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When businesses started limping back to a state of suboptimal normalcy – call it the new normal, if you will – they woke up to the kind of belt-tightening they could do by increasing their dependence on Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and many other technological advances. Many digital czars see the pandemic accelerating tech-trends in the long run, driving social good.

The future portends enlarging the scope of technology in such diverse realms as education, health, security, agriculture, river management and the like. India has just announced plans to create a health data base for its citizens. Hopefully, when a suitable vaccine comes up, an ambitious roll-out program could be undertaken.

According to Genpact CEO Tiger Tyagarajan, the pandemic has cut companies’ digital transformation timelines to as little as 6-12 months from about 4-5 years. Remote working and online transactions have already become a norm rather than an exception across industries.

Rahul Aggrawal, CEO and MD of Lenovo India believes that ‘the recovery journey could be tedious and technology is playing a critical role in helping us adapt to this new reality. The growing role of technology is already evident through enabling remote working, virtual learning, remote business engagement and significant growth in tele-medicine, e-commerce, PCs, smart phones and many other industries.’

Cheer-bots and Bot-dogs have started brightening up life for sports persons and patients. In Japan, in stadiums bereft of human presence, robot cheerleaders have perked up players on the field. Robotic priests have started popping up in Buddhist temples. Therapy dogs have started spreading sweetness and light amongst patients.

Large companies which place a premium on employee goodwill have responded by hiking salaries, promoting good performers and facilitating work-from-home. Quite a few others have had no other option but to resort to issuing pink slips and giving people a compulsory break from work. Many have slashed salaries temporarily so as to manage their cash flows better. Many others are struggling to cope with a sudden spike in demand after a lull induced by extended lockdowns.

The fact that growth rates have plummeted across most sectors of the economy indicates the need for accelerated innovation and a higher rate of learning. Since newer technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning need to be absorbed faster, there is a need to have hybrid organizations which utilize technological interventions alongside human ingenuity.

As per recent press reports, Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of Infosys, has highlighted the need to absorb newer technologies faster. Falguni Nayar, Founder and CEO of Nykaa, emphasizes that ‘Digital has emerged as a clear Winner.’ Whether shopping for daily provisions or for cars, the customers have shown a preference for digital transactions. Virtual meetings have become a norm. Carbon footprints of organizations have got reduced.

The pandemic is helping leaders to identify the slack in their systems. The need for leaders to keep coming up with out-of-box solutions was never higher.

(Part 1 of a series of articles on Corona virus and Leadership)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/08/corona-virus-leadership-traits-and-human-values

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/corona-virus-some-lessons-from-bhagavad-gita)

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ashokbhatia

SQIt would not be wrong to say that in today’s world, a relentless pursuit of wealth and material belongings has left a deep scar on our souls. Many of us are twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out either how to de-stress ourselves or how to keep fighting those depressive blues. There is a nagging emptiness within and the mind boggles as to why and how it has come about. Most of us have no clue as to what could be done about it.

Redefining ‘Success’ and ‘Happiness’

One way out of this dilemma is to perhaps redefine our concepts of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. What do these terms really mean? When we dig deeper, we might find that these two are not really dependent on external factors. There is an inner connection somewhere.

Something very elaborate, say a long well-planned vacation, might not yield the emotional high that we expected…

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ashokbhatia

Just like ‘Ramayana’, the epic of ‘Mahabharata’ also has many management lessons for the present day business leaders and managers. Greed, jealousy, quest for power, trying to achieve goals irrespective of the fairness of the means deployed – all these contradictions in life are very poignantly brought out.

Here are some lessons which could be drawn from the epic.

  • Merit over Birth

When it comes to announcing a successor to his vast kingdom, King Bharata does not choose any of his own sons. Instead, he namesMahabharat King Bharat Bhumanyu whom he considers more capable to manage the affairs of his kingdom. In a dynastic rule, seeds of democracy are thus sown.

In India Inc’s power rankings, professional CEOs are on the rise. Three of the top ten in the 2013 edition of ‘India Inc’s Most Powerful CEOs’ are professionals. Five years back, K V Kamath was the only professional in the top…

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Much like a proficient swimmer participating in a competition, a smart CEO needs to operate in two  diametrically opposite styles at the same time – one of attachment and another of detachment. She needs to be an enthusiastic participant in the operations and swim along with the current. Often, she also needs to sit back on the banks of the river, keenly observe the direction in which she is headed and make a detached and objective assessment of the situation. There is thus an inherent duality embedded in her role. Her role as a passionate participant must always embrace that of the intellectual spectator. The “who” and “why” of her concerns should constantly enfold the “what” and “how” of our methods.

With maturity, a person gains the ability to detach from passionate participation in the operations and do a pitiless analysis of the overall shape and working of the system. Successful CEOs know that after all the analysis is done, they still have to throw themselves back into the mix. One may call this art a hybrid style of functioning.

Detachment in Action

A sense of detachment, as brought out by Bhagavad Gita, is not about one losing the sight of the objective sought to be achieved. Nor does it recommend a defeatist attitude in one’s life and career. Rather, it is about handling successes and failures in a balanced manner. Smart leaders, who have achieved a spectacular success, do not become complacent. They remain humble. They determine the critical success factors and store these at the back of their minds, ready to be recalled when necessary. When faced with dire failures, they shoulder the blame, get requisite feedback and take steps to ensure the failure gets avoided the next time round. If they lose interest for some time, they bounce back with renewed enthusiasm and work towards delivering results. In other words, detachment helps one to be more objective.

