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Posts Tagged ‘Mahabharata’

Learning from Failures

With a higher level of uncertainty, a leader’s chances of failure would also go up. A failure which results into pain and suffering can also be taken as a boon, as time often proves. If the right lessons are drawn, the chances of a failure repeating itself in future can be drastically brought down.

Consider these words of wisdom from Narad when he tries to explain to Savitri’s mother as to why she must marrya1 1 (11) Satyavan and suffer on the terrestrial plane.

‘Although the shaping god’s tremendous touch
Is torture unbearable to mortal nerves,
The fiery spirit grows within
And feels a joy in every titan pang.’
(Savitri, page 444)

Leaders wear their crowns of glory. But the crown does not come cheap. The cost they have to bear is that of the cross they have to carry.

‘Hard is the world-redeemer’s heavy task;
The world itself becomes his adversary,
Those he would save are his antagonists:
This world is in love with its own ignorance,
Its darkness turns away from the savior light,
It gives the cross in payment for the crown.’
(Savitri, page 448)

Management by Consent

In the times to come, the profile of the followers would also be different. Hierarchical authority is already proving difficult to manage change; there is no reason to believe this would not be even more so in the future. The followers would demand a higher degree of participation in the decision-making processes. Leaders who recognize this need of their followers and create a working environment which enables the same would achieve higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in their business processes.

Creating a non-coercive environment in which employees and other stakeholders are clear about the corporate identity and the mission would be far more important than it is today. Reverse mentoring would be more a norm than an exception in the days to come.

Consider the all-powerful God of Death. When accosted by Savitri, he does not dictate terms. He allows a reasonableSavitri_Yama discussion on the subject. He keeps changing the line of his arguments, intent upon denying Savitri the life of her husband. He tries his best to dissuade her from changing one of the basic laws of nature. He even declares “I, Death, am the gate of immortality.”

Savitri is undaunted. She points out that if this creation has arisen out of a meaningless void, if matter can come forth from energy, and life from matter, and mind from life, and if soul can peep through the flesh, what is wrong in hoping that the imperfect man of today will someday transform himself into the perfection of God?

The God of Death eventually loses the argument, his authority and also his stature. But his greatness lies in the fact that he has the good grace to permit and then lose an argument to a person who looks like a mere mortal. Realizing her sincerity of purpose, he even grants her a boon.

In Ramayana, the villain is Ravana, a highly learned and accomplished person. One of the reasons for his downfall is to neglect the advice of nay-sayers. His wife, Mandodari, brother Vibheeshana and grandfather Malyavaan – all advise him to return Sita to Rama. Instead, he chooses to listen to his courtiers who play on his ego and pride and advise him not to do so.

A couplet in Sundara Kanda of Ramcharitmanasa clearly advises us to ignore the advice of a paid deputy, aRamayana 2 doctor and a teacher who speak positively out of either fear or expectation of a gain. A king who acts upon such motivated advice loses his kingdom, his body and his righteousness (dharma) as well.

When Lord Rama decides to accept Vibhishana in his fold, he does not simply order the same. He consults all seniors present before arriving at a decision.

Monsanto’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, had the ability to go against traditional hierarchy. He initiated strategy sessions with cross-sections of employees of different ranks, specialties and geographical perspectives and reaped rich dividends for his company.

The Moral Compass

Leaders who believe in sustainable businesses would not only use their commercial compass while determining the direction to take. Using a moral compass would be a valuable trait amongst the future leaders. A strong inner core, embedded with a value system which recognizes the needs of the society at large, would be a great quality to have. A pre-condition for employing key managers would be their endorsement and support of the core values of the business.

Sticking to some core values which are steeped in righteousness eventually leads to success. The main protagonist, Rama, is depicted in Ramayana as an epitome of virtue. He is an ideal king, an ideal son and a pragmatic person. He sets high ethical standards in warfare and invariably sides with dharma, or righteousness.Krishna_Arjuna_Gita

One of the basic concepts enunciated by Shri 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.

A random sample of all successful business houses which have been around for more than a century now – Siemens and Tatas, for instance – is ample proof that ethics in business do pay dividends in the long run. Names of such business houses enjoy tremendous brand equity in the market; understandably, that rubs off on their products as well.

When the likes of Siemens and Wal-Mart come clean on their misdemeanors, they set an excellent example of probity in the business world. When Mr. Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of India’s salt to software conglomerate, rues his inability to enter some fields of business because of the absence of a level playing field in India, his focus is on one of the core values of his business.

Indra Nooyi is charting a unique course for Pepsico globally, shedding traditional markets and going in for healthier food products instead.

Preparing Leaders for 2025!

In a careful reading of the major turning events in the 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.

Eventually, all mighty warriors on the Kauaravas’ side fall with specific inputs from Krishna. In case of Bhishma,Krishna 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.

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.

Captains of industry today can set a personal example by getting cross-functional teams in their organizations to come up with suggestions to face the challenges of future effectively. They can also emulate some of the traits, thereby leading to a trickle-down effect across the entire organization.

HR honchos can re-design their appraisal processes and re-assess training needs of key managers to address this issue.

