Lord Krishna, whose birthday will be celebrated tomorrow, happens to be one of the most revered and liked gods of the Hindu pantheon. Looked at from a management point of view, he is a leader par excellence. He manages events and people in such a manner that the end result is eventually positive and leads to a greater good.
Here are some facets of his personality which might be instructive for managers at all levels.
A friendly demeanour
When a devotee plans to seek a straight forward favour, like when a much-awaited promotion is due and hard work has indeed been put in for the purpose, Lord Rama is often the more sought after religious figure. But when a devious request has to be made, say when praying for the transfer of a CEO who keeps disturbing one’s mental peace, the attention invariably turns to Lord Krishna. After all, he is our friend, with whom we can be frank and open!
This is the kind of appeal Krishna has. The fact that he has been depicted as a playful child and teenager adds to his unique image. The manner in which he treats his friends like Arjuna and Sudama multiplies his allure as a great problem solver. His ready availability is his Unique Selling Proposition. This is a quality which many a manager would find good to imbibe.
Flexibility in Approach
When it becomes apparent that Jarasandh would not allow the kingdom of Mathura to enjoy uninterrupted peace as long as he and Balarama are there, Krishna does not hesitate to leave his comfort zone. In order to ensure that the denizens of the city remain safe, he decides to build a new capital at Dwarka and shift his operating headquarters there.
When market dynamics change, business leaders and their team members in FMCG companies do not hesitate to travel to the hinterland. This helps them to understand the customer psyche better, thereby improving their presence in diverse markets.
Examples abound of companies of companies which did not keep pace with the changes in technology and the market place. They continue to remain alive in our memories only.
Whosoever happens to be facing a challenge can approach him. Whether it is Arjuna or Duryodhana, there is no hesitation in seeking his help. Yes, whether and how he decides to help depends on which side of ‘Dharma’ we happen to be on. Duryodhana gets the support of his entire army, whereas Arjuna ends up getting him as a personal charioteer.
The privilege of accessibility is granted even to those opposed to him. Sisupala has the liberty of abusing him publically. Admittedly, he has a quota which, when exceeded, results into his death.
True blue leaders are invariably accessible to their team members. When a sudden challenge pops up, anyone can reach out to them and seek guidance.
Adherence to ‘Dharma’ (Righteousness)
When Krishna gets invited to the palace of Duryodhana for a rich feast, he declines. Instead, he prefers to have simple food at Vidura’s place. When Draupadi gets disrobed in King Dhritarashtra’s court, he manages to protect her honour. When a war becomes inevitable, he sides with the Pandavas. Invariably, he sides with those who follow the path of righteousness.
Strategy and Vision
In a careful reading of the major turning events in the whole narrative of Mahabharata, Krishna emerges as an eminent strategist. He keeps Draupadi’s frustration under check. He knows that Kauravas would never agree to let Pandavas have their share of the kingdom in a peaceful manner. Yet, he himself goes to plead their cause so that peace is given a last chance.
In the battle that ensues, he virtually leads the 7 divisions of Pandavas’ army to a decisive win against the 11 divisions of Kauravas’ army.
All mighty warriors on the Kauaravas’ side fall with specific inputs from Krishna. In case of Bhishma, Arjuna attacks him standing behind Shikhandi. Dronacharya is misled to believe that his son Ashwatthama has fallen. When Duryodhana appears to be invincible in his mace fight with Bhima, Krishna gestures to the latter to hit the former below the navel, thereby incapacitating him. When Balarama gets upset with Bhima for having broken a cardinal principle in his final fight with Duryodhana, Krishna intervenes to pacify him by reminding him of the several injustices perpetrated by the Kauravas on Pandavas.
The manner in which Krishna persuades a demoralized Arjuna to take up his arms by enunciating the basic principles of life in the Bhagavad Gita is exemplary. The gospel of devotion to duty, without attachment or desire of reward, continues to show the way of life to all those who seek light in the dark problems of life.
Krishna not only preaches but also practices detachment. Consider the manner in which he decides to leave his home and hearth in Gokul and Vrindaban. To him, the call of duty, of restoring the kingdom of Mathura to King Ugrasena, a just and righteous monarch dethroned and imprisoned by his own son, Kansa, is supreme. The fact that Kansa happens to be his maternal uncle does not stand in the way of Krishna killing him to achieve his goal.
He does not entertain the thought of ruling over Mathura himself. He believes that in order to be a competent ruler, he first needs to complete his study of the Vedas, achieve proficiency in warfare and understand the nuances of governance.