Peter Drucker, when he dished out advice to CEOs, invariably acted as a dispassionate observer. He was critical but fair, assisting some of the best brains in the American corporate world in their crucial jobs of scaling up huge businesses so that their vastness became an asset rather than a liability. He refrained from developing a sense of attachment towards any of the CEOs he interacted with and maintained a critical detachment. He studied and commented upon the latest key issues without selling universal truths to his clients, followers and managers everywhere. This was one of his key qualities which added to the greatness of his thoughts.

If one were to go through the history of the Apollo series of missions launched by the National Aeronautical Space Agency of USA during the 1960s and 1970s, one would be struck by the kind of tenacity and equipoise demonstrated by the participating astronauts. Despite losing several of their colleagues in accidents, they remained committed to the overall goal, delivering some spectacular results for our scientists and technocrats to work upon. The same trend continues till date. Airspace disasters notwithstanding, we keep sending missions to Mars and to Sun. The quest of humanity to explore our universe continues unabated.

Inner Resilience and Equanimity

Attaining a state of detachment gets facilitated if a professional were to improve upon her levels of Inner Resilience and practice Equanimity. This is what Bhagavad Gita says in this context.

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते || 2.48||

Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yoga.

Professionals need to know not only what is to be done, but also how it has to be done. Lord Krishna does not fail them. He recommends an ‘evenness of mind’, the tranquility of inner composure in handling all the pairs of opposites in their careers and lives – success and failure, praise and reprimand, hiring and firing, sprees of expansion and down-sizing, products and services which are at opposite ends of their life cycles, mergers and demergers, favourable and unfavourable circumstances, and the like. This, indeed, is held to be the real ‘Yoga’.

In the process, we need to give up our false expectations, wrong imaginations, daydreams about the fruits of our actions, anxieties for results, resistance to change, and fears about future events which are still in the womb of the universal force called Time.

The traits of a Super Leader

Hers is a balanced personality, free of unreasonable desires which pose the danger of her losing sight of her sense of righteousness. She does not have a binding attachment with her emotions. Nor does she have a jealous preference for her pet ideas or for her pet people. She scoffs at any signs of nepotism. She encourages her team members to be nay-sayers, so voices of dissent could be heard and judiciously dealt with. She radiates positivity all around her. She is committed to the organization’s goals and looks after her team members much like a lioness would protect her cubs.

Such a person of steady wisdom is described in Bhagavad Gita as a Stitha-Prajna. Consider the following:

दु:खेष्वनुद्विग्नमना: सुखेषु विगतस्पृह: |
वीतरागभयक्रोध: स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते || 2.56||

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom.

Two concerns may arise here. One, could there really be persons who could be held to have all these qualities? Two, is it really possible for one to be free of one’s basket of desires and one’s ego?

In his book ‘Beyond the Last Blue Mountain’, R M Lala quotes the case of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata group of companies. It was he who gave the group a unique position in India. In his later years, he did not ask ‘What enterprise is the most profitable?’ but, ‘What does the nation need?’ Since the answer in his times was steel, hydro-electric power or an institute of science, he made his best efforts to fulfill that need.

He is reported to have once said something very basic:

We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more philanthropic than other people. But we think we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of the employees the sure foundation of our prosperity.’

Alfred Sloan is reported to have once remarked, ‘What is good for General Motors is good for America.’ J R D Tata always thought the other way round. ‘What is good for India is good for Tatas.’

Theirs is only one example of a business house which is clear in its goals and in its priorities. Several others could be quoted in the current context, like N R Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys.

Getting rid of desires and ego is no cakewalk. A CEO may introspect and fine tune her desires so the same are aligned with the values of the organization she works for. In the process, her personal desires take a back seat. Likewise, getting rid of one’s ego completely has a flip side. One could end up becoming a doormat and getting taken advantage of by all and sundry. Arguably, her wisdom and intuition can help her to retain her individuality even while letting go of the ego. Ask any CEO who has ever worked in a single-owner driven company, and she would attest to the basic principle of leaving the ego at the office gate itself!

Professionals who remain undistracted by transient entrapments have the ability to be rational and calm. They are steadfast in reaching their goals and go on to make successful business leaders.

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SQIt would not be wrong to say that in today’s world, a relentless pursuit of wealth and material belongings has left a deep scar on our souls. Many of us are twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out either how to de-stress ourselves or how to keep fighting those depressive blues. There is a nagging emptiness within and the mind boggles as to why and how it has come about. Most of us have no clue as to what could be done about it.

Redefining ‘Success’ and ‘Happiness’

One way out of this dilemma is to perhaps redefine our concepts of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. What do these terms really mean? When we dig deeper, we might find that these two are not really dependent on external factors. There is an inner connection somewhere.

Something very elaborate, say a long well-planned vacation, might not yield the emotional high that we expected. On the contrary, a post-dinner spontaneous outing for a late night ice cream binge could leave us elated.

Why do some things make us happy and others do not? We love beauty. We cherish humour. We like being appreciated and being loved. We love doing something ‘different’. Anything which connects us to our inner selves tends to make us happy. A movie or a work of fiction which we are able to relate to relaxes us. Exploring new frontiers and visiting new places often makes us happy. Perhaps the soul revels in its experience of exploration when we were cave-dwellers and hunters!

