Monday, 5 October 2015

Karma-Yoga Leadership Experiential Project

-- Venkat R. Krishnan



(Overview: I introduced a leadership experiential project as part of my elective courses in XLRI Jamshedpur in 1997. I brought my elective courses including the project with me when I shifted from XLRI to Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai in 2006. I started adopting neighboring villages as part of the project in 2009. I made the Karma-Yoga leadership experiential project the USP of the institute well before I left the institute in 2014.)




I developed the MBA elective "Leadership, Influence, and Power" (LIP) and started teaching it at XLRI Jamshedpur in 1997 (the course was titled "Power and Influence Processes in Organizations" initially). I introduced an experiential project as part of the course. Trying to learn leadership in a classroom is like trying to learn swimming in a classroom. Just as a swimming pool is required to learn swimming, a live setting with actual potential followers is needed to understand leadership.

The experiential project required that the students interact and build a relationship with a set of relatively powerless people (e.g., "School of Hope," an institution for the welfare of mentally challenged people). The mission was to enhance the self-esteem and self-efficacy of the target (i.e., to empower them), so that they are able to lead a better quality life. The motto was not to give them fish, but to teach them how to fish. Most of the targets continued from a year to the next, with the next batch of students choosing to work with the same targets.

I developed and started teaching a second new MBA elective on “Indian Philosophy” (IP) in 2000 (later renamed as “Upanishads and Transformational Leadership”). This course was taught in the second term, while LIP was taught in the first term. The experiential project from LIP continued as part of this course also and was called Karma-Yoga project, with almost all the students continuing from LIP with the same targets.

I developed and started teaching a third new MBA elective on “Impression Management” in 2002. This course was taught in the third term,  while LIP was taught in the first term and IP in the second term. The experiential project from LIP and IP continued as part of this course also, with almost all the students continuing from LIP and IP with the same targets. Thus the experiential project became a year-long project, with just a few months' gap between one batch of students leaving their targets and the next batch continuing with the same targets.

The experiential project, being part of my electives, was so far open only to those who did my electives. When I shifted from XLRI to Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai in 2006, I decided to open the experiential project to even those students who did not do my electives, by spinning it off as a separate MBA core course. The reason for making all students do this project course was to help achieve the institute's vision of holistic development of students, by inculcating in them passion with compassion, ability with humility, mobility with nobility, and success with integrity. The leadership experiential project course was called Karma-Yoga. Classroom inputs on leadership were provided to all students before they went into the field. Great Lakes campus was then at Saidapet within the city. The students chose sets of relatively powerless people, like it was done in XLRI.

Great Lakes campus was shifted to Manamai village outside Chennai in 2009. I decided to adopt the villages surrounding the campus for the Karma-Yoga leadership experiential project course. In the first year in Manamai, I adopted 12 panchayat villages. The number was increased to 30 the following year. It was cut down to 20 in 2011. A postgraduate in social work was appointed as lecturer in 2011 to assist me in the project course. An annual Karma-Yoga convention was started during the academic year 2012-2013. I also got Great Lakes Institute of Management to become a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact's Principles for Responsible Management Education in 2013. See my interview with journalist D. Murali on 23 July 2013.

Students from New York University (2 batches: Jan 2012 & Jan 2014), Pace University (Mar 2012), and University of Miami (Mar 2013) visited Great Lakes to interact with Karma-Yoga course students, faculty, staff, and villagers. Publishing a quarterly Karma-Yoga newsletter was started during the academic year 2013-2014, with the objective of sharing with other institutions the way in which Great Lakes Institute inculcated responsible behavior in students.

By the time I left Great Lakes in April 2014, the Karma-Yoga leadership experiential project had become the most unique feature of the institute.

All those who teach leadership may find it beneficial to include an experiential project as part of their courses. Experiential learning adds immense value to students.  This is a leadership project course and not a social work project, and hence organizational behavior faculty and not social work expert should be in charge of the project. Classroom inputs on leadership should be provided to all students before they are sent into the field (otherwise, it would become a social work project and will not provide much learning value for management/business administration students). I used James C. Hunter's  (1998) "The servant: A simple story about the true essence of leadership" as the text book.

3 comments:

  1. Brilliant reading experience. Thank you Sir.

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  2. Great.... Wasn't aware of the background and development of this course..Nice to see the write up / blog. All the best in all your future endeavors too..

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  3. It is really nice to see that the model that you created at XLRI, was replicable in other settings as well. It also means that it can be replicated by others to provide a rich learning experience to students.

    I also feel glad that I was able to do all the 3 courses (LIP, IP and IM) with you. One of my most cherished learning experiences...

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