Shakti Leadership

Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business

Nilima Bhat (Author) | Raj Sisodia (Author)

Publication date: 04/04/2016

Shakti Leadership

Too many leaders, men and women alike, have bought into a notion of leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally “masculine” qualities: hierarchical, militaristic, win-at-all-costs. The result has been corruption, environmental degradation, social breakdown, stress, depression, and a host of other serious problems.

But there is another way, one that restores balance to this lopsided way of leading. Reaching into ancient spiritual and mythical teachings, Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia revive a feminine archetype of leadership: generative, cooperative, creative, empathetic. While these qualities are often thought of as “feminine,” we all have them; however, for people in leadership positions, they tend to be undervalued and underdeveloped. In the Indian yogic tradition, this feminine principle is recognized as supremely intelligent and responsive. It is personified as the Great Mother or Goddess Shakti and is the source that powers the cycle of life.

Using exercises and inspirational examples, Bhat and Sisodia guide us through our own heroic journey to discover and responsibly access this source of infinite energy and begin to lead with our whole selves. Leaders who understand and practice Shakti Leadership act from a consciousness of life-giving caring, creativity, and sustainability to achieve self-mastery internally and be of selfless service to the world. When leaders across genders learn to embrace this mindset, we can restore sanity, elevate humanity, and heal the planet by evolving joyously and consciously together.

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Too many leaders, men and women alike, have bought into a notion of leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally “masculine” qualities: hierarchical, militaristic, win-at-all-costs. The result has been corruption, environmental degradation, social breakdown, stress, depression, and a host of other serious problems.

But there is another way, one that restores balance to this lopsided way of leading. Reaching into ancient spiritual and mythical teachings, Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia revive a feminine archetype of leadership: generative, cooperative, creative, empathetic. While these qualities are often thought of as “feminine,” we all have them; however, for people in leadership positions, they tend to be undervalued and underdeveloped. In the Indian yogic tradition, this feminine principle is recognized as supremely intelligent and responsive. It is personified as the Great Mother or Goddess Shakti and is the source that powers the cycle of life.

Using exercises and inspirational examples, Bhat and Sisodia guide us through our own heroic journey to discover and responsibly access this source of infinite energy and begin to lead with our whole selves. Leaders who understand and practice Shakti Leadership act from a consciousness of life-giving caring, creativity, and sustainability to achieve self-mastery internally and be of selfless service to the world. When leaders across genders learn to embrace this mindset, we can restore sanity, elevate humanity, and heal the planet by evolving joyously and consciously together.

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Meet the Authors

Visit Author Page - Nilima Bhat

Nilima Bhat is a facilitator of personal transformation, coaching individuals and organizations in their quest for conscious evolution. She is an international speaker and trainer on organizational culture, conscious business, women in leadership, and self-awareness for work-life balance, as well as Indian wisdom and wellness traditions.

Previously, Nilima spent 10 years heading Corporate Communications and PR for major corporations such as ITC-Welcomgroup, Philips India, and ESPN STAR Sports.

Nilima graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai in Life Sciences and Biochemistry, followed by a diploma in Social Communications Media from Sophia Polytechnic, Mumbai. She later qualified as a yoga teacher from the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre and is a teacher-practitioner of theIntegral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

A trained dancer and choreographer, she has co-founded a professional dance company (Sri Shakti) whose mission is to de-mystify Indian dance and spiritual sciences for international audiences. Having lived and worked for 10 years overseas (Singapore, London, Hong Kong), Nilima returned to India in 2004 with her husband to set up a leadership consulting firm, Roots & Wings and an integrative medicine practice,Sampurnah. They are recently published authors of My Cancer Is Me, outlining their holistic and integrative approach to cancer.

A corporate refugee turned yogini, Nilima is now a global missionary. She travels the world leveraging her corporate experience and 17 years of consciousness-based health and growth practices to help build enduring institutions and change-agents, especially women, who can lead the planet to sustainable solutions and positive impact. Her mission is the same as that of our publisher Berrett-Koehler: Creating A World That Works For All. She also writes a column titled Shakti Speaks initiated by a leading Indian media house, aimed at restoring gender relations and based on dialogues within Women’s Circles.

Her integral approach synthesizes best practices and paths from around the world, and is customized to meet audience needs. Her particular expertise is in developing Body Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence (BQ & SQ).