A paradigm shift could perhaps help. If ‘success’ ceases to be about the property we own, the social respect and fame we enjoy, and the high and mighty ‘connections’ we boast of, we might arrive at a different picture of ourselves. The quality of sleep we get. The inner glow of satisfaction we have when we leave our place of work for the day. The love we get when we get back home after a hard day’s work. A change in perspective brings about a stupendous transformation in how we think and feel. Our attitude becomes positive.

Materialism, Big Data and Perception Management

This is not to say that materialism is bad, per se. To satisfy one’s needs is a basic requirement of life. But we often end up over-doing it. Also, we fail to distinguish between our needs and our desires. Needs may be satiated easily. But desires have a tendency to regenerate and evolve, keeping us engaged. Desires keep making us run after an illusory rainbow which forever keeps drifting away from us.

Marketing professionals invariably target their products, services and communications at our desires. With the advent of Big Data, promotional campaigns are becoming far more segment-focused. We hear of ‘evidence-based decision making’ or ‘actionable information’. Even public policies are getting framed and aggressively communicated by governments to promote the feel good factor, whereas ground realities might show only a marginal improvement. Managing perceptions is essentially about catering to the desires of the average person. Fulfilling genuine needs can take a back seat.

Enter – Spiritual Quotient

Another way of striking a balance between materialism and spirituality is to become aware of our Spiritual Quotient; that is, our ability to understand and comprehend the spiritual aspects of life. In other words, moving on from the world of mind and heart to the realm of our inner selves.

When we move on from IQ to SQ, we move from the gross to the subtle, from the finite to the infinite, from tangible to the intangible.

Those who have a high SQ have this uncanny ability to be creative and insightful in their approach to problem solving. They build up their level of self-awareness and there intuitive faculties. They realize that there is a realm of intelligence which is beyond the five senses our bodies are endowed with.

IQ is what sees us through academic pursuits. EQ is what we gain by experiencing life. SQ is something of which we become aware a little later in our life.

IQ can be readily measured. EQ can also be estimated, though not with the same level of precision that IQ can be. However, SQ does not lend itself to easy measurement. All its attributes happen to be subjective in nature. By observing a person for a long time, one can perhaps estimate her SQ more realistically.

How relevant is SQ to a business?

SQ has several components: gratitude, self-esteem, self-awareness, consciousness, compassion, surrender, service and ego. Let us attempt to examine its relevance in the lives of individuals and business entities.

  • A sense of gratitude can make a practicing manager humble. She is able to see her own station in life/career more objectively. External factors or people who have played an important role in her career advancement become easily apparent. Team members, peers as well as superiors invariably end up liking her better. In turn, this fuels a better rate of career enrichment.
  • Self-esteem makes it easier for a manager to say a categorical ‘no’ when the situation demands so. It also leads to better levels of self-confidence. When negative news is to be conveyed to a team member who is not performing on all six cylinders, a manager with a higher degree of self-esteem can look her in the eye and tackle the situation head-on. Effectiveness improves.
  • Leaders and managers with a higher degree of self-awareness tend to be more successful. They are able to reprimand someone without letting it affect their own inner well-being. They are better at identifying appropriate moments to convey what they wish to communicate. They are better at radiating their sunny disposition to those around them, thereby improving morale and securing better results for the business.
  • A higher level of consciousness makes a manager connect better with others. The realization dawns that the team member or the stakeholder being addressed is yet another entity blessed with unique qualities and, hence, has to be treated at par. The challenge being faced by the other, as also the innate capacity of the person to handle it – both get factored in the line of action being suggested. Based on this approach, even large businesses can be shut down without much recrimination or hurt.
  • Compassion is a logical fall-out of a higher level of consciousness. A distributor or a supplier facing a financial crunch might feel repulsed at being pitied. But a compassionate gesture which addresses his immediate concerns can build a relationship rooted in mutual faith, loyalty and genuine respect. A manager who prevails upon his CFO and gets even a post-dated cheque issued to a hapless supplier ends up winning corporate loyalty. When Taj Hotel faces a terror attack, the whole company gears up to rehabilitate and reward the affected staff.
  • Surrender does not imply an abject abdication, but a well nuanced and calibrated acceptance of the reality at hand. A company which has nurtured an iconic brand over several decades may suddenly need to shift gears so as to match the change in its market demand. A new business vertical which utilizes a core competency of the group may need to be entered into. Flexibility and fleet-footedness in business is a sine qua non for long-term survival and growth.
  • A sense of service is what leads to sustainability. When an IT major like Infosys decides to compensate its carbon footprints by providing green products to rural households, it makes eminent sense. When a MNC like HUL decides to use a government scheme like MNREGA to create water potential for farmers in one of the most water-starved areas of India, it is servicing the society it draws its inputs from. When an Air Asia flight goes down killing all passengers on board, the CEO resorts to Twitter to keep the anxious relatives updated. When the Tata group sets up a Center of Performing Arts, as also institutions like TIFR, TISS and IIS, a value of giving back something to society becomes manifest.
  • Managing ego is at the core of the art of managing things. A manager who allows herself to be treated like a door-mat could disappear from a company’s landscape pretty soon. Another one who is forever having an ego clash with people around her would also not survive in the long run. What is required by a manager to be successful is a fine balance between the two extremes, buttressed by a strong sense of self-esteem.

