Peeling the Indian Leadership through the Existential Universe Mapper (EUM) Lens

Recently my social feed was abuzz with furious reactions to Steve Wozniak’s remarks, during his visit, on lack of creativity in Indians. To contrast, a few years ago, Time magazine had carried an article titled “India’s Leading Export: CEOs.” Indeed globally, the number of Indians in Global Leadership positions has seen great upswing with a study by Apex Recruiter saying that of the 75 foreign origin CEOs of Fortune 500, 10 are Indians.

Over the last few years we have seen a certain rise in number of Indians in Leadership positions across global companies. In fact, Indians are at the helm of some of the leading global search firms like Egon Zehnder’s Rajeev Vasudeva and Heidrick Struggles’ Krishnan Rajagopalan. Of course, it could simply be a representation of the large population size contributing to this. However, I’m inclined to believe that there is a common thread in the likes of Indra Nooyi, Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, Vasant Narasimhan’s career journey to leading some of the world’s top organisations. This common thread is the integration of their cultural roots and ethos, with their western education, that has built in these leaders a powerhouse of capabilities to lead in times of change and disruption.

However, these contrasting viewpoints had me pondering- could it be that the current nature of inquiry into qualities of Leadership and Capability is imperfect with a predominance of one view ? Could it be that the assumptions on which these benchmarks that are set, use –

A narrow definition of creativity & success through inferences based on companies predominantly in the US?

A predominance of western view shaped style of Leader?

Incidentally, like Steve Wozniak, many global leaders fall into this trap of theorising based on their personal context and mental models. This is emphasised more when one sees that all market assessments and tools are geared to promote a singular western (vastly US) driven view. So, how should a world leader perceive Indian leaders?

If there were an Executive Board that was looking at appointing a leader from India or of Indian origin, how should they consider the potential of the candidate ? If only there was a tool of enquiry that was constructed free of the western view of Leadership and could give an insight into the minds of this Talent inventory.

This is where the ground-breaking research done by eminent scholars like Ashok Malhotra that culminated in creation of a psychometric exploration instrument called the Existential Universe Mapper or the ‘EUM-I’ comes in. It will not be farfetched to call this the Industry’s best kept secret, though the time may have come to let a larger professional community benefit from it. Resonating with Clare Graves ‘Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory’ (ECLET) and based on over two decades of research that focussed on creating a healthier alignment between the individual and his/her context, this enquiry is uniquely poised to help organisations decipher among other pieces, Leadership role taking through many dilemmas posed at a work place, that is in flux.

The toolkit, itself offers the most succinct explanation of the Mapper. The EUM–I maps the individual, both as a “whole”, and as a “part” of the larger context, offering insights into his/her membership in familial systems, institutions, organisations, and the society at large. Yes, it is a map, not a measure of this or that.

Non-Reductionist: With this built in, it is to say that the framework doesn’t calculate a ‘type’ i.e. it does not use binaries and is therefore not reductionist in essence. One is not studied against a contrast of any polar opposites like Extraversion vs Introversion or similar scales. Built on the premise that individuals are unique with dynamic configurations and operate across different existential levels, each being a composite of needs, wants, beliefs, values etc., the framework postulates 6 such Universes that are specific and coherent with internal and external condition corresponding to that state of existence. This is especially relevant today as there can be no fixed relationship between a Leadership style that is more ‘suited’ to any industry or situation especially so in networked organisations where the leader dons many hats and plays multiple roles.

