In a recent interview published in these pages, D Shivakumar, Executive President of the Aditya Birla group, said being self-aware makes a leader more authentic and more trusted. He also said being self-aware is the most difficult thing for a leader.

Indeed, it’s not an easy journey. So how can a leader become self-aware?

The role of emotional intelligence as a core component of self-awareness and, in turn, leadership, has been widely appreciated.

But it all starts with raising internal excellence. An inadequate level of internal excellence has a profound negative impact on the world, not just leadership. It impacts health and wellness, creativity and innovativeness, performance, interpersonal relationships, and societal discord and violence. It indirectly contributes to such serious problems as global warming and terrorism. Raise internal excellence and human beings will make a different set of choices and everything will improve.

Raising emotional excellence

One of the processes of raising emotional excellence is meditation, or more generally yoga, known for thousands of years. The process is auditable since emotions can be estimated and so the proposed ideas are not just policy recommendations. There is a fair bit of scientific inquiry into these processes now, some of it inspired by the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita .

Human beings have three components of the mindset: S, R, and T. The S component encompasses truthfulness, honesty, steadfastness, and equanimity; the R component includes attachment, ego, ambition, bravery, greed, and desire to live while the T component encompasses lying, cheating, causing injury in word or deed, and sleep. The definition of the three components is such that perfection is not possible. On a scale of internal excellence, the maximum S component is at the top and the maximum T component at the bottom, and all other combinations of S, R, and T lie in between.

Internal excellence cannot be readily measured but emotions can. Human beings are endowed with two types of emotions: Positive emotions (unconditional love, kindness, empathy, compassion) and negative emotions (anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, frustration, jealousy, sorrow, and the like). The S component strongly and positively correlates with positive emotions while excessive R and T components strongly and positively correlate with negative emotions. On the scale of emotional excellence, maximum positive emotions are at the top, maximum negative emotions at the bottom and all other combinations of the two, in between. The two scales are entirely equivalent. The noble ones are towards the top end of the scales, the wicked ones towards the bottom, and the rest of us somewhere in between. Self-realisation, or knowing one’s true self, is at the top of the scales.

A scientific pursuit of higher levels of emotional excellence requires a measurement device to estimate emotions and a process with which to make progress toward maximum positive emotions. One wireless device to estimate emotions is called EQ Radio, developed at MIT with major funding from NSF and the US Airforce.

The other device, developed in Russia, is based on the Gas Discharge Visualisation (GDV) principle. It more directly informs us about our emotional state. This GDV technology is registered with the Russian Ministry of Health, FDA and EU.

One of the processes to reach higher levels of emotional excellence is meditation, or more generally, yoga.

Around the time of the Buddha, Sage Patanjali explained the eight-step ( ashtang ) yoga process. The first four are external ‘to do’ steps that take an aspirant toward the last four internal states. Connecting to the source is the destination where creation happens. Scores of yogis have been elaborating on Patanjali’s process ever since.

Yogic processes can take an aspirant toward the emotional excellence of the Buddha (compassion), Jesus (unconditional love), and non-violence (Mahatma Gandhi), while others, towards Krishna (compassion and loving kindness, but ever ready to confront evil). Leaders must make a choice and their inner disposition will guide.

I have personally been blessed to have a self-realised soul for a yoga guru since 2011. Gurumahan founded Universal Peace Foundation (UPF) at Thirumurthi Hills in 1994. He has been going into three weeks of meditation every year with no food, for 29 years, for world peace. Do leaders need decades to enhance emotional excellence? Fortunately not. They can experience benefits in short order. Breakthrough progress is possible if yogic practices are adopted at a young age that enhance intuition. Intuition is cognition without the benefit of the rational mind and the five senses. We all have a certain level of intuition, it is just that the accuracy is generally limited to be of any practical value. Intuition is a notch above mindfulness. Our consciousness is limited to three states (wakefulness, sleep, and dream). A rising level of intuition is accompanied by a higher level of consciousness, mindfulness, and emotional and internal excellence.

At UPF, over 100 children have been trained in the seven-day programme so far. In a demo session in India, 14 children (seven boys, seven girls), aged 8–13, demonstrated their skills to the author blindfolded. The tasks included: (1) identifying colours of plastic balls correctly, (2) reading matter presented to them, (3) using crayons, colouring figures correctly, (4) writing in a ruled notebook, (5) riding a motor cycle, (6) speed reading, and (7) finding hidden objects in the room, (8) identifying their mother/father in the crowd. The entire session was videotaped and photographed. The ability to perform tasks blindfolded means that the intuitive faculty of the children has shot up. There are several other significant benefits of the programme: (1) Improved concentration, (2) Confidence, (3) Memory, (4) Academic performance, (5) Power of understanding, (6) Attitude towards parents, (6) Self-motivation, and (7) Reduced cell-phone and TV use. The parents and children enthusiastically corroborated these benefits, one of the fathers saying that his younger son too will enrol in the programme soon. Such children are bound to be better leaders and better human beings in adulthood.

Gurumahan says that the intuitive faculty is enhanced by stimulating the pineal gland which produces melatonin. The peak melatonin levels fall with advancing age and, therefore, training has been given at a young age. As to whether the programme will benefit adults, Gurumahan says that it has to be assessed with an experimental investigation.

Science has no understanding of the phenomenon of transcending the rational mind. Neither do yogis, but struggling to comprehend it with the rational mind, our five senses, and limited consciousness is a futile exercise, for these yogic practices may not be a product of the rational mind, but rather, the intuitive mind. Let the yogis and scientists of the future unravel the mystery. Meanwhile, let us put these ideas to work to solve some significant human challenges. That will definitely require a different class of leaders.

Pradeep Deshpande is President and CEO at Six Sigma and Advanced Controls, Inc, a management consultancy firm based in Kentucky, US. He has developed a scientific framework for achieving internal and external excellence.