What can Rumi teach a CEO?

What can Rumi teach a CEO

In any workforce, a CEO is more than a driving force. A good CEO is a miner; a great CEO is a goldsmith.   

As a CEO, you’re responsible for so much. 

Provide a livelihood to families dependent on your decisions. 

Create value for your company’s shareholders.

Deliver a delightful product/service in the market. 

Moreover, as a CEO, you give a purpose to others. 

If you’re a miner, you’ll hoard a few precious stones, diamonds and some rocks. 

But, if you’re a goldsmith, yours will be the hands that mould stone into amulets, necklaces, rings, and crowns.

Just that even the best of goldsmiths are often blinded by the glare of their torches. 

Guiding you, here are a few of Rumi’s poems that light the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional flame.

1. A challenge is a push towards meaningful progress


“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
A momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and attend them all: 

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty its furniture, still,
Treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new light.” 


Cross your calendars on every challenging day. Because these will be days that mattered.  

Rumi motivates you to welcome good news and bad news with equal delight.  

So, every tough day comes with learning and a path towards progress. 

As a CEO, you must face challenges having faith that this shall pass. And not only shall it pass, but it shall leave you bigger, better, stronger.


2. Comfort is the enemy of growth


“Run from what’s comfortable.
Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on I’ll be mad.” 


Just another motivational speaker goading you to get out of your comfort zone? 

While it’s a cliche, it is absolutely relevant, especially for CEOs of 2022. 

Waking an hour sooner, picking up that call, swallowing your anger – this isn’t exactly ‘coming out of the comfort zone’. 

You’re out of your comfort zone when you embrace the unknown. 

For a CEO in 2022, the unknown is right there, becoming. It’s digital transformation, it’s AI, it’s corporate rebranding, it’s the metaverse. You know what your ‘unknown’ is. Go there. 

The regular OKRs (objectives and key results) can exist on an excel sheet. 

What you need to focus on, is the footfall, the mood boards, or even your happy customers that speak volumes. 

Be a leader that exudes creative energy. The world is transforming. So, adapt.


3. Run a little faster. Your wings will unfurl.


“You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness & trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t,
You have wings. Learn to use them & fly.” 


One of the greatest qualities of a CEO is to be gutsy. So, don’t merely talk about blue-sky thinking. Do it. 

As we aspire, we grow. We make things happen, for everyone around us. 

Treat every thought as an innovative idea and nurture talent that works on it. 

Work with people who give wings to your ideas with you. 

This can be your team or any collaboration you venture into. Find the smartest folks in the room and go stand next to them.


4. Behind the measurable is the reality. Find it. 


“When someone is counting out gold for you,
Don’t look at your hands or the gold.
Look at the giver.” 


A successful business attracts the evil and benign eye with the same magnetism. 

When someone opens their arms to you, pause before you barge into them. 

For instance, an investor who gives you that fat check, may not be the right presence in your board meetings. 

Don’t let the shine of the gold blind you towards the intention of the giver. Don’t take the bait of face-value. On the web, copper dazzles like gold. Nurture a healthy sense of scepticism, sharpen your questions.


5. It’s okay to quit, and be back later


“If you’re that exhausted bird fighting a falcon for too long
Make a comeback and be strong.” 


Artists, creative professionals, leaders of the creative industry need to hear this. 

The struggle for sustenance is real. I see furrowed brows and sweating palms often in my office’s conference rooms – smart young adults hunched over charts, politely dissecting each others’ ideas. When the legs get tired, and then the day’s catch-up meeting is due, they feel tempted to ‘just go’ with the last idea. 

And the answer always is: it’s okay to say ‘let’s come back and do this tomorrow’. 

In times when you feel drained, the only thing you need is – pause. 

Find how you can get past competition without having to build an army. Sometimes, it’s better to whitelabel a service than to build a team. Sometimes it’s better to outsource to than let internal costs pile up. 

Pause to recharge and be inspired yet again.


6. Find what you’re really strong at, and then get stronger


“Work on your strong qualities
And become resplendent like the ruby.
Practice self-denial and accept difficulty.
Always see infinite life in letting the self die.
Your stoniness will decrease; your ruby nature will grow.
The signs of self-existence will leave your body,
And ecstasy will take over.” 


The modern CEO’s challenge is the same as that of a modern anybody: how to do one thing at a time?

Just that for a CEO, the ‘one thing’ is what marketing mavens call ‘competitive edge’. 

Take it from Rumi, sometimes accepting that you can-not-do-it-all yourself too is a step towards progress.  

Progress matters. And you can stay stubbornly focussed and still progressive. 

Delegate, schedule, automate, and refuse. That’s how you make time for what matters.


7. Know there are other ways to be right


“If one were to tell an unborn child that
Outside the womb, there is a glorious world
With green fields and lush gardens
High mountains and vast seas, with a sky
Lit by the sun and the moon, the unborn
Would not believe such absurdity.
Still, in the dark womb how could he imagine the indescribable majesty of this world?
In the same way, when the mystics speak of worlds
Beyond scent and colour, the common man
Deafened by greed and blinded by self-interest
Cannot grasp their reality.” 


Acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. Make space for discovery, even though your cabinet is stuffed with ‘star-performer’ trophies. 

Companies don’t fail because their product, service, workforce or funding wasn’t right. They fail because they fall to the myopia of distrusting anything outside their belief system. 

To make space for serendipity, you’ve got to make sure your organisation is lean and nimble. 

It’s not mysticism, it’s timeless simplicity

We’re all guilty of failing to ask the right questions of art. Why should I revere the poetry of Rumi? The answer is not in its ancience, but in its relevance today, centuries after the words were first spoken.


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