Dr Ian Marshall and Danah Zohar, in their 2001 book, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence, say that ‘while computers have IQ and animals can have EQ, it is essentially an SQ that sets human beings apart.’

It follows that to have a smooth ride in life, all three – IQ, EQ and SQ – have to be relied upon equally by all of us – whether in our personal lives or in our businesses.

A disruptive future

Technology is changing the way we live, think, behave and feel. The rate of change is only going to go up in future. Leaders, managers and even individuals with a high level of SQ are bound to have a better chance of tasting success in the decades to come.

It is time to still our brains, rein in our emotions and start building up our Spiritual Quotients!

(Caricature drawn by Sanket is gratefully acknowledged)

(Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/spirituality-in-management

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/grooming-future-business-leaders-a-spiritual-approach-part-1)

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Just like ‘Ramayana’, the epic of ‘Mahabharata’ also has many management lessons for the present day business leaders and managers. Greed, jealousy, quest for power, trying to achieve goals irrespective of the fairness of the means deployed – all these contradictions in life are very poignantly brought out.

Here are some lessons which could be drawn from the epic.

  • Merit over Birth

When it comes to announcing a successor to his vast kingdom, King Bharata does not choose any of his own sons. Instead, he namesMahabharat King Bharat Bhumanyu whom he considers more capable to manage the affairs of his kingdom. In a dynastic rule, seeds of democracy are thus sown.

In India Inc’s power rankings, professional CEOs are on the rise. Three of the top ten in the 2013 edition of ‘India Inc’s Most Powerful CEOs’ are professionals. Five years back, K V Kamath was the only professional in the top ten.

In a reversal of an openly declared of Infosys, Chairman N R Narayana Murthy recently stirred a hornet’s nest by insisting on bringing his own son as a team member. Only time will tell if the decision pays of; as of now, seniors in the company are a bit shaken up with the move.

  • Commitment

For his father Shantanu’s happiness, Bhishma swears never to marry. Throughout his life, he remains committed to the kingdom of Hastinapur. Despite his difference of opinion with Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana, and despite his obvious fondness for the Pandavas, he leads a vast army against the latter. However, his conduct is very transparent; he openly tells Duryodhana that though he is fighting for Kauravas, he shall not harm any of the Pandavas.

On the flip side, Bhishma also sets the example of a senior professional who overstays his welcome!

Many organizations have deeply committed silent performers who stick by it irrespective of the business ups and downs being faced. Business houses which follow a healthy set of values do end up attracting more such professionals whose value systems match with their own. In times of crisis, such people tend to be pillars of strength for the company. However, there could be situations when they need to be taken on board merely as advisors and not as executors, so younger blood in the organization also gets a chance to prove its mettle.

  • Failures are Stepping Stones

Bhishma abducts three sisters – Amba, Ambika and Ambalika – to get them married to Vichitravirya. However, Amba claims she is already in love with Salya and cannot accept anyone else as her life partner. Eventually, she is rejected by both Bhishma and her own ex-lover Salya. She takes this failure as a challenge and ends up being born as a person of mixed gender –Shikhandi – in King Drupad’s family. Eventually, he/she becomes the cause of Bhishma’s death in the battlefield.

Those who take their failures as a challenge have the capacity to introspect. They identify their weaknesses and take steps to excel in areas in which their arch rival is strong. Ultimately, victory is theirs.

  • Promises are like Babies!

Just like babies, promises are easy to make but difficult to keep. When they are studying together, Drupad, a prince, and Mahabhata KurukshetraDronacharya, a commoner, become good friends. Drupad light-heartedly tells Dronachrya that once he grows up to become a king, he would be happy to share half of his kingdom with Dronacharya. However, once they grow up, Drupad reneges on his statement and even mocks Dronacharya in his court. The result is life-long bitter rivalry between the two which spills onto the battle field, with Dronachrya on the Kaurava’s side and Drupad on the Pandava’s side.

CEOs who promise a promotion merely to achieve short-term results often find that the promotee eventually reaches his level of incompetence at lightning speed, embarrassing all concerned. Smart HR honchos never make promises which they know cannot be kept. Same goes for marketing wizards who fear a severe backlash from customers should the product not live up to the latter’s expectations.

  • Destructive Attachment

Contrast the behavior of King Bharata to that of Dhritarashtra. He has an obsessive attachment to his evil son. He permits the Pandavas to proceed to Varnavat where, by his son’s evil designs, they are persuaded to stay at a house constructed of inflammable materials. He allows a deceptive game of dice, making the Pandavas lose their part of the kingdom. In his presence, Draupadi, his daughter-in-law, is insulted in his royal court. Bhishma, Vidur, Krishna and several others attempt to persuade him to rein in the unbridled ambition of his son Duryodhana, but to no avail. The result is a terrible war leading to devastation of the kingdom.

CEOs who promote their sycophants without assessing the overall welfare of an organization get doomed likewise.

  • Concentration

Multi-tasking is a buzzword in professional circles. But Arjuna displays a kind of concentration which involves a complete focus on Mahabharat Swayamvara_Draupadi_Arjuna_Archerythe task at hand. In the process, he evolves into an excellent archer of his times. Whether it is the bird whose eyes alone he is able to see before shooting his arrow, or the rotating fish whose eye he has to pierce based on the image cast in the water urn placed below in the court of King Drupada, he excels in accomplishing the task at hand.

