Author Ram Nidumolu tells us upfront that Two Birds in a Tree: Timeless Indian Wisdom for Business Leaders is “only a road map” and that “you will have to create the guidebook yourself because this is your own unique journey.” Journey toward what? Toward Being. His premise is that leaders who seek to better the world while bettering their organizations need to strive to improve their Being-centered leadership. And that work, Nidumolu says, starts within.
When our inner sense of our business self and our beliefs about business and its context change, then our behaviors, practices, and outcomes will follow. At first, this insight seems remarkably easy to implement–all we need to do to improve business is to improve the inner selves of its leaders. Of course, changing one’s inner self is the ultimate quest and concern of the world’s ancient religions and philosophers. Millennia have been devoted to this quest, yet the process of real inner change is rarely easy or clear.
For anyone who is not naturally curious about this internal (some might say spiritual) pursuit, why should being matter? It matters, Chip Conley explains in his Foreword to the book, because every organization can benefit from improved “psychological health and hygiene.” After all, companies are really only as good as their leaders, and leaders, well, they are only human.
Nidumolu uses the principals found in an ancient “group of philosophical books called the Upanishads” which are the foundations of Hinduism, but “are meant to transcend Hinduism itself and be relevant to all religions and cultures.” The title of this book, Two Birds in a Tree, is one of the stories found in those texts, and it provides Nidumolu with a narrative arc to the book as he tells of his own experience as a business consultant focused on corporate sustainability and the stories of numerous successful CEOs (such as Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox, and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo.) The two birds represent selfish vs selfless interests. Obviously, the goal is to be the ‘higher’ bird who has gained wider perspective.
While the author may not be offering a prescription for personal growth, his roadmap consists of four stages to follow, which he calls REAL, or, Recognition, Experience, Anchoring, and Leading by Example.
Imagine the lower bird perched on a side branch in a tree of life being besieged by a storm. The lower bird feels the cold, harsh winds flying all around it and looks up. It catches a glimpse of the higher bird sitting safely above the storm and recognizes something lager, something higher than itself. The recognition moves the lower bird to experience a connection to the higher bird more fully through its senses in ways that are special to its aspirations, strengths, and limitations. This experience gives the lower bird a greater ability to feel the branch beneath its claws. With repeated practice, it is in a better position to anchor itself in this larger understanding, leading to a freedom from fear that is grounded in a steady vision of the higher bird. This safe anchoring enables actions that move the lower bird toward the higher bird, which inspires other birds through leadership by example.
Nidumolu isn’t just offering insight from an ancient tale, but he performed a global study of twenty-six organizations to validate his REAL road map. And at the end of each chapter, he presents “Tweets” and “Seeds” to help readers remember the basics from the previous chapter (ex. “The challenge of defining success through comparison is that there’s never enough, Success is a series of quests just out of reach.”), and ask themselves important questions to stimulate personal investment in the process (“How do the key stakeholders in your organization…define business success? How do these definitions differ?)
There is clearly a lot of wisdom to be found in this book for those willing and curious enough to dig deeply beneath their surface image and find what truly motivates them in business. This takes a certain kind of honesty about the impact we have on others.
What is true of the personal self is also true of the business self. Business leaders who emphasize the pursuit of profits and other material values excessively will damage the overall well-being of the corporation.
Two Birds in a Tree would be a great business book to have on your bedside table so that you can read it a chapter at a time, letting the stories and the philosophy percolate and become imbedded in the way you think about your own life. Your being, cautions Nidumolu, directly affects how you lead your company in the world, so to some degree, your company’s being is likely to be as in-tune or out-of-tune with the ‘higher bird’ as you are.