When we understand these six universes we develop an appreciation for the ‘map’ that an individual may use for self-perception, the idealized self and one’s world view or perception of others too. These universes are theoretical abstractions and not any boxes as such –

For a future where homogeneity in taste and heterogeneity in offering are a reality, Leadership versatility through remaining future relevant will remain a key attribute. Leadership relevance when unbundled as competencies and behaviors will comprise of the following parameters:

Universe of Belonging and Protection

Universe of Strength & Desires

Universe of Roles & Boundaries

Universe of Purpose and Achievements

Universe of Meaningfulness and Intimacy

Universe of Duality and Simultaneity

Evolutionary rather than Teleological: An individual can move through each Universe at various times of his/her life. Hence there is no more desirable Universe to another. Evolution is viewed as a movement than having a purpose that is good or bad. As it is a ‘holarchy’ and not a hierarchy the later levels are dependent on the lessons learnt in earlier universes, to the extent that once a Universe emerges it’ll have a backward flow into the earlier Universe.

Simultaneity & Duality: The Indian leaders’ capacity for ambivalence and non-polarisation is therefore seen as a state of simultaneity and duality where seemingly contradictions or opposites can be co held. It acknowledges that there are forces within us that are seemingly opposite that are present at the same time. Rather than seeing this multiplicity and contrary pulls, as a problem to be overcome, EUM focuses on harnessing the creative potential of these contrary forces. This perspective is especially relevant for today’s diverse organisations where managers are often faced with seeming contractions of being caring vs demanding, systemic vs entrepreneurship etc. The instrument allows for a unique Indian perspective that is circular and not linear. Take for example a blended skill of relationship driven problem solving style with goal driven capability to manage the business environment. Any leader who can hold this dichotomy and work with it, is well poised to initiate or engage with change. From an organisation’s stand point, the Mapper provides important insights for a multinational to understand the cross-cultural Leadership perspective and potential.

Concept of Light & Shadow: Through its exploration of shadows and entrenchments, it is also recognised , that multiple phenomenon coexist. However, when a phenomenon is not actively acknowledged and integrated, it does not disappear, but remains in the background and casts its shadow. Similarly when a phenomenon becomes very prominent, it creates its own difficulties. For example, Leaders who place premium on loyalty, preservation of heritage etc. are able to generate trust and affiliation but run the risk of creating dependency and stunting the growth of their people. On the other hand, when not acknowledged directly, these needs show up through seeking of safety and patronage in indirect manner or loss of emotive connect .

Some of these fundamentals are key to understanding Leadership and team interactions in an organisational context. Through his research, Ashok has also developed an Organisational profile Mapper, the EUM-O, which is based on the premise that organisations are living systems. Over a period of time every organisation creates an identity of its own which is reflected in the way it views its environment, the way it strategizes, and the way in which it relates to its different stakeholders.

EUM-O, maps how this identity is configured in the minds of people (particularly significant role holders) and what is their personal/collective vision, as also the significant obstacles that they perceive in actualising this vision. When EUM-I and EUM –O are used together, they provide a cogent understanding of the relationship between Organization culture and collective psyche (particularly of the Leadership team)

In this sense, EUM-O goes way beyond conventional frameworks like SWOT Analysis., which tend to put phenomenon in absolute categories of strengths/weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In EUM the basic assumption is that how a phenomenon will be perceived is a function of the collective psyche of the organisation. An organisation where the collective psyche is anchored in safety and stability, will view environmental turbulence as a threat. On the other hand, an organisation where the collective psyche is adventurous, will view it as an opportunity.

Thus the EUM framework and associated instruments provide a comprehensive way of engaging with issues of business strategy, organisation culture, values, systems and processes, Leadership development, mentoring and coaching etc. rather than engaging with them in a disjointed manner. One can get all this in a report at less than USD 75

The above are my reflections on the Indian leaders’ distinctive dual perspectives cultivated through western styled intellectual inquiry with a lifetime of their cultural learnings and human exchange., and how a pluralistic framework like EUM can be of immense value in gaining an empathetic understanding of how they are co- held by Indian leaders and Organisations. There are EUM certified coaches also available to help guide CEOs through their journey and strengthen the CEO-Organisation relationship.

To know more about Existential Universe Mapper, please write to me at OR to the author Ashok Malhotra at

Co-authored with Zainab Electricwala