Nilima has delivered leadership training and facilitation for Microsoft, Whole Foods Market, Tata, Societe Generale Bank, Vodafone, and YPO, as well as academic institutions and developmental organisations such as Indus International School and SKS Microfinance. She is an active supporter of the Conscious Capitalism movement and Women’s International Networking (WIN).

Approaching 50 and having “heroically journeyed” many times, through her mother’s cancer, father’s near-fatal car accident and brain injury, husband’s cancer, and her own search for meaning from a sudden sense of failure in a thriving corporate career, Nilima looks back with amazement at her bucket list of world destinations that has very few places left to tick off. An avid traveller, Nilima has recently found great meaning in leading or joining Peace Pilgrimages to the world’s sacred spots, from Kailash and Mansarovar in the Himalayas, to Machu Picchu and Titicaca in the Andes. Comfortable in every culture and socio-economic setting, from cleaning toilets to dining with CEOs and interviewing world leaders, Nilima speaks five languages and truly calls the whole planet “home.”

Visit Author Page - Raj Sisodia
Foreword author Raj Sisodia is a professor at Babson College and the co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Crisis of Confidence and Leadership

1. Seeking Shakti
2. Leading with Shakti
3. Presence—the Master Key
4. The Heroic Journey
5. Becoming Whole
6. Cultivating Flexibility
7. Achieving Congruence
8. Promise of Shakti Leadership—a Fulfilled and Free World
Epilogue: Shakti Speaks

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When soul-force awakens, it becomes irresistible
and conquers the world. This power is inherent in
every human being

—Mahatma Gandhi


India’s ancient adepts intuited and experienced the existence of a source of infinite creative power and loving intelligence. This same power and intelligence has created everything around us and within us. It is what enables our fingernails to grow and our minds to contemplate the deepest mysteries of the universe. They called that source Shakti: the generative, fiercely loving power that fuels all creation and animates consciousness. All of reality is intelligent; it is conscious. It is evolved by its own innate power—which creates, preserves, and transforms itself endlessly.

Think of an exquisite car that’s been designed and built to perfection. Without the right fuel, the car is useless. Similarly, consciousness by itself is sterile, still, and inert. Shiva—the embodiment of consciousness in yogic traditions—is shava (corpse) without Shakti. Shakti is the power that fuels everything.

Shiva represents consciousness and Shakti represents energy. Each one needs the other. Shakti needs Shiva to ground it, otherwise it becomes chaotic; Shiva without Shakti is inert and sterile.

Shakti is understood as supremely intelligent and infinitely varied; it represents the full spectrum of energies that make up the universe. It is the fueling, dynamic power, the primordial cosmic energy that manifests this world and sustains it, from the smallest subatomic spaces to the whole cosmos. As author and spiritual teacher Sally Kempton puts it, “Shakti is the quality in life that gives life its luscious nature, its juiciness, its movement, its energy, its dynamism, love, joy, blissfulness, meaningfulness. Shakti runs our life, giving the energy that makes our heart beat and our brain have thoughts.”1

We all have available to us this infinitely powerful and intelligent source to draw upon, yet most of us try to manufacture our own meager and distorted power—or we try and extract it from others. We rely on our own egos and worldly position or other manmade constructs—constructs that we have invested with value and power but that are ultimately devoid of significance.

Advanced degrees and the trappings of success notwithstanding, if we are not rooted in our own creative power—our personal Shakti—we are merely a shell without a soul, a car without fuel; a being without its animating principle. We cannot come into any level of mastery until we become aware of and access this true power. But it must be responsibly exercised, nourished, and expressed for the fulfillment of life, rather than to serve a narrow self-interest.


In her thought-provoking book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist shares the three toxic myths of scarcity that many have come to accept as truths about money globally: that there’s not enough, that more is better, and “that’s just the way it is.”2 Money is just one embodiment of power or energy; these myths can be applied to all expressions of power.

Reflecting our uneasy relationship with the very idea, the literature on power is marked by deep and seemingly intractable disagreements over how it should be understood. Leadership is the purposeful exercise of power to achieve desired outcomes. It involves applying one’s will and life force to generate results. Unfortunately, most leaders throughout history have played fear-based or force-based power games. But that kind of power requires someone to lose in order for someone else to win. As Sally Kempton says, “Ego-based power comes from the experience of your own limitation and lack. You feel that because you are separate from the source, your power is limited to what you can grasp, stand for, hold. That is essentially a weak position because your sources are finite and therefore you’re very concerned with holding onto that power, and you’re threatened by anyone else who seems to have power.”3

What, then, is the difference between true power and false power? True power is not power over, but power with. It’s the difference between competing against colleagues for personal gain versus leveraging everyone’s capabilities and strengths toward common ends. When true power is exercised, no one has to lose for someone else to win.

