Words fill our lives. Words… and more words. Lots of descriptions and a heavy dose of sentences and disparate ideas claiming to be a part of some vision. It is only once in a while that you come across words that are actually a part of a well-meaning visionary thought and then you get to see this vision slowly getting transformed into a reality. I will tell you about my brush with one such vision… but before that, there is a story that I want to tell.

This story is of a young man in his twenties who had passed his CDSE (Combined defence Service Examination) and was off for his SSB (Services Selection Board). He had a 5-day series of tests ahead, each more gruelling than the next… and the first was designed by the psychologists to test his aptitude. In one of these tests he was shown a picture of a pensive and thoughtful man coming down the stairs and the board on the wall says: ‘Employment Exchange’. I’m only sure of what this young man wrote:

The man descending the stairs is sad no doubt… but not because he hasn’t yet found the job of his choice or that there is no job offer for him. Nor is it because he has been rejected in an interview. He works in the Employment Exchange and is thoughtful and sad because despite all his efforts he is able to help only a select few. He wants to see no deserving applicant without an appropriate job and so he is constantly thinking of new ways to attract more recruiters.

The young man we are talking about had only a limited time to pen his thoughts and he was told later that this interpretation was indeed unique. No other candidate had ever gone beyond describing the man in the picture as one who is searching for his own job and despite variations they stayed in the same arena. So this young man was finally one of those selected to join the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.

Well, the picture story was written by me sometime in the late seventies… and I have retold it here to let you know that the impact of a vision can be felt only if the right sort of follow-up actions accompany it. A lot happened in the next few years and I not only left a life in the OGs but also specialised in marketing from the FMS. I was one of the lucky ones… but now years later when I look around I find that if I am walking in a mall and swish only my right hand, it would touch more than a dozen MBAs.

A degree or a diploma in management or any of its divisions became a fad and is now reduced to something as inane and ineffectual as a Masters in any subject.

‘We need a way out,’ I once told the HR Head of the company where I was heading Corporate Communications, ‘the sort of people we’re getting is forcing the corporates to lower their RR bars (recruitment rules).’

The HR head nodded her head in agreement and said, ‘There is no vision in these people who apply… and those from the very best institutes are beyond our reach.’ Well, what she was saying was quite simple and true. The massive density of institutes were and are literally churning out MBAs who read their stuff from guide-books! These guide-book management grads are far from the kind of visionary employees that recruiters look for. There was and there is a massive mismatch in what the businesses needed and what the convention-ruled institutes offered.

I told you earlier on in this post that I will talk about something that has the potential to transform a vision into a reality. Well, a few days back I walked into an institute that is doing precisely this. No, they are NOT churning out MBAs… because their course is aimed to transform students into inspired leaders!

Obviously, I let all my scepticism of such claims hop to the fore as I listened to Anil Sachdev, the Founder and CEO of SOIL or School of Inspired Leadership. What he said straight on was that SOIL provided a holistic education that builds inspired leaders by enabling people to know who they are, recognize their purpose and realize their full potential, to build organizations of consequence. He also added that SOIL was not a mere institution but a movement to give India people who were geared up, primed, and enthused to realising their full potential.

During our interaction, Anil Sachdev did tell us that character, competence, and enthusiasm were not just buzzwords in their vision statement but there was a proactive translation of each of them in the way the curriculum was shaped and communicated. He went on to add, ‘Organisations today need to go beyond the customer-employer-owner focus and include community, ecology, and a concern for pervasive prosperity.’ Thus ‘good, responsible, ethical and inspiring work places always win in the long run even though the world is full of so called corrupt and wealthy business people today!’ To achieve this, the management at SOIL makes sure that their students get access to features that don’t even figure anywhere in the curriculum of other institutes. For instance, their students learn to understand and practice mindfulness under expert guidance, they practice compassion through the social innovation program where they are generally taught to ask questions like: ‘What can I do to take responsibility?’ Student participation is obviously encouraged at every step and classroom monologues are do not rule. Students are encouraged to listen to alternative views… and Anil told us that their students attended the meet where social activists were to discuss the submission of PILs for doing away the old and redundant laws that still exist.

All this did sound impressive, so I asked, ‘You have ethics, mindfulness, compassion, sustainability and diversity mentioned as the 5 pillars of inspired leadership. How easy is it to make students what ethics is in the high-powered and high-pressure environs of a corporate?’ I was pleasantly surprised to hear that being fair in dealings was achieved through theatre artists who encouraged students to act out facets causing dilemma and thus search for viable answers. Quite revolutionary, I murmured.

Anil also informed us that ‘the initial funding of 5 or 6 crores were not enough to set up SOIL and get it running. We needed multiples of this. We were also quite sure that we did not want to take funding from outside as this might mean either reflecting some corporate ecology or getting linked to one intrinsically. So it took us 5 years to generate enough money… and then it took us another 7 years to practice the principles that we teach in SOIL… creating a solid proof of concepts.’ This, he explained was essential, as the institute must not be doing what it doesn’t intend to teach. So if ethical practices are to be taught and the institute indulges in unethical moves or even encourages them, it loses the right to teach these principles. This is quite right… and I almost wished our political parties too would send their MPs here for some of these concerns pounded into them.

What was amply clear from the interaction I had with Anil Sachdev was that their curriculum was way beyond what other institutes taught in their conventional management courses. After all, character, competence, and enthusiasm need a heart-warming convergence of knowing, doing, and being… and this small facet has been over-looked by colleges and universities that have been giving us professional managers until now.

Yes, we need more such institutes where students give their unequivocal opinion on the way it functions. Sheeza Shakeel, a Marketing leadership program student from the 2012-13 batch writes: ‘The curriculum is the most updated one. It is designed in consultation with Industry in order to make sure that the most employable MBA graduates are out of SOIL and they are productive from Day 1 in the jobs. The curriculum becomes even more interesting in the way it is taught and by whom it is taught.’ Aashima Kataria, an HR Leadership Program student form the 2013-14 batch adds, ‘My learning journey at SOIL has been a lot around self-discovery with its own set of learnings, opportunities and challenges. The opportunities provided here amplify your true potential and discover your true calling being in sync with your value system. I am completely enjoying my journey and am more than contended at the fact that today I am a more self-aware individual and know a lot more about myself as I am discovering my true potential.

Well, here we have an institute that is intent upon giving the corporate world a set of ignited minds full of not just the latest theories and fundamentals but also a sound grounding of good human being. No, the students are obviously not perfect but they know the path that needs to be taken to balance today with tomorrow! I loved SOIL… and I almost wished it had existed when I was searching for teachers who would inspire the ‘I’ to help me leverage my gifts to make life better for the multitudes.

For those who are interested in knowing more about this institution, can begin their journey by reading the details on the SOIL website.




The library at SOIL... books and more books always give me a feeling that the institute cares

The library at SOIL… books and more books always give me a feeling that the institute cares

The session at SOIL was more than just interesting...

The session at SOIL was more than just interesting…

Well, yes... this too is a part of the learning, isn't it?

Well, yes… this too is a part of the learning, isn’t it?




Arvind Passey
03 November 2014