Those in senior management positions can consciously plan to hone their skills in areas they find themselves deficient.

Management institutes can tweak their course content to ensure that those leaving their hallowed portals possess these traits, so as to improve their contribution towards the organizations they decide to either float or serve.

Indian scriptures are replete with instances which demonstrate the importance of good values and ethics.chanakya Ramayana speaks of righteousness to be upheld at any cost. Mahabharata tells us to limit our ambitions and desires and be reasonable in life, lest a fate worse than death may befall us. Bhagavad Gita – the song celestial – is like an ocean full of practical advice for managers young and old alike. Chanakya Neeti is full of pearls of wisdom. All these are waiting to be explored by those who are interested in being spiritual as well as practical in their approach to problem solving and leading people to their goals.

(Note: On matters spiritual, inputs from a subject expert, philosopher and guide are gratefully acknowledged.)

[Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/grooming-future-business-leaders-a-spiritual-approach-part-1%5D

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Abstract
Can tenets from the realm of Spirituality help in grooming business leaders for the future? This two-part article attempts to answer this query. It first proposes the dominant characteristics of the business environment of the future. It then goes on to joining the dots between the apparently diverse fields of Management and Spirituality in respect of each such characteristic. An enhanced role for intuitive faculties, inner resilience, dynamism, a global and inclusive mindset, clarity of purpose, learning from failures, managing by consensus and cultivating a moral compass are some of the leadership traits discussed. Examples are drawn from the business world, as also from such Indian scriptures as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Savitri.’

Leadership is a much discussed virtue in management literature. However, like Peter Drucker says, there is no ideal LEADERStype of leader. “Leadership personality’, ‘leadership style’ and ‘leadership traits’ don’t exist”, he writes in The Leader of the Future. The emergence of a leader is the result of a complex interplay of two factors – personality traits of the leader and what needs to be done at a given point in time. The moment the two become congruent, a new leader could emerge on the scene and deliver the goods!

I am convinced that the leaders of tomorrow would need personality traits which would be qualitatively different from those of today. Here is my take on what business environment (say, circa 2025) would be like, and how our future business leaders would be tackling it.

2025 – A Likely Business Scenario

What would be the business environment like in 2025? Let us try to crystal-gaze and find out the kind of possibilities the future portends:
• Business leaders in 2025 shall be working against the backdrop of a world which would, in all likelihood, be a multi-polar one, with Asia, particularly China, exerting more influence on global events.
• It would be a world which would be more inter-connected, commercially and otherwise.
• Thanks to new communication means, the individual empowerment levels would have risen significantly. Social paradigms would have transformed further, with a more individualistic mindset. Hence, employee expectations would be qualitatively different from what managers typically face today.
• Also, it would be a more urbanized world. Thanks to the rise of a new global middle-class, society in general would internet image 1have reached a higher level of aspiration, resulting into a much higher demand for energy, food and water. On the flip side, income disparities would have risen substantially.
• Changes arising out of our climatic patterns would also pose a formidable challenge to the leaders of those times. Internet security concerns would perhaps be centre-stage.
• Disruptive changes are quite likely to overwhelm us. These changes could come in the form of impact of new technologies in the field of robotics, biotechnology, space sciences and communication. Increasingly, governments world over may start becoming enablers of entrepreneurship, faced as they will be with direct and intensive pressure from those they govern. We shall surely be seeing more entrepreneurs amongst our midst – whether in the commercial sector or in the societal sector.

A Business Leader in 2025

Beyond Analysis Paralysis

Since the level of entropy in the system would have gone up further by then, a business leader of circa 2025 would have to be adept at making decisions under a higher level of uncertainty. The abnormal today would be the new normal, and many a leader would be feeling more like experts at river rafting in our economic and statutory rapids, often being called upon to go against the current.

For those who are quantitatively inclined, advanced statistical tools would become more sophisticated. There will be an overdose of data as well as information available to a business leader then. However, ultimately, his/her intuitive abilities would prove to be more valuable. Even today, most innovators think ‘out-of-box’. Businessmen, when creating a new vertical, are apt to take a leap of faith, that is, decisions off-the-seat-of-their-pants/skirts/sarees and not on voluminous reports of an analytical nature.

Sir Colin Marshall, the ex-Chairman of British Airways, transformed his organization into one of the premier Mahabharat Draupadi_and_Pandavascustomer service kinds in the days of yore. The uncertainty he faced in the period of his association with BA was monumental and serves as an example to be followed by CEOs of future.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon came up with the concept of ‘predictive analytics’, paving the way for all of us to enjoy the convenience of shopping on-line.

A logical corollary of the above would be the need for a leader to be ahead of the curve. Those who have counter-intuitive responses and place a higher trust in their natural instincts would surely fare better.

In Mahabharata, after the war is over, Pandavas visit Dhritarashtra to offer their respects and condolences. By using his intuitive skills, Lord Krishna is able to save Bheema’s life. When the uncle proceeds to hold Bheema in a crushing embrace, a metallic statue of similar dimensions is offered to him instead.

