‘There is a dearth of research-based leadership books in Nepal’

Father Augustine Thomas, SJ is Principal of St Xavier’s College, Maittegar.

Father Augustine Thomas, SJ moved to Nepal in 1993 when he was only 18 years old and joined the Jesuits, dedicating his life to serving the people of Nepal. During his nearly three decades of residence in Nepal, Father Augustine served in numerous Jesuit schools, colleges, and service centers. He holds an MA in English Literature and a PhD in Leadership Studies, specializing in Organizational Development, and is currently the Principal of St Xavier’s College, Maittegar. In this interview with The Post, Father Augustine shares how he got into reading, his views on psychology and leadership books, and his love for the field of neuroscience.

Excerpts:

Did you grow up in an environment that encourages reading? How and when did you begin to develop a reading habit?

The joy of growing up in the country was playing with a large group of neighborhood boys on vast cashew plantations. So the only access to books was comics and short story books, which our parents always brought to us. We used to exchange books between friends and we had a replenishing library.

I came to Nepal during my teens and joined the Jesuits who introduced me to the library, a place where I could explore different kinds of books, in my first week here. Reading has since become part of my daily life. I was instantly addicted to the adventure stories of the Hardy Boys series.

What genres do you enjoy reading? What do you avoid?

It is difficult to draw a line on the type of interest. Neuroscience, leadership psychology, and organization development psychology are my areas of interest. Research-backed books make content interesting and relevant. I also enjoy fiction that explores relationships. Although I appreciate all genres, I haven’t developed much flair for science fiction.

What book left a lasting mark on you?

A book that I enjoyed reading line by line and reflecting on was The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book that deals with man from a spiritual, psychological perspective. It gives an X-ray of why we act a certain way, and reveals layers of the “ego” that have a seat deeply rooted in human psychology. The book explores how unearthing the layers of “feelings” and “thoughts” helps us connect with the deeper purpose of life. It’s not a book you read in one sitting and put on the shelf, but to read a few pages a day, think, and take a month or so to finish.

What’s one interesting thing you’ve learned from a book you’ve read recently?

I recently read “IKIGAI” by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. The book distills lessons about a happy, long life based on research on famous people in Okinawa who had a long life span with high life satisfaction. He explains the Japanese concept called “moi,” which is a group of people who live together for a common interest as they support, share, and spend time together. Demonstrates the importance of having family and friends support each other with positive thoughts and mutual respect.

Can you name a book that you think the youth of today should read and why?

“The Road Not Taken” by M. Scott Beck, a famous psychiatrist, I think, answers a lot of questions young people have today. It serves as a guide to self-understanding, discipline, love, and relationship and approaches life very comprehensively. The first line in Life is Hard is laid out against the attractive and wide-ranging solutions it offers in the following chapters. It states that we are not born with a map and that the accuracy of our map depends on our efforts and our ability to make the right choices. The author provides a number of valuable tips, drawing lessons from his own experiences counseling for years.

After earning your PhD in Leadership Studies, do you think reading leadership books really helps? If so, what books would you suggest?

Yes and no. Books on success, managing people, and leading from the front have certain points of view. It stimulates self-reflection, but only up to a point. The danger of taking such books as a driving guide is that they may not fit the local context as most of them are based on studies in western countries.

There is a dearth of leadership books based on research in the Nepalese context, especially Nepalese leadership theories, leadership style, or teamwork. Leadership in Nepal, both public and corporate, has its own context. Rather than appearing in theories from where you are, applying Western theories of leadership has its own limitations and can even go wrong.

However, some research-based books on leaders and companies have been appreciated by leadership educators around the world. “Driving on the Line: Surviving Through the Dangers of Driving” by Marty Lenski and Ronald Heifetz; Adaptive Leadership Practices by Ronald Heifetz. “From Good to Great” by Jim Collins, and “Existence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future” by Peter Senge have a lot to offer. If you are interested in organizational development, Senge’s “Fifth Discipline” is based on his many years of experience and interviews with major companies. For leaders in any context, Daniel Goleman’s “Primary Leadership” and “Recognizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence” are excellent choices.

I served in the mountains, hills and Tarai. What books about Nepal have you read to understand the country better?

Having lived in Nepal for nearly three decades, my primary tool for knowing the country has been to travel the country and live with the people. An all-time classic, The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen presents a breathtaking and cinematic landscape of Nepal, describing life and journey in the high Himalayas. Travel & Trekking Slides and Lectures by Father Jim Donnelly, Society of Jesus (SJ), Lectures on the Rise of Gorkha by the Great Historian Father Ludwig Stiller, SJ, and Lectures on Culture of Nepal by Father John Locke, SJ, the foremost scholar of Newar Buddhism, were great introductions to Nepal in my early years here .

As the years went by, I got to know the country and culture better through novels written in the Nepalese context. “History Teacher” by Manjushri Thapa and “The Capture of God in Kathmandu” by Samrat Upadhyay are the two novels that beautifully narrate the cultural and social practices of the people in Nepal.

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Books on leadership recommended by Fr. Augustine

Driving on the Line: Surviving Through the Perils of Driving – Marty Lenski and Ronald Heifetz

Adaptive Leadership Practices – Ronald Heifetz et al.

From good to great – Jim Collins

Presence: Human Purpose and the Domain of the Future – Peter Senge et al.

Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge

Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman

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