04 Apr 2024  |   05:15am IST

How Acting Can Shape Extraordinary Leadership

How Acting Can Shape Extraordinary Leadership

Steve Correa, Raghu Anantha- narayanan

I acknowledge My Father, who inspired me to use one’s voice for impact. 

In the rich tapestry of life, there are varied threads of inspiration woven by those who master the art of communication, like my father. His humble journey began from the vibrant streets of Goa, where he enchanted audiences as a magician, to a career in sales and later his foray as an educationist. His transformative power of voice, diction, and expression enabled much of what he achieved. As a youngster, I was awed by his ‘conversational’ abilities. 

Deeply inspired to improve my communication, I discovered the profound parallels between theatrical performance and leadership. I found that Great leaders, much like skilled actors, understand the importance of voice modulation. Just as a golfer refines their swing through practice, leaders hone their vocal prowess to command attention and convey meaning. A resonant voice coupled with precise diction becomes their instrument, capable of orchestrating emotions and inspiring action. My father's mastery of modulation taught me that effective communication isn't just about what you say but how you say it. Like a good golf swing, it is not a natural phenomenon. It needs practice and mastery. Bruce Lee asserts, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”. 

Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly refers to the “10,000-hour rule,” asserting that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply practising, albeit correctly, for at least 10,000 hours.

On stage, actors harness their physicality, emotions, and intellect to breathe life into their roles. 

They exude energy, drawing audiences into their narrative with every gesture and expression. Similarly, exceptional leaders infect their teams with vitality, igniting passion and fostering collaboration. Listening deeply and empathetically creates a space for dialogue and understanding, nurturing a culture of trust and innovation. This is the space of ShAntam (equanimity), where all rasas (emotion) reside at their full potential. 

Yogacharya Krishnamacharya has defined a mature human being as one who can experience all the nine rasas (Feeling qualia) in their fullness appropriate to the context and return to resting in shAntam (tranquillity) as soon as the moment has passed. This ensures that one acts with great freshness and that one’s actions are authentic and powerful. The ability to stay anchored in shantam means not acting from a conditioned self. Like a good batsman who takes a stance before the bowler bowls and is aware, balanced, calm and ready to play any delivery that comes his way, one needs to be anchored in tranquillity and fully balanced, attentive and ready to respond to any challenge that life throws at us.

As formulated by Bharata and later explicated and enriched by Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta, the Theory of rasa constitutes the Central Tradition in Indian aesthetics.' 

There are nine basic rasa emotional qualia, which are very subtle whole psyche-soma responses to one’s environment. When these move a person, they gather force and become cognisable emotions. This, in turn, directs attention outward to significant events in one’s context. This triggers thoughts; one interprets the event and chooses actions. The more one is aware, balanced and calm, the more one is alive to the subtle inner motivations, and one’s actions are authentic, relevant and powerful. The actions are the form that one’s whole personality assumes in impacting the environment. They are called “Taking on a mask” by actors. The more authentic an actor takes on the mask (which includes facial expression, bodily posture and voice), the more they evoke the audience/Rasika to resonate with them, i.e., they communicate. They create a shared experience and meaning.  

The rasa are:

1. Love - Sringara (affection), 

2. Mirth - Hasya (joyousness), 

3. Sorrow - Karuna (compassion)

4. Anger - Raudra (Fury), 

5. Energy - Vira (heroism), 

6. Terror - Bhayanaka (fear), 

7. Disgust - Bibhatsa (aversion) and 

8. Astonishment - Adbhuta (wonderment). 

9. Santa (equanimity)

The representations have only emotive significance, and the emotions appearing through their medium do not suffer in an ordinary blind and passive manner but are enjoyed actively with lucid self-awareness and knowledge. The secret of this extraordinary mode of experiencing emotions lies in the dissolution of the practical and egoistic side of our self in the poetic attitude and the consequent appearance of the universal contemplative self.

But what sets great actors apart isn't merely their ability to wear masks—counter-intuitively, their ability to shed them. Authenticity becomes their guiding light, illuminating the path to genuine connection. It is the courage to take off masks to reveal the authentic you and to be in touch with the authentic self. It is about bringing forth all your rasas in its full panoply of resplendent beauty. Acting is about bringing forth the truthfulness of what is unfolding (rta/Satya). One is in touch with the actor’s hubris, hamartia, vulnerability and anguish/ pathos – all things real. Actors must be able to embrace it all and, foremost, work with themselves before they engage on stage. The role you play on stage is the expanded you without restraint or patterned by your circumstances and upbringing. 

In the words of Shakespeare, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Here, the stage becomes a metaphor for life, where we assume roles dictated by circumstance and expectation. Yet, true mastery lies in embracing our authentic selves, unencumbered by pretence or convention. This is what Yogacharya Krishnamacharya refers to as a mature human being since we are constantly interacting with our context, being evoked/ provoked by it, interpreting it and responding to it with our body-mind.

In the crucible of performance, actors confront the full spectrum of human experience. From hubris to vulnerability, they embody the complexities of existence with unflinching honesty. Similarly, leaders must navigate the depths of their humanity, confronting their flaws and insecurities with humility and grace. In this journey of self-discovery, they find the courage to lead with authenticity and compassion.

The theatre offers a mirror to the soul—a stage upon which we confront our most profound truths and vulnerabilities. By embracing the principles of true dharmic performance, leaders can transcend the confines of their roles, inspiring others to do the same. The authors have developed powerful programmes where they use the Ramayana and Mahabharata as theatrical explorations to enable participants to discover authenticity, and power and unleash one’s heroic potential.  

(Steve Correa is an Executive Coach and Author of The Indian Boss at Work, Thinking Global, Acting Indian.Raghu Ananthanarayanan is a behavioural scientist, yoga teacher and an author of several books)


Iddhar Udhar