Nilima Bhat: A woman has a power to give life and to take it
Conscious capitalism. Many people raise their eyebrows, thinking, this is not possible. But it can be achieved, says Nilima Bhat, cofounder of program and book Shakti Leadership. Nilima Bhat is coming to Slovenia, Podčetrtek, to speak at World of Synergy 2020 leadership conference in March*. For nearly thirty years, she has worked for corporations across the ocean and in UK, when her husband, Vijay Bhat's cancer diagnosis, has taken her, along with her family, to different rails of life. The parents of today grown up son and daughter returned to their native country India in 2004. Since then, Nilima's fundamental vision has encompassed not only raising people's awareness of the importance of health as a fundamental goal of mind and body, but also why it is imperative for a better future for all Earthlings that leaders, regardless of gender, nurture their integrity and how they can succeed at this.
You are not just an experienced business woman on corporate communications and public relations, but also a charismatic speaker, coach, choreographer, yoga teacher, singer, dancer. Could you describe yourself with just one word?
NB: One word? 'Yogini'! (Yoga master and spiritual teacher)
With husband Vijay you are married for more than thirty years. Sometimes illness, ours or of our loved ones, totally changes our perspective on what is really important in life. Can you say that happened with you also when your husband got very sick with cancer?
NB: It is 18 years since his diagnosis and surgery for colon cancer. My life changed completely as he had to give up his global expatriate job with a leading advertising agency and travelling around the world. We had to return to India for him to recover his health. I became a full-time caregiver to him, and in paralle dived into the study of Holistic Health and Integrative Medicine: Together we created a back-to-health program for him that not just saved his life, but set us up on our respective new careers. During the care and education process, I unexpectedly became an expert on Stress & Wellbeing, as well as Conscious Leadership and Women's Empowerment. Two books got co-authored almost magically, as the sum and substance of these two journeys: My Cancer Is Me, with Vijay, and Shakti Leadership, with Raj Sisodia.
So, your husband is completely healthy now?
NB: Vijay is fully recovered now, with God's grace.
'It's time for women to wake up,' you said in one of your videos few years ago. Are we still lost in an unhealthy sleep? Maybe I am wrong, but as I see the world around me in everyday situations, men are also asleep or it seems that the fire in them was extinguished. For example, when you see two women verbally attacking a woman in high pregnancy and not one of the also present persons doesn't protect her and just stay silent. After a time some other women start to protect her. There is something very wrong with our society.
NB: Yes, of course, everyone needs to wake up. Humanity as a whole needs to wake up out of the planetary crisis. That can largely be diagnosed as the outcome of patriarchy and an unequal social structure that puts power and decision making in the hands of men and makes women subordinate and in service of them. Since Feminine values and behaviours such as caring, sharing, empathy, and collaboration have been devalued and suppressed, they are the very ones that are needed today to restore balance and lead a mature society and harmonious, inclusive culture. Both men and women have these capacities, but it is women who have easier access to it, having been life-bearers and nurturers traditionally. They need to wake up by bringing these qualities out of the homes, and into leadership of all sections of society and the environment. Once they can show the way and model these as awake and conscious leaders, men too can learn how to become more balanced.
Shakti is, if I understand it correctly, ancient, but forgotten knowledge that is most needed today not only in private lives but also in business. 'You have to have a heroic and courageous heart,' you say. Can everybody, women and men achieve that? How could you describe Shakti leadership, why it is better from other kinds of leadership in capitalism?
NB: When faced with great challenge, the human spirit, which is neither male nor female, has shown repeatedly that it can rise to the occasion and do extraordinary acts of heroism and courage. Like a mother or father who can risk their own life to save their child. Therefore, yes, we do have the ability to find deep wells of extra-ordinary power within ourselves, when we reach for it.
Accessing, embodying and then manifesting this innate power to achieve outcomes that are for the good of all, is Shakti Leadership. It is a way to lead from one's presence, rather than ego, and apply true power that is a healthy balance of masculine and feminine energy. We come into our full, true power, when we become a whole person. I call this archetype of wholeness The Wise Fool of Tough Love. We achieve wholeness, when we access our inner wise parent self, without losing touch with our inner child, who can be curious, foolish, and willing to make mistakes, forgive and forget. And also when we have access to our inner man and be tough, draw healthy boundaries; equally know how and when to express our inner woman as the capacity for love and care. The Jungians call this the four-fold Self. There is no leadership situation that cannot be solved between these four capacities. This is a Shakti Leader.
This is a whole-person model for leadership that is drawn from best practices from the East and the West, ancient and modern, based on the hard work of achieving inner-transformation. I believe there are very few models of leadership that cover this breadth and depth. Yet, I also believe that it will take nothing less to conquer the challenges we face as a species and as business leaders too.
When you think about 'conscious capitalism', which you are pointing to and supporting, it sounds like something that is very nice in theory, but almost impossible to achieve in reality.
NB: Conscious Capitalism is a model for elevating humanity through business. This is possible to reach through conscious leaders, cultures built on love and care, having a higher purpose beyond profit and integrating all stakeholders, including society and environment, in your success.
There is good research done by my coauthor Prof. Raj Sisodia in his book 'Firms of Endearment' and 'Conscious Capitalism' that shows this is not only possible by many companies, but that these out-perform their competition many times. In fact, they can be nine times more profitable. So being a good person is good for business too.
People that are interested in mythology and religion know, how important in Hinduism the goddess called Kali is, the personification of protective mother and life-creative force and on the other hand the goddess of death and destruction. How important it is for a woman in private and business sphere to understand this power and not to misuse it just for one goal: achieving certain financial profit or to get more power over other people's lives? Are women leaders in general aware of their power and their big, huge responsibility because of that?
NB: Great question! With great power comes great responsibility. While most women in the patriarchy are unaware of their innate power, those who do make it to leadership may end up doing the traditional 'power-over', win-lose game based on the masculine, militaristic model.
It takes much self-awareness and the heroic journey to find one's inner, intrinsic power. The power that can both give and take life. It can be overwhelming to realize that we can be instruments of such a force. Some women get in touch with this when they are thrown into great positions of leadership. Like Indira Gandhi and Maggie Thatcher or more recently, Jacinta Ardern (New Zealand Prime Minister) and Angela Merkel. Each of them had to encounter their inner Shakti in order to achieve what they did. If they were congruent with their dharma (in hinduism the right living and in budism cosmic law and order), so congruent with truth, they have exercised this power appropriately.
Power is never given to us, especially women, on a platter. We have to earn it. Shakti, the true power, stays with us only as long as we can exercise it responsibly, sincerely and with humility.
* World of Synergy 2020 leadership conference is postponed from March to later date due to coronavirus protection measures.
Interview was published in Slovenian newspaper DELO, dated 25.2.2020