Shakti Leaders Speak: On True Power

Caryl Stern, CEO of U.S. Fund for UNICEF, defines power as the opportunity and ability to have an impact:

I think for a really long time power was defined as money. For me, power is about the ability to bring about change and have impact. When I think about where am I powerful, what have I done in the world—I have helped to raise a lot of money, that’s great. But I have also changed how people feel about coming to work; that’s really powerful to me. I have helped my children to see that the world is bigger than themselves; that’s really powerful to me. I really think that’s the definition of power—being able to impact others.4


In our world, in our lives, and in leadership, people frequently engage in ego- and fear-based power games. Such power transactions always result in win-lose dualities. They are based on the presumption that there isn’t enough power to go around, that you need to extract power or steal it from those around you.

We will show you how to shift from dealing in the power of privilege—a win-lose proposition based on a power source that you can lose—to drawing from your innate, infinite power source, Shakti, which no one can take away from you. We need a radical shift from the way in which power has been gained and for the most part abused in the past, to a whole new base from which to operate: the power of presence. Unless we plug into presence and connect to the source of our true Shakti, we will continue to operate on false power.

Women especially need to learn how to operate with true power. Women who are not in touch with their wholeness and their Shakti are reduced to fighting for the scraps left over by men. One recurring theme that comes in interviews with genuinely puzzled male CEOs is, “Help me understand why I see women, more than men, work against women. Not only do they not look out for each other, but they often actively manipulate and scheme to keep each other down. That kind of behavior leads me to think women are their own worst enemies.” This arises because most women are not plugged into true power; instead, they’re working on a little corner of the field while the men, in the gender-based privilege of which they are largely unaware, are playing the big field. In this little corner, it is women versus women. The patriarchy has socialized and conditioned women into this to such an extent that most women don’t even realize it.

Lasting positive outcomes can only come from the exercise of true power. Even if we think we are getting somewhere with our ego-based efforts, they disintegrate and do not endure. It is a waste of our time and energy.

Furthermore, tapped into their own unlimited source, Shakti-based leaders are able to share power with others and encourage them to get in touch with their own power. Presence is positively contagious; simply by modeling your Shakti-based power, you give others permission and inspiration to access their own. Some honest reflection will reveal that any lasting positive outcomes you have ever had, have come from exercising Shakti (the force for greater good) rather than privilege (the force of self-interest).

Shakti is the abundant, unlimited fuel, the power of life that makes electrons move and galaxies grow and seeds sprout and trees flower. By learning to tap into that unlimited source, you can have power with others, rather than power over them.


• Think of a key relationship in your life. How do you exercise power in this relationship? Is it mostly power over or power with?

• Think of a person who models “power-over” leadership and someone who models “power-with” leadership. What can you learn about your own relationship with power?

• How can you watch for “power-over” dynamics and shift to “power-with” dynamics from now on?

• Notice how and when you may be giving away your power or unconsciously tend to lose it. Why do you think this happens? How can you prevent it?



Shakti is seen as inherently feminine and is personified in the yogic tradition in various goddesses. As the source of all things, Shakti is personified and referred to as “the Divine Mother,” who worshippers and yoga practitioners experience as a being and with whom they enter into dialogue and a conscious relationship.

All over the world, societies, cultures, religions, philosophies, art forms, and literature make reference to and draw upon feminine energy personified in the Mother Goddess. Much of physical existence is given a feminine identity, such as when we refer to Mother Nature or Mother Earth. Yet for virtually all of recorded history, the feminine has been controlled and subjugated by the masculine, which deep down secretly fears the Mother’s unfathomable depth and creative power.

The essential sustaining qualities of the feminine principle are present in our personal lives as the nurturing love and support shared with loved ones. However, it is largely absent from our professional lives. “Business as usual” has overvalued traditionally masculine qualities, while denying and undervaluing feminine capacities. The prevailing business culture is hypermasculine and holds most feminine qualities in contempt. To become balanced and integrated, organizations of all kinds need to value and cultivate feminine energies and qualities within their cultures—on the part of both men and women.