Managers who look satisfied with their day’s work would invariably share the same secret with you – of having done something satisfactorily that day! Aiming for perfection, they are at least able to excel in the tasks at hand. And focusing on one thing at a time surely helps!

  • Perseverance

Notice the kind of setbacks Pandavas get to suffer in their lives. They survive the insidious designs of their Kaurava cousins at Varanavat. After losing their kingdom and wealth to Kauaravas in an unfair game of dice, they undergo an exile for twelve years in forests. This is followed by a year of remaining incognito, which they do so in King Virata’s palace. When a peace proposal gets discussed with Kauravas, Yudhishthira offers to settle the dispute between the brothers by being content with ownership of five villages only. Even this gets turned down by Duryodhana.

The tenacity of bouncing back in the face of adversity that Pandavas display is worth emulating. Many MNCs are put off by the way the Indian market is skewed – with a miniscule share of the well-heeled who have global exposure and a vast majority of common people who aspire for reliable products and services at highly discounted prices. GE and Nestle have learnt their lessons. McDonald’s, KFC, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Café Coffee Day in the fast food business have also sharpened their teeth by offering mouth-watering menus in the range of INR 44-119!

  • United We Stand

The mother of Pandavas, Kunti, delivers a master stroke by getting Draupadi to accept all the five brothers as her husbands. The result is a whole unified family which goes through its trials and tribulations as a single unit. Each of the brothers has a USP – if Yudhishthira is the epitome of virtue upholding ‘dhrama’ (righteousness) at all costs, Bhima and Arjuna are great warriors who have to be kept on a tight leash, impatient as they are in extracting revenge from Kauravas. Nakula and Sahdeva have their own unique qualities. Together, the five brothers form a multi-skilled and invincible team.

Large conglomerates like Tatas often sound similar in their overall configuration. Each company within the group’s fold has a unique place in the market. Each is headed by a stalwart who is a subject specialist in the field. The companies operate in fields as disparate as salt and software. Yet, all of them are connected by a common value system and a similar business philosophy.

  • Draupadi Syndrome

Juggling between five husbands is no mean task and Draupadi appears to handle it rather well.

In what are euphemistically known as “matrix” organizations these days, reporting to several bosses at the same time could be a Mahabharat Draupadi_and_Pandavaschallenging experience. One has to learn to balance each boss’ expectations against those of others. Much depends on their relative seniority or clout in the company, based on which one could handle the situation. Of course, it does not pay to pitch one of the bosses against the other, whether directly or indirectly!

  • Excellence in Governance

When Indrapastha is built, Pandavas rule in a fair and just manner. They do not stray from the path of righteousness, thereby winning the love and affection of their subjects. They rule for thirty-six years before falling prey to an unfair game of dice.

Excellence in governance is a vital condition for a business leader to command respect amongst his team members. Taking good care of people is an important part of governance. The HR initiatives taken by the Tata group after The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was targeted in a terrorist attack on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, go on to show how well the company cares for its employees.  

  • Being Impartial

In the Yaksha episode, Yudhishthira is asked as to which of his four brothers he would wish to be brought back to life. He chooses Nakula. When queried, he justifies his choice by explaining that of the five of them, three (himself, Bhima and Arjuna) were born to Kunti and two (Nakula and Sahdeva) to his father’s second wife, Madri. Since he is alive, Kunti is only partially bereaved. Likewise, let Madri also be partially bereaved – hence his choice of Nakula. Pleased at this, Yaksha revives all the four remaining brothers.

Being impartial does not come easy to a leader. However, this is indeed the mark of a true statesman.

  • Loyalty to Boss

Karna faces humiliation at the hands of Pandavas for not being born in a royal family. Duryodhana realizes his potential as an ally and immediately comes forward to confer kingship upon him. They become life-long friends. Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana is so strong that even after realizing that he is the eldest of the five Pandavas, he chooses to fight against them, for Duryodhana.

Here is an example of unflinching loyalty to a boss!

  • Yin and Yang

India has a great tradition of real men displaying not only their macho side, but also their effeminate and softer side. The great yin yangwarrior Arjuna spends a whole year incognito in King Virata’s palace, disguised as the eunuch Brihannala, teaching music and dance. One of his pupils, Princess Uttara, ends up becoming his daughter-in-law who gives birth to Parikshit who eventually inherits the kingdom when Pandavas decide to retire.

There is increasing realization amongst corporates in contemporary times to encourage females to assume leadership roles. Companies like Diageo, Cadbury, Coca Cola and others are making conscious efforts in that direction.

Bringing a better gender balance at the board level is the current buzzword. Leading businessmen are hiring icons of the stature of Deepak Parekh, G M Rao, Mukeeta Jhaveri and a host of others to mentor women who can shoulder board level responsibilities in the days to come.

  • Juniors First

When a decision has to be taken as to who should lead the Pandava army in the war, Yudhishthira first consults Sahadeva, the junior most brother.

This approach has several spin-offs. It instills enthusiasm and self-confidence in the younger managers. If the seniors are consulted first, others may not be able to speak with freedom, and even honest differences of opinion may get construed as disrespect.

  • Strategy and Leadership

In a careful reading of the major turning events in the whole narrative, 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 Kauravs’ Mahabharat Disrobing_of_Draupadiarmy. 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.

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.

Coming back to ‘Mahabharata’, 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 at the behest of Krishna. When Duryodhana appears to be invincible in his mace fight with Bhima, he 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.

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.

