Life-Centered Leadership Development - Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

The Spirituality in Management conference hosted by the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore addressed a key issue of our times: the adequacy of the current paradigms of management for the future of mankind and our planet. Few will disagree on both the timeliness and urgency of such a quest. On the one hand, we are facing dangers that threaten our world: climatic changes, hunger, wars (including the proliferation of nuclear weapons) on the other hand we are presented with unparalleled opportunities. The positioning of the conference in India posed the question: is the Western model of management the best suited for the challenges we face? What can West and East learn from each other? And how does the new epoch of spirituality fit into these new emerging agendas?

Authored by Mary McBride, Denise Tahara, Richard Green and Giselle Carr, this paper presented a methodology for developing leaders equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. We suggested that the role of leader is to cultivate the aspirations, the spirit, of enterprise. Leaders need to learn how to engage the spirit of enterprise to create economic value while serving the real needs of human communities and our life support system. Traditional leadership development methodologies do not provide a practice field for cultivating spirit or connecting the spirit of enterprise to the realities of a world of resource constraint and urgent need. This paper will propose such a practice field.



The world is changing and so is its dominant form of organization, the corporation. Global civil society is now more aware of the pressing problems of climate change, resource shortages and a growing inequity in even the most affluent societies. The demand for transparency and accountability is amplified by technology that makes decisions easier to map and track. Leaders live in the equivalent of a glass cube of increasing scrutiny. The spirit of the times is away from “lean and mean” and toward “clean and green.” Although leadership education touches on the growing importance of embodying life-centered values, it does not provide a practice field. FutureCorp is a practice field for enterprise innovation. It situates the enterprise leadership challenge within the changing context of our shared world. 

Twenty-first century leaders inhabit a unique moment in time. But much of the theory of enterprise is vestigial and left over from the Industrial Age. The corporation, itself is a product of the Age of Exploration. Enterprise leaders must still manage industrial processes and explore the limits of our known world. But they can no longer chain farmers to the factory or simply strip out resources and extract wealth. These models have enriched the few and impoverished the many. As importantly, they have made our world politically unstable and significantly disrupted the living systems upon which we depend. Leaders must challenge existing models and assumptions behind current practices (Nidumolu, Prahalad, & Rangaswami, 2009).  

Our world is in transition from this past and will require a new kind of leadership development which must include an orientation to the complexity of the world.  Leaders will actually shape this world by their actions. Leaders inspire innovation. They literally breathe spirit into their organizations and hold the aspirations of those who follow. This spirit is often too narrowly focused and used only to develop competitiveness and to achieve short-term results. They need a larger field of play, a simulation of possible futures. There is a “need to develop new business models based on spiritual leadership that accentuate employee well-being, sustainability and social responsibility without sacrificing performance” (Fry, Hannah, Noel, & Walumbwa, 2011, p. 259).



The FutureCorp simulation is designed to evidence that business decisions are also ethical decisions and must be seen as such. It orients participants to the challenges of today and encourages them to take organized action to make their difference. The simulation introduces leadership teams to decisions that must be understood at scale and seen as part of a larger ecology of decision making.  They are encouraged to develop sustainable strategic advantage (McBride, 2011) rather than short-term wins and given opportunities to practice profiting our shared life support system and its diverse communities. It is a reflective and developmental exercise that is designed to deepen the leader's understanding of the importance of embodying spirit in organizational action. Leadership means to inspire others to take action determined by the leader (Chiulla, 2004). The leader’s vision becomes a shared vision and the personal fulfillment that the employees seek is evidenced in their commitment, motivation, satisfaction and ultimately performance in their organization.

FutureCorp provides leaders with the opportunity to develop a fairly traditional and time-tested set of strategic management skills. These skills include the ability to:

  • Know and understand the business, global and local markets;
  • Manage subunit rivalries;
  • Anticipate and overcome threats (worldwide, industry-specific, market-specific);
  • Stay on strategy;
  • Be an entrepreneurial force; and
  • Accommodate adversity

But this skill building takes place within a new context that will enable leaders to practice leading as if life matters. They learn that leaders who fully understand business and markets will be more fully able to identify the conditions in these markets that threaten both profit and prosperity. They practice working to contain the competitive energies within and apply them to the strategic intent of transforming business practice and creating opportunities for innovation that contribute to well-being. They become more adept at turning threats of transparency and accountability into brand advantage. They develop resilience and learn to accommodate upset and make the shifts required to both transition practice and stay on strategy. They work together to challenge the old business as usual assumptions and to breathe into the firm a sense of aspiration that can encourage others around a common purpose. Leadership itself is considered a source of competitive advantage (Day, 2000).  

FutureCorp also provides a bridge between the skills required for strategic leadership and the skills necessary for innovative leadership.