‘There is a dearth of research-based leadership books on Nepal’Fr Augustine Thomas, SJ on the genres of books he enjoys, leadership books on Nepal, and his ever-growing interest in neuroscience.
Fr Augustine Thomas, SJ is the principal of St. Xavier’s College, Maitighar.
Father Augustine Thomas, SJ stepped into Nepal in 1993 when he was just 18 and joined the Jesuits, committing his life to serve the people of Nepal. In his nearly three decades of stay in Nepal, Fr Augustine has served in various Jesuit schools, colleges, and service centres. He holds a Master's degree in English Literature and a PhD in Leadership Studies, majoring in Organisation Development and currently is the principal of St Xavier’s College, Maitighar. In this interview with the Post, Fr Augustine shares how he got into reading, his views on the books on psychology and leadership, and his love for the field of neuroscience.
Did you grow up in an environment that encouraged reading? How and when did you start developing a reading habit?
The joy of growing up in the countryside was playing with a large group of neighbourhood boys on vast cashews farms. The only access to books, then, used to be comics and short story books, which were always brought to us by our parents. We used to exchange books among friends and had a rolling library.
I came to Nepal during my teens and joined the Jesuits who introduced me to the library, a place where I could explore various genres of books, in my very first week here. Reading has since become a part of my daily life. I was right away hooked on the adventurous stories of the Hardy Boys series.
Which genres do you enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
It is hard to draw a line on the genre of interest. Neuroscience, psychology of leadership, and psychology of organisation development are my lines of interest. Books backed by research make the content interesting and relevant. I also enjoy fiction that explores relationships. Though I appreciate all genres, I have not developed much taste for science fiction.
What one book has left a lasting imprint on you?
The book that I enjoyed reading line by line and pondering over was ‘The New Earth’ by Eckhart Tolle, a book which approaches the human person from a psychospiritual perspective. It gives an X-ray of why we behave a certain way, unfolding the layers of “ego” that have a deep-rooted seat in human psychology. The book explores how unfolding the layers of ‘feelings’ and ‘thoughts’ help us to be in touch with the deeper purpose of life. It is not a book to read in one sitting and put back on the shelf but to read a few pages a day, reflect, and take a month or so to finish.
What is the one interesting thing that you learned from a book you recently read?
I recently read ‘IKIGAI’ by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. The book draws lessons on a happy and long life based on research on the famed people of Okinawa with long life expectancy with high-level life satisfaction. It explains the Japanese concept called ‘moi’, which is a group of people living together with a common interest as they support, share, and spend time together. It illustrates the importance of having a mutually supportive family and friends with positive thoughts and mutual respect.
Can you name one book that you think today’s youth must read and why?
‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scott Peck, a renowned psychiatrist, I think, answers to a lot of questions that the youth have today. It works as a manual for self-understanding, discipline, love, and relationship and approaches life very comprehensively. The first line in the book ‘Life is difficult’ is placed against the captivating and wide-ranging solutions he offers in the following chapters. He mentions that we are not born with a map and the accuracy of our map depends on our own efforts and ability to make right choices. The author gives a number of valuable tips, drawing lessons from his own experiences of counselling for years.
Having done a PhD in leadership studies, do you think reading leadership books really help? If so, what books do you suggest?
Yes and no. Books on success, managing people, and leading from the front have certain perspectives. They do stimulate self-reflection, but only to an extent. The danger of taking such books as a leadership manual 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 research-based leadership books in the Nepali context, especially on Nepali leadership theories, leadership style, or teamwork. Leadership in Nepal, both public and corporate, has its own context. Instead of emerging in theories from your own place, applying Western theories of leadership has its own limits, they can even misfire.
However, some research-based books on leaders and companies have been appreciated by leadership gurus all over the world. ‘Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through Dangers of Leading’ by Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz; ‘Practices of Adaptive Leadership’ by Ronald Heifetz; ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, and ‘Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future’ by Peter Senge have a lot to offer. If you are interested in organisational development, ‘The Fifth Discipline’ by Senge is based on long years of experience and interviews conducted with top companies. For leaders of any context, ‘Primal Leadership’ and ‘Realising the Power of Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman are excellent choices.
You have served in the mountains, hills, and the Tarai. What books on Nepal did you read to understand the country better?
Having lived in Nepal for almost three decades, the primary tool to know the country was to travel across the country and live with the people. ‘The Snow Leopard’, an all-time classic, by Peter Matthiessen, gives a scenic and cinematic view of Nepal, describing the life and journey in the higher Himalayas. The travel and trek slides and lectures of Fr Jim Donnelly, Society of Jesus (SJ), the lectures on the rise of Gorkha by the great historian Fr Ludwig Stiller, SJ, and the lectures on the culture of Nepal by Fr John Locke, SJ, the first scholar on Newar Buddhism, were great introductions to Nepal in my initial years here.
As the years went by, I got to know the country and culture better through the novels written in the Nepali context. ‘The Tutor of History’ by Manjushree Thapa and ‘Arresting God in Kathmandu’ by Samrat Upadhyay were the two novels that beautifully narrate the cultural and social practices of people in Nepal.
Books on leadership recommended by Fr. Augustine
Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through Dangers of Leading - Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz
Practices of Adaptive Leadership - Ronald Heifetz et al.
Good to Great - Jim Collins
Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future - Peter Senge et.al.
The Fifth Discipline - Peter Senge
Primal Leadership: Realising the Power of Emotional Intelligence - Daniel Goleman