Shakti Leaders Speak: On Feminine Energy

Casey Sheahan, former CEO of Patagonia, recalls:

At Patagonia, the workforce is 55 percent female and 45 percent male. The energy within all organizations falls into two basic places. The first is what I call male ambitious energy, the second, which I think is ultimately a more powerful force, is female creative energy. The first energy is a frictional energy, while the second is a more conscious energy that is inspired by passion and higher purpose. You know when you’re in that place because the mind is intelligent and clear; it knows what the problem to be solved is and it can see its way toward solutions that work for all the stakeholders who might be affected. The other side, male/masculine ambitious energy, is characterized by greed, power, self-centricity, ego, fear, insecurity, and anger. . . . This frictional energy is what caused the problems in the global economic crisis. You saw it play out on Wall Street in the last twenty years and in many of the failed corporations that were actually cheating their shareholders and the government. They were businesses that had no underlying purpose other than to bring in money. The drive of that energy is all about the individuals: their image, their status. These individuals lack connection and vision, and are incomplete as human beings. They lack something inside that prevents them from being complete, and their companies from being complete. Such businesses and organizations frequently engage in wrong actions instead of right actions.5



What we see in society today reflects the omnipresent impact of a hypermasculine culture. Author and cultural theorist Jean Kilbourne has been observing and documenting the pervasive and perverse impact the culture of exploitation and objectification has had on both men and women. She observes:

Some young women act more macho and crude in order to be more powerful. That has a lot to do with this culture’s definition of power, and that power is defined as being one-up—power over somebody else rather than power being one’s own ability to be effective and to make change. If that’s the definition of power that girls get—and it is—and if that’s what they see being rewarded, it’s not surprising that they try that on themselves. Feminine values get lip service but very little respect; in fact there’s a lot of contempt for them. So that’s a very powerful message that girls are getting, about how they can be powerful. The only definition right now in this culture is to be more like a man.6

Miss Representation, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, depicts how media portrayals and the objectification of women rob women of political power, making them less likely to want to be political leaders. It also makes it difficult for the women who do try. Jean Kilbourne comments, “A female political candidate has to project femininity—because otherwise she is savaged—and she also has to project strength. And if you’ve got a situation where strength is seen as unfeminine, it puts her in an impossible double bind. If she’s strong, she’s not feminine; if she’s feminine, she’s weak. Girls see this all around them.”7

How can women reclaim their power after being so harshly objectified for so long? Jean Kilbourne does see some cause for optimism: “I think more and more people are beginning to see that these stereotypes and definitions of power aren’t getting us anywhere; in fact, they’re causing a lot of harm. What it’s going to take is a critical mass of people who say we’ve got to change this, because it is doing serious harm to us and to our children.”8

The fact is that women already have a great deal of power in the world, but they don’t always recognize it. If they can step into the power they already have, they can bring about rapid and wide-ranging global change.

Twenty years ago, there was only one female CEO running a Fortune 500 company; there are now twenty-two. While it is still a very low percentage, the trajectory is encouraging. There used to be only a small handful of women in the US Senate at any one time; now there are twenty. The progress is steady, but still far too slow. Miss Representation points out that if these changes continue at their current rate it will take something like five hundred years to finally achieve equality in Congress! Something must happen to bring about change more quickly. As Jean Kilbourne puts it, “There’s all this power out there, but it hasn’t been grasped or been utilized.”9


Within each of us, there is a feminine element that is both distinct from and entwined with a masculine element. There is a purpose for this: to generate the creative tension within and from which evolution can move toward its own fulfillment. We need to leverage this internal diversity in a way that allows each individual to find a unique balance of expression freely for themselves.

Traditionally feminine capacities that are gifts of tapping into Shakti include qualities such as surrender, receptivity, adaptability, intuition, creativity, beauty, flow, sensuality, nurturing, affection, sharing, gentleness, patience, vulnerability, empathy, inclusion, openness, variety/flavor, trust, and harmony.10 But when taken too far, feminine qualities can manifest in undesirable ways, such as smothering, being seen as overly sentimental, needy, dependent, exploited, unfocused, irrational, weak, and manipulative. These are considered hyperfeminine or immature feminine qualities.

Likewise, positive masculine capacities include freedom, direction, logic, reason, focus, integrity, structure, stability, passion, independence, discipline, confidence, awareness, discernment, authenticity, strength, clarity, assertiveness, order, and convergence.11 Hyper- or immature masculine qualities manifest as aggressive, cruel, mechanical, arrogant, insensitive, violent, power-hungry, and spiritually empty.

