had two separate visions – national and global. At the national level, his vision was to uplift the Indian masses materially, with the help of an education that was tempered with the flavour of Indian Spiritual heritage. He expressed his global vision in the World Parliament of Religions in one his speeches on Hinduism as the concept of a universal religion. He said, “It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity, which will recognize divinity in every man and woman, and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be created in aiding humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.”