Much like a business leader of modern times, Krishna displays vision, flexibility in approach, resourcefulness and an excellent capacity to command. He is the trouble-shooter par excellence who leads, inspires, guides and motivates.

  • Execution and Followership

If Krishna proves his leadership skills, Pandavas display the skills of being true followers and executors. Yudhishtira, considered an epitome of virtue, agrees to announce the false news of Ashwatthama’s death, thereby leading to Dronacharya getting vanquished. Motivated by him, Arjuna takes up his arms against his grandfather, Bhishma. Bhima listens to Krishna and ends up killing Jarasandha (much earlier in the narrative) and Duryodhana (towards the fag-end of the battle).

Often, seniors in companies lament about the lack of some qualities in their assigned leader. But one needs a sense of humility, Mahabharat Krishna Arjunaconfidence in another’s ability and the motivation to achieve a super-ordinate goal to work as an effective team member. An objective assessment of the situation at hand, unqualified support for the overall goal, registering dissent wherever necessary and balancing the leader’s weaknesses with one’s own strengths are some of the factors which result into better execution of plans.

  • Do Not Take Help for Granted

Nakula and Sahdeva’s uncle, Shalya, decides to offer his big army to Pandavas in the ensuing war. However, on the way to the battle field, Duryodhana extends a very thoughtful and warm hospitality to Shalya’s army. The result is that Shalya becomes obliged to fight his own nephews in the war! Yudhishthira ends up repenting for having taken Shalya’s help for granted without worrying about the needs of the vast army marching on its way with the intention to assist him.

When working on a project, we often take our friends and colleagues for granted. ‘Mahabharata’ exhorts us to first put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, realize his constraints and then only expect to be helped accordingly.

  • Receive Favors with Humility and Alertness

Shalya receives favors from Duryodhana with humility but without alertness. He does not bother to check whose hospitality he and his army are enjoying.

There are days on which a manager may be pleasantly surprised to find himself being unduly praised by seniors. In some cases, this could be a sign of impending doom – of being saddled with an impossible task which others might be loath to pick up! Alertness while accepting praise surely pays.

  • Key to Failure  

As the crown prince of Kauravas, Duryodhana initiates a war which has to be fought under the leadership of commanders who have a soft corner for the Pandavas! With the exception of Karna and his own brothers like Dushasana et al, all his commanders – like Bhishma, Dronacharya and Shalya – are only duty bound to support him. Their real sympathies are with the Pandavas. Thus, he is saddled with an army which is far superior to that of Pandavas in terms of sheer numbers, but sorely lacks in motivation. Duryodhana’s greed, envy and jealousy lead him to his doom.

In the business world, we often come across fool hardy leaders who set their goals so high as to be unrealistic. If a proper assessment of the resources available at their command is not made, failure is bound to follow.

  • Rash Commitments

Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son, gets killed unfairly and the main culprit is held to be Jayadratha. Arjuna is livid with rage and declares that he would kill Jayadrath by the following evening or renounce the world. At a crucial moment in the next day’s war, Krishna intervenes to ensure Arjuna’s victory, bringing relief and joy to all.

Faced with a drastic situation, a professional needs to sit back and think for some time before committing himself to a target which could well turn out to be unattainable.  

  • Knowledge vs. Virtue

One of the sub-plots narrates the story of Arvavasu and Paravasu. Both are sons of a great scholar and become great scholars in their own right by acquiring knowledge. But one turns out to be good and the other evil. Moral of the story – knowledge which remains undigested information crammed into the mind cannot instill virtue in a person. Such knowledge merely remains like our clothes, an external factor in our appearance which does not reveal what we are within ourselves.

Post Lehman Brothers, educational institutions have started taking the issue of instilling the right values in their students seriously. A business leader without a strong moral compass and lacking a set of virtuous values and ethics could lead the business to eventual ruin.

  • Seeking Favors sans Competence

In another sub-plot appears the story of Yavakrida, who craves to master the Vedas without having to study them! He is grudgingly granted a boon to this effect, but eventually dies at the hands of a demon after being charmed by a young maiden.

A true blue professional would surely aim to occupy the coveted corner office, but only after he has done his own SWOT analysis.

  • Avoid Arrogance

One of the several sub-plots in ‘Mahabharata’ is that of Nahusha who falls from grace after having occupied the throne of Indra, king of the Gods. His fall comes about because of sheer arrogance and pride.

Power and pelf bring in severe obligations in their wake. Successful CEOs understand this, take extra care to keep their pride in check and tailor their inter-personal relationships accordingly.

‘Mahabharata’ is rich with several other narratives which could be useful to management practitioners. Also, each narrative may be interpreted in several ways, depending upon how one goes about analyzing it.

References:

  1. ‘Mahabharata’ by C Rajagopalachari.
  2. Adi Parva original.
  3. Bhagavat Purana.
  4. Series by K M Munshi.
  5. Series by Ram Kumar Bhramar.

(Related posts:

    1. https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/management-lessons-from-ramayana
    2. https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/management-lessons-from-the-life-of-lord-krishna)

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Is there a scope of improvement in management education? If so, how do we enrich it further?

I confess that management education is not my forte. The only exposure I have had to this exalted field was when I was at the receiving end, so to say – that is, as a MBA student myself! But, over the years, interaction with the younger managers has provided me with valuable clues as to the challenges being faced by the current crop of MBAs. This alone emboldens me to endeavor to propose what I believe could be done to enrich the process further. Of course, I do so with utmost humility at my command!