Of course, to categorize certain characteristics as traditionally masculine or feminine is not to say any of them are innate to men or women. Sally Kempton points to the danger of pigeonholing men and women based on gender:

I have a bit of a problem with the idea that the feminine is naturally nurturing and emotional and the masculine is naturally competitive and aggressive. I actually think that both genders are nurturing in their own way and aggressive in their own way. I would say that, in an individual, Shakti is really much more about finding your personal source of the vibrant fountain of power which is moving through your unique configuration—which applies to men and women.12

Even as women rightfully fight for equal rights, opportunity, and status, it does not take away from the need to maintain this primary polarity in a healthy balance.

Shakti Leaders Speak: On Masculine and Feminine Qualities

Former president of Southwest Airlines Colleen Barrett recalls:

I’ve learned most of my lessons the hard way, because I’ve made mistakes. When you make them and you realize it, you’re fine as long as you don’t make the same mistake twice. I’ve learned the value of discipline; that’s a masculine trait. I’ve also learned that even if you have to make tough decisions based on what is best for your organization as a whole, you can still keep your friendships. For example, you can terminate someone because it was the right thing to do for the company, but you can still keep your friendship with that person as long as you handle it in a positive way. I think lots of people struggle with that, male or female. Of course, your heart aches. If you ever feel good about terminating somebody, then there’s something wrong with you as a leader to begin with. But I have kept close friendships with many, many people that I had to let go for one reason or another.13


Author and educator Judy Sorum Brown notes that “leadership is . . . holding both sides and valuing both.”14 John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio’s research for the book The Athena Doctrine also supports the idea that individuals recognize the value of both types of traits. Eighty-one percent of survey respondents agreed that “(whether) man or woman, you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world.” Gerzema and D’Antonio note that individuals who “include feminine strategies in their decision making are twice as optimistic about their future.”15

A truly conscious leader is able to call on positive masculine and feminine qualities regardless of what gender they are. They know when it is beneficial to use more masculine or feminine energy, and are sensitive to the negative aspects of each. But most leaders disown their innate feminine capacities, which are devalued, and always choose more masculine capacities because these are what are seemingly rewarded.


Human history is one long litany of the consequences of masculine values such as conquest and domination. Many increasingly recognize that the future needs to be more feminine, rooted in nurturing and caring. How will we get there? Will it take a revolution? Author and social activist extraordinaire Lynne Twist has a beautiful way to describe the transformation process: the simultaneous “hospicing” of what needs to pass on and the “midwifing” of the new wholeness:

In the Pachamama Alliance, we call ourselves “pro-activists,” which means we’re standing for, not against. I’m standing for a vision and I know there are things in the way blocking that vision. There are structures and belief systems that have become rigid and calcified, causing people to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their humanity. They are not bad people. When we can look from the depth of our humanity and the humanity of others, we see that we’re all caught in some sort of a weird trance. If you can wake up from it, what’s waiting for you is love, compassion, forgiveness, commitment, courage and authenticity—true power, but it’s blocked by the old way of doing things. We need to hospice the death of these old structures and systems that no longer serve us. We don’t need to kill them; they’re not viable or sustainable so they’re dying a natural death anyway. If we hospice their natural death they will die more quickly and with some respect and some grace, because they were useful until they became obsolete. We need to hospice the death of those structures and systems while we midwife the birth of the new structures and systems that are so obvious to us now. Midwifing and hospicing are acts of love and witness. A midwife doesn’t give birth; a midwife witnesses and allows natural birth to take place. A hospice worker doesn’t destroy or kill; a hospice worker witnesses and allows something to die gracefully with dignity. In many ways, that’s the great work of our time, as Thomas Berry says: to transform the human presence from one that is destructive to a mutually enhancing and nurturing presence on this planet. It’s an act of love, to wake up from the trance we’ve been caught in and re-dream the world from a place that’s more conscious, more highly evolved, more loving. Rather than a “you or me” paradigm, it’s a “you and me” paradigm, where you don’t have to make it at my expense and I don’t have to make it at your expense. Instead, you and I can both make it at no one’s expense and everyone’s benefit.16

To enact those two great duties of our time requires us to cultivate presence (a deep connection to our higher/universal self) and tap into its power (Shakti) to fuel the process. Indeed, in the idea of lovingly hospicing the old and midwifing the new, Lynne is describing the ongoing work of Shakti, the evolutionary process of the universe itself that we are called to flow with and manifest as leaders.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Humanity is poised on its greatest evolutionary adventure yet, but our survival depends on our success at making this transition. Are we up to the challenge? How can we learn to source from the ground of power that is Shakti? How can we embody it and manifest from it?


