image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Guru Nanak Parkash 550 series : True Leadership in Sikhi

   Gurbani enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib guides Sikhi activism towards miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) objectives in many fields. Sikhi concept of leadership is linked to the cause of Sikhi. It was evolved from Guru Nanak Sahib (1469-1539) through nine successor Guru persons to Guru Gobind Singh ji. Leadership and decision-making concepts and processes were in place for the Khalsa Panth to follow from Vaisakhi 1699, the high point of Sikhi.

So, true leaders guide themselves and others to achieve the aims and objectives of an organisation. At the most they are regarded as first amongst equals. They show the path by own example, not by leading but by following the path themselves. They have the mission and the vision of an organisation at the heart of their activism and not self-promotion to enjoy any special privileges. In that sense, it is true that Sikhs have no leaders in the Western sense.

One important leadership quality we learn from Guru Nanak Sahib onwards during the Guru period is that of succession planning. Without able successors, a movement or a cause will fail. It will breakup into many factions. Therefore, Guru Nanak Sahib inspired many worthy Sikhs throughout India to continue His mission and vision of a just society held together by sewa (service) with Simran (god-awareness). Finally, He selected one of them, Bhai Lehna ji, to take over His Own role. Thus: Nanak established the kingdom He built the true fortress on the strongest foundations. (ਨਾਨਕਿ ਰਾਜੁ ਚਲਾਇਆ ਸਚੁ ਕੋਟੁ ਸਤਾਣੀ ਨੀਵ ਦੈ ) He installed the royal canopy over Lehna's head chanting the Lord's Praises, He drank in the Ambrosial Nectar. (ਲਹਣੇ ਧਰਿਓਨੁ ਛਤੁ ਸਿਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਸਿਫਤੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਪੀਵਦੈ) Thus, the succession planning objective was achieved: They shared the One Guru Guiding Light and the same method it was just that the Sovereign changed His body. (ਜੋਤਿ ਓਹਾ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਸਾਇ ਸਹਿ ਕਾਇਆ ਫੇਰਿ ਪਲਟੀਐ )

Another interesting development was the evolution of the concept of leadership from individual to collective through the institution of Sangat. The Guru always gave great importance to the Sangat &ndash the Guru-minded collective in which many minds worked as One Guru-Mind. In fact, Sangat was placed even above the person-Guru. So the seed of collective decision-making sowed by Guru Nanak Sahib in the Sangat came to fruition in the Khalsa Panth by 1699.

Sikhs will be disappointed if they look for any one person to lead. That is not the Sikh tradition. As seen above, there are Sikhi ideology and tradition-based reasons for this. On the other hand, ambitious and self-promoting individuals posing as Sikh leaders will be disappointed if they expect fellow Sikhs to follow them. I am always amused by certain individuals claiming Sikh leadership and asking for support: support me in doing this and support me in doing that. The implied message from such individuals is: I am your leader.

Leadership was taken away from individuals by Guru Gobind Singh ji and vested in the Guru Khalsa Panth represented by the Panj Piaray. That collective lead and teamworking , focused on the miri-piri objectives of Guru Jot-Jugat residing permanently in the twin institution of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth.


Gurmukh Singh OBE