·         A 360-degree CEO View

Management education opens up one’s mind to various facets of an enterprise. However, it does so through the bifocals of a top honcho’s perspective. Upon entering the industry, a befuddled greenhorn could get a thermal shock. Most of the concepts covered in a typical MBA course appear to be irrelevant at that stage of one’s career. Depending upon an incumbent’s innate strengths and the type of opportunities one gets in one’s career, it could take around 15-20 years for one to reach a level where the first whiff of real business strategy and corporate planning etc comes one’s way.

What we need perhaps is a better emphasis on the dilemmas faced by middle level managers. This can possibly be achieved by structured interactions with management experts in the middle rung of large organizations. Case studies which are designed to showcase the types of challenges faced by middle management could also help.

A 360-degree view is absolutely fine, as long as the gondola takes us not only to a mountain top at 3,500 m in the Swiss Alps, but also delights us with the panoramic views at 1,500 m and 2,500 levels.

·         Business History

The way Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis grew up, adapting to times which ranged from British governance to the license and permit-raj days, followed by the phase of economic reforms in India, is fascinating.

If one group focused on weaving ethical values into its business operations, the other capitalized on the pent-up demand in the market. Even their approach to philanthropy was different – one ploughed back its resources by focusing on the fine arts, fundamental sciences and medical facilities, the other earned the public’s respect by constructing a string of temples and related facilities for the common man.

Dhirubhai Ambani became a darling of the masses and popularized the concept of equity investments amongst the teeming millions of India. Post economic reforms, entrants like Infosys delivered good value to shareholders and employees in the newly emerging knowledge economy of India.

Examples abound from the international business arena as well. One is not talking merely of legends like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs here. Alfred D. Chandler’s ‘The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business’, and Charles Wilson’s ‘History of Unilever’ offer great insights into the field of business history.

While pursuing business history, one comes across entrepreneurial heroes as well as exploitative villains and empire builders as well as corporate raiders. A truly enriching exposure for a wannabe entrepreneur and/or an intra-preneur!

·         Lessons from Scriptures

Whether it is Ramayana, Mahabharat, Thirukkural or Chanakya’s Artha Shastra, there is a rich repertoire of management strategy as well as tactics enshrined in our scriptures. Each one contains gems of wisdom which can be put to effective use by management institutes which are already waking up to utilizing the wealth of wisdom available in literature to drive home some key management concepts.

The story of Lord Rama teaches us about waging a war with very limited resources. It also tells us about succession planning, ideal management practices based on fair and impartial conduct of those in power, humility, besides covering several other concepts.

Mahabharat can teach us about the perils of attachment to one’s near and dear ones in life/career, merit taking precedence over pedigree in promotions, tactical retreats in the face of imminent disaster and the risks of hasty decision making sans careful thought, to name only a few. Bhagavat Gita is full of practical wisdom for those aspiring to become professional managers.

Thirukkural tells us about the duties of a king and so does Chanakya Neeti.

For grooming business leaders who have a strong sense of values embedded in their thought processes, our scriptures are an invaluable resource.

·         Finishing

For those who are aspiring for a global career, the main cultural differences between different continents of the world can improve the value-add of management education. Dining habits, etiquette and manners followed by diverse cultures across the globe can also be incorporated in consultation with institutes of learning in the field of hospitality and tourism management.

Observing and following the organization’s culture when kick-starting one’s career, protocols of behaving with seniors, peers and subordinates and do’s and don’ts of e-manners to be followed while handling e-mails, etc. can also be driven home.

Some of the above could be immensely useful to students who step into management education with socially disadvantaged sections of our society. Covering such areas would tend to make this field more inclusive in nature.

·         A Focus on Follower-ship As Well

‘Leadership’ is a favorite topic in management. We have a rich literature providing invaluable insights into various aspects of leadership. Somehow, the traits of ‘Follower-ship’ have not merited much attention at the hands of management gurus and academics. As a discipline, does management education not need to create good followers as well? After all, a leader without a gang of followers could end up being pretty clueless!

The harsh reality is that an overwhelming majority of MBAs would turn out to be followers. If a leader is expected to have charisma, a follower needs to have common sense. If a leader leads by example, the follower realizes that blind faith could mislead the team. If a leader is supposed to be adept at resolving inter-personal conflicts, a follower is expected to work harmoniously with other team members.

Most business leaders today concur that planning is relatively easy; their real challenge lies in flawless implementation. Now, if a leader lays out a strategic vision backed by meticulous planning, smooth   implementation can only come through a bevy of hard-working followers.

·         Yoga and Meditation

Physical and mental fitness is a sine qua non to do well in one’s career. Institutions training the managers for tomorrow can figure out innovative ways to bring in these elements as well into the management education curriculum.

It appears that we would do well to beef up conceptual knowledge imparted in management courses with skills and values that would make MBAs more competitive and more balanced in their approach to real issues in the industry.

The managers of management education (in India, as also elsewhere) may find some merit in the above propositions.  

 

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Even though quite a few business houses from India had joined the World Economic Forum’s Initiative against Corruption in November 2012, not a single Indian company has so far become a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption. This is deeply regrettable and projects the image of a corrupt business environment in India. It discourages foreign investments and erodes the brand value of Indian companies. In the absence of a level playing field, businesses shy away from potential opportunities. Mr. Ratan Tata’s lament on not having able to enter the field of aviation quite some time back is still fresh in our minds.