Finding our Shakti and coming into our own power requires us to be tested: for our capacity to bear it and our worthiness to wield it. The stages of the awakening of Shakti are best described as a “heroic journey.”

The concept of the hero’s journey, or the monomyth of man, is the enduring legacy of Joseph Campbell, one of the most profound thinkers of recent times. An anthropologist by training, Campbell studied the mythologies of cultures around the world. Eventually, he discovered what was common to all mythologies. From his study and understanding came his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. His work is easily recognized in many Hollywood movies because they follow the arc that he uncovered of the mythic or heroic journey. The Star Wars series is one well-known example.

The hero’s journey is about coming of age, moving from innocence to maturity and individuation. It is about the process of coming into our own power and becoming the person we are meant to be—not the person we were conditioned to be by a parent, spouse, or sibling.17

We are each the heroes and heroines of our own life story. The heroic journey is a universal one that transcends history, geography, and culture. What we learn through the journey that we think is deeply personal to us is actually completely universal. It applies equally to our personal and professional lives, because in truth there is no difference between them; the person you are is the leader you are.

The journey is archetypal, meaning it displays a powerful “set pattern” that seems to be driving individuals and their experience. Though our journeys may seem very different on the surface, they’re actually playing out universal patterns. There are recognizable stages and characters common to all journeys, which we will look at more closely later in the book (Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1—Stages of the Heroic Journey


The heroic journey is about fulfilling one’s higher purpose. It requires extraordinary effort and demands that we develop many new capacities. It is called a heroic journey because coming into our own and maturing into all that we can be takes great courage. When we journey, we cannot remain the person we were; we will arrive at journey’s end as a more potent and consequential being.

The journey begins, as it must, in the ordinary world. At some point, a separation is forced upon the hero, in response to a “call to adventure.” The hero initially refuses to heed the call; after all, it’s usually more comfortable for a person to stay where he or she is. If you’re Frodo, you want to stay in the Shire! The hero refuses the call until forced to accept it by some set of circumstances. As Elizabeth Appell put it, “The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Each person has to find the willpower or passion inside themselves to accept the challenge.

When the moment to embark on the journey comes, an ally force shows up just in time: the hero meets the mentor (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore for Harry Potter). The mentor helps the hero cross the threshold from the ordinary world into a whole new world—the magical or the special world. The hero undergoes a slew of trials before entering the innermost cave, where he must confront a supreme ordeal. On the other side, after he overcomes the ordeal, there awaits some kind of an unexpected reward, which Campbell calls “the elixir.” From there, the hero has to find his way back. There’s a rebirth in the return to the ordinary world, to the place where he started. His journey is complete only when he shares the elixir with the world that he left and has now returned to. He finds a new equilibrium and is deeply transformed from the person he was when he left.

Our colleague and fellow traveler Vijay Bhat has cogently summarized the heroic journey, originally from Campbell’s work and incorporating other sources such as Joseph Jaworski.18 We share his synthesis here with his permission:

It begins in a familiar setting that appears idyllic and comforting on the surface but is actually a “wasteland,” where old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit and where we may be living an inauthentic life.

Change is imminent. The call to adventure comes in many ways, both subtle and explicit. We are asked to give ourselves to something larger, to become what we were meant to be.

Some who are called choose to go. Others wrestle with denial and anxiety until they can overcome their fear. We refuse the call because we are insecure about risking what we have, because we dread being separated or ostracized, and because we sense danger—we might die.

Deep down, we sense that yielding to the design of the universe and cooperating with destiny will bring great personal power and responsibility. Yet we still don’t feel ready.

As if from nowhere appears the guiding light: someone or something that shows the way, equips us and pushes us over the threshold to an unfamiliar, magical world that awaits.

We pass beyond the borders of the known into the void, a domain without maps, a place of both terror and opportunity. The perilous journey begins and we face a series of tests and trials, placed before us by fierce enemies whom we must overcome or circumvent.

If we have truly and fully committed ourselves to the journey, we are supported by invisible hands—powerful forces in the form of allies who speed us along and nurture our growth and preparedness.