What does a CEO do when business conditions warrant a manufacturing unit to be shut down, even though he himself had painstakingly set it up two decades back? What does a manager do when a much-liked junior commits an act of impropriety and has to be asked to leave the company? Or, when a plum assignment has to be given up due to compelling personal reasons? A sense of detachment comes in handy in all such situations. The higher the level of detachment, the more objective the decision is likely to be.
When Abhimanyu gets killed on the battle field, a grief-stricken Arjuna vows to slay the warrior responsible – Jayadratha – by next sunset, or end his own life. Krishna manages to save Arjuna’s honour, bringing much relief to the Pandavas.
The Many Masks
Krishna does not hesitate to reveal himself in his entirety in the midst of the battlefield. Arjuna is petrified to see the ‘Vishwa Roopa’ of someone he considers to be a close friend.
Leaders also wear several masks. They could be polite and gentle. They could be loving and compassionate. But if the situation demands it, they could also invoke dread and fear amongst their team members. Just like Krishna, they possess a multi-faceted personality.
The Inner Voice
One of the basic concepts enunciated by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is that of the everlasting nature of the soul. The concept of a soul now finds a resonance even in modern management literature. In ‘The 8th Habit’, Stephen Covey urges professionals to pay heed to their ‘inner voice’. While proposing the whole person paradigm, he speaks of the four dimensions of a person – spirit, body, heart and mind.
Once the war gets over and all his sons have got killed, Dhritarashtra attempts to kill Bhima by crushing him in a close embrace. Krishna is able to read his mind and deftly pushes across a metal statue instead, thereby saving Bhima’s life.
Smart managers go beyond ‘analysis paralysis.’ They do use information, but they also rely on their intuition. A more balanced decision-making comes about.
Tenacity and Perseverance
When the disappearance of a valuable gem, the ‘syamantak mani’, is attributed to Krishna, he does not wallow in self-pity. With a chin-up attitude, he keeps working on the problem till the time it becomes clear that his conduct is as pure as the driven snow.
CEOs with a tenacity of purpose build up a unique team of followers. Perseverance is ingrained in their character. To give up does not come easily to them.
Personally, Krishna has little to gain from the great war. All his actions are directed towards the overall benefit of the society. Once Yudhishtira assumes the charge of the entire kingdom, peace prevails and development comes about.
Great business leaders share the same quality with Krishna. They try to give back to society in more ways than one. Sustainable business practices ensure that their companies’ operations do not cause irreparable damage to the eco-system.
Leading from Behind
Unlike Lord Rama, who leads an army from the front, Lord Krishna leads it from behind. The former leads an army of monkeys. The latter leads an army of illustrious people. Each one has great prowess, expertise and self-mastery. He also gets to handle people who are more shrewd and cunning.
In the initial phases of industrial revolution, when manufacturing was the primary activity, most of the leaders had to lead their teams from the front. In the services sector, as also in the emerging knowledge economy, leaders mostly manage from behind.
Depending upon the situation at hand, leaders switch from one mode to another. The style also varies from person to person.
A Tryst with Adversity
Krishna lives a unique life which is full of adverse circumstances. He is born in captivity. He is separated with his parents immediately after his birth. Even as a child, he manages to survive attempts on his life. He leaves his foster home, never to return. He leaves the city of his birth and relocates to a far off place. He continues to be busy solving other’s problems throughout life. His whole clan gets destroyed in a bitter fight between its own members.
At no stage do we find Krishna blaming his circumstances. He is self-assured. He is confident. He is clear on what he wants to achieve. His methods may be rough at times, but they deliver.
Sure enough, like many a business leader, he pays a heavy price for upholding righteousness. With little time for family and children, the progeny is destined to remain unsung.
Tough situations bring out the best within managers. Life strives to chisel their character into a fine shape, much like a finely carved statue which is much admired by those who view it from the outside. Few realize the pain, suffering and sacrifice that the stone has undergone to achieve that exalted beauty and that state of perfection.
Krishna – A Spiritual Leader
Much like a business leader of modern times, Krishna displays vision, flexibility in approach, resourcefulness and an excellent capacity to command. The authority that he exercises over others is born more out of love and concern, not fear. He is the trouble-shooter par excellence who leads, inspires, guides and motivates. He sets a fine example for business leaders and managers to emulate.
Krishna is a role model for spiritually inclined leaders and managers. He demonstrates that being spiritual does not necessarily mean being soft. It only implies that one’s decisions and actions are rooted in stark pragmatism, backed by sound values and propelled by a desire to achieve the greater good.