Companies can never be faulted for hiring Vice Presidents who are highly virtuous, law abiding and disciplined souls. Understandably, only those who follow high ethical standards and are in sync with the core values of the company would make the grade. However, in quite a few organizations, such qualities are merely necessary but not sufficient. When it comes to handling external agencies, incumbents who can either bend a few rules or interpret the fine print of law creatively to add to the bottom line of the company alone would be rated high and viewed with awe and reverence.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Scenario

In other words, VPs should not only be ‘Virtue’ Presidents, but should also possess the flexibility of doubling up as ‘Vice’ Presidents while dealing with liaison matters. This stems from the core belief that businesses cannot be run successfully without back-stage dealing and wheeling, obviously with the aid of what many would euphemistically refer to as ‘appeasement initiatives’.

Appeasement of any kind is invariably geared towards either tweaking government policy to suit the ends of business, as also for specific time bound gains in the forms of large contracts, largesse, concessions and indirect favors. Organizations believe that advance knowledge of government plans, policies and rules is a great tool to deliver results to shareholders who not only look for long-term capital gains but also for better results quarter after quarter.

Sleeping with the enemy

If a professional gets stuck with an assignment which involves corrupt practices which do not match his or her personal core values, one option would be to escalate the issue. This would ensure that the matter is reviewed at a higher level in the organization.

If this option turns out to be impractical for some reasons – whether professional or personal – another one would be to start actively searching for career options with companies which value ethical practices in business!

A much better option, however, could be to work for a change from within the organization. This could be done either by presenting alternative business plans to management or by recommending an approach whereby the company could sidestep the issue by projecting its innate strengths in an aggressive manner. Let us consider some of the tactics in a professional’s arsenal which could be used to combat corruption in business deals.

Tackling Business Competition in the Market Place

The best strategy for a business to have is one which is based on avoiding government doles and concessions. By focusing on core competence and by fighting out the competition in the market place, the business can reduce its dependence on a wide section of the government policies. Surely this calls for rare qualities of leadership, statesmanship and openness. Inviting the government to play favorites and to resolve competitive business issues that are better dealt with in the market place could be a boon as well as a bane. However, this may not be possible in industries which are highly regulated.

Operating in an Unethical Environment

If one has absolutely no other option but to operate in an unethical business environment, the following steps might help to avoid corrupt practices.

  1. Building trust: An honest and humble approach, backed by a long relationship built on explaining the contribution of business can and does work. Investments made, employment opportunities offered and revenue generated are a few of the things that can be leveraged to secure favorable decisions without indulging in corruption.
  2. Reputation travels ahead: The fact that a business house does not stoop down to corrupt practice is generally well-known. It is a strategic advantage to have a squeaky clean image which ensures that a request from such an outfit is treated with the respect it deserves.
  3. Investing in underground cables: It never pays to flaunt one’s relationships. By keeping them underground, one not only wards off competition but also ensures that in case of a change of regime, the damage is minimal.
  4. Diversifying one’s liaison ‘assets’: One learns to be friendly with political opponents. In TN, one needs to be friendly with both the Dravidian parties. In WB, it is tough even if both CPM and TMC are one’s friends. In Maharashtra, Congress, NCP and both the variants of Sena must all like one for one’s business to make some headway.                                                                           Business history teaches us the same lesson. In the pre-independence era, Tatas were funding Gokhale and engaging with the nationalist elements while British officers retired from ICS were being employed by the group. JRD had excellent personal rapport with Nehru. G D Birla had been corresponding with Winston Churchill for a long time. Churchill’s dislike for Mahatma Gandhi was well-known; even though he was being supported by Birlas. They gave a job to one of his sons. It is a fact that he was assassinated while staying as a guest at Birla House in Delhi.
  5. Be courteous, humble but firm: Most government officers take a dim view of business executives. Firstly, they are not viewed as being dependable. Secondly, they are thought to be paid exorbitantly high and generate a feeling of awe as well as jealousy in a public servant. Now, if one walks in with one’s latest cell phone and/or tablet in his office and starts showing off the latest Rolex watch, one would be surely shown the door promptly.

Setting the Moral Compass Right

The UN Convention against Corruption is a laudable initiative and deserves to be given a serious thought by our present day business leaders. It binds an organization to (a) reducing corruption risk in procurement and contracts, (b) engaging in competitive and transparent procurement processes and (c) disclosing all payments made in procurement deals. The global panel already has names such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Siemens and Accenture.

It is not that India does not have shining examples of groups which have demonstrated the strategic advantage of pursuing business goals while staying the ethical course. The Tata group has been at it for the past 120 years or so. Liberalization of the economy appears to have thrown up quite a few scams, but companies like Infosys keep our hopes alive. As per Elaine Dezenski, senior director at WEF and the head of PACI, Infosys, Godrej Industries, Bajaj Auto, Genpact, Wipro and M&M are already signatories to the initiative.

As argued in an earlier blog (Getting a Moral Compass Would be a Sound Business Strategy for India Inc, published on December 9, 2012), companies in India would do well to seize the opportunity to clean up their business deals. A beginning can be made by persuading major political parties to make their funding transparent. Those in real estate business can come out with a time bound plan to rationalize stamp duties all across India, thereby making their deals more transparent.

Hopefully, progressive companies in India would see the strategic benefits of committing themselves to such initiatives soon enough!

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