On this road of trials, our commitment is frequently challenged, and we have many occasions to enjoy success and to learn from failure. Crossing many barriers, we endure the agony of rising beyond our personal limitations and growing spiritually.

Inevitably, we face a supreme ordeal, where we alone must confront our greatest fear and weakness—our shadow. It is our ultimate “break down or break through” point. If we succeed in transcending our shadow, it yields us the elixir we seek. In the process, we die to the old and emerge fundamentally transformed.

It is not easy to leave behind the bliss and thrill of the magical world and return to the almost forgotten place from which we came. But with the quest accomplished, we triumphantly carry back the elixir to restore and rejuvenate society.

Upon returning, it can be difficult to absorb the counter-blows of reasonable queries, hard resentments, and good people at a loss to comprehend the drama that has unfolded. But by now, we have become a potent new being, capable of handling these shocks and prepared to journey forth, again and again, in service of the community.

We are each the heroes of our own lives. Many of us have already journeyed and overcome profound challenges and ordeals. Know that you can journey again; you have the capacity and the power and the courage. You can overcome obstacles and your fear. If you didn’t answer the call to adventure in the past, forgive yourself. Perhaps you were scared, thought you couldn’t do it, or listened to other people and went against your own instincts. Take a deep breath and realize that this, too, is a part of being the hero.


This exercise is about getting in touch with experiences that you may not have thought much about. Events happen and you compartmentalize them without much examination because life pushes you inexorably forward: there is always the next project or the next deadline to meet in your personal or professional life. In this way, significant episodes in your life are left unprocessed, unacknowledged, and unhonored. It is important in the journey of life to stop and remember those important times where something significant occurred. It’s important to stop and feel gratitude and recognize that what you have accomplished is no small thing.

Think back to an ordeal you successfully overcame and its core stages. Ask yourself:

• What was the crisis? How were you shaken out of your comfort zone?

• Did you heed the call or refuse/resist it? Why?

• How were you tested? Who were your allies and enemies?

• What was your greatest fear? How did you overcome it?

• What new capacities did you gain? How did you mature from the experience?

• How have you shown up differently as a person since then? As a leader?

• What are you offering the world, and how has it changed for the better?

You may realize that you never framed your success stories in terms of the heroic journey. People go through many journeys but fail to recognize the transformational process they underwent. There is great value in making this conscious; once we understand how the journey tends to unfold, we can journey again and again with less fear and greater ease and effectiveness.


The calling and capacity to embark on the hero’s journey are in all of us. Many now teach from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, inspiring people to realize that they can be heroes instead of continuing as ordinary beings or far worse as victims.

Becoming a Shakti Leader requires undertaking a heroic journey. We will revisit this idea throughout the book. In this chapter, we talked a bit about what Shakti is, the need for finding a true balance between feminine and masculine capacities, and the difference between false power and true power. In the next chapter, we’ll introduce the framework for Shakti Leadership, an original synthesis born out of our inner work and our work with entrepreneurs, consciousness practitioners, and business leaders.

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Unlocking the Source for True Leadership

Too many people, men and women alike, have bought into a notion of leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally “masculine” qualities: hierarchical, militaristic, win-at-all-costs. The result has been corruption, environmental degradation, social breakdown, stress, depression, and a host of other serious problems. Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia show us a more balanced way, an archetype of leadership that is generative, cooperative, creative, inclusive, and empathetic. While these are traditionally regarded as “feminine” qualities, we all have them. In the Indian yogic tradition they’re symbolized by Shakti, the source that powers all life.
Through exercises and inspirational examples, Bhat and Sisodia show how to access this infinite energy and lead with your whole self. Male or female, leaders who understand and practice Shakti Leadership act from a consciousness of life-giving caring, creativity, and sustainability to achieve self-mastery internally and be of selfless service to the world.
“As transformative as it is simple, mapping out a new definition of leadership that elevates qualities and abilities traditionally considered feminine—with benefits for women and men alike.”
—Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post Media Group
“This book will help liberate the heroic entrepreneurial drive innate to men and women of every culture.”
—John Mackey, cofounder and Co-CEO, Whole Foods Market
“Shakti Leadership guides you through a series of powerful insights and processes for connecting yourself to the inner power at play in interpersonal situations. I highly recommend this book to anyone who intuits the need for real depth in the process of organizational and personal transformation.”
—Sally Kempton, author of Awakening Shakti and Meditation for the Love of It

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