Likewise, in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, Narada has the gift of fore-knowledge. He is not averse to Savitri marrying Satyavan whom he describes as ‘a marvel of the meeting of earth and heaven’ but adds:

Heaven’s greatness came, but was too great to stay.
Twelve swift-winged months were given to him and her;
This day returning Satyavan must die.
(Savitri, page 431)

Intuitive abilities of a manager typically arise from three distinctive domains – the cultural upbringing, experience in one’s formative years and one’s value system imbibed from elders and role models. Regular meditation and introspection also helps.

An Inner Resilience and Dynamism

There would be a strong need for a much higher degree of inner resilience, because this alone would enable them to keep their stress levels under control even in trying circumstances.

Dynamism will be yet another critical input. It would ensure that they are able to steer their businesses through thec1 (25) dense economic fog enveloping the business highways.

This is where tenets of spirituality can play a vital role. Take the example of the character of Savitri, as portrayed by Sri Aurobindo in his epic composition. She has fore-knowledge of the imminent death of Satyavan, her husband. Does she get scared? No. She faces the monumental task of facing the Lord of Death himself. She never gives up hope, displays exemplary courage and resilience and successfully reasons out the revival of her husband. She handles the whole situation all by herself, walking tall but lonely – as a true leader of humanity.

‘Whoever is too great must lonely live.
Adored he walks in the mighty solitude;
Vain is his labour to create his kind,
His only comrade is the Strength within.’
(Savitri, page 368)

As a seer extraordinaire, Sri Aurobindo brings to us in a very concise form the symbolic affirmation of life on earth. He did not compose Savitri as a management treatise. But like all other scriptures, the epic poem contains invaluable lessons for potential as well as practicing managers.

In the Ramayana, we see Lord Rama waging a war on Lanka with very limited resources, backed by an army whichRamayana 1 is pretty out-of-the-box or unconventional. It is an army which is highly motivated, expecting minimal facilities. The challenge of crossing the sea is also faced in a highly unconventional manner. Goes on to show the power of the dynamism of a true leader even when circumstances are highly unfavorable.

The World Economic Forum had proposed a theme centered on the twin traits of resilience and dynamism for 2013. Given that there are no risk free growth models available to leaders and CEOs of the future, one could not have agreed more with this proposition.

A good example of facing flak and not losing sight of one’s goals is that of Larry Page of Google. He continues to trust his instincts and doing what he thinks is best for his business.

A Global, Self-less and Inclusive Mindset

Given a much more inter-connected world, a business leader in the future would need to possess a vast knowledge of commercial, behavioral and societal norms followed in different parts of the world. A primary task would obviously be to ensure that his/her organization has world-class management processes. Only those institutionalizing best practices in strategic planning, marketing and human relations would be able to make their organization a successful one. The fact that a leader would, in all likelihood, be leading a multi-cultural team of followers would pose a challenge – irrespective of whether the situation demands a leadership which is ‘transactional’ or ‘transformational’.

A self-less and inclusive mindset would imply taking on board all stakeholders in a situation that warrants an Mahabharat Krishna Arjunaimportant decision to be made. A true business leader would work for the overall benefit of the society and environment at large.

When Lord Krishna delivers the message of Bhagavad Gita on the battle field, it is not for the narrow purpose of Pandava’s victory. It is the song celestial, delivered for the benefit of the entire humanity.

When Ashwapathy, the virtuous and noble King of Madra in Savitri, seeks a progeny, he does not behave like a sorrow-stricken childless King. He acts like a representative and true leader of humanity. He is engaged in a quest, but not for a personal gain like having a child. He is seeking that creative principle which has the power to end human frustrations, discontents and ills. He is doing so for the entire humanity. He recognizes the painful truth that neither science and technology, nor religion and art, have so far managed to free mankind from the clutches of ignorance, suffering and death. Is there a way the age-old aspiration of mankind seeking a union with its Creator could get realized? Can a higher power come down and help him achieve this goal for the sake of humanity? Aswapathy’s impassioned plea eventually wins the promise of grace from the Divine Mother.

In the Ramayana, we do not like Lord Rama banishing Sita to the forest merely because an ordinary citizen had cast aspersions on her character. But he acts like a true blue CEO who shows no mercy when upholding the path of righteousness even at a huge cost in terms of personal happiness and comfort.

When one considers the example of Compaq’s Eckard Pfeiffer, who was a leader in a race against himself, it becomes clear as to how organizational renewal can be brought about. “No matter what industry a company competes in”, he said, “it must live with one foot in the present and the other in the future….There is simply no other way to build world leadership”.

A Clarity of Purpose

When faced with higher levels of uncertainty, a calm mind and clarity of purpose become the sine qua non of success.
According to one version of the Ramayana, both Rama and Sita are committed to the welfare of the people. They are aware that by remaining confined to their palaces and royal trappings, they would not be able to serve the purpose for which they exist. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself in the form of Kaikeyi’s demands at the time of His coronation, they accept the fait accompli with equipoise and leave their comfort zone with a great clarity of purpose.

Note how Savitri declares the completion of her mission (to locate a soul-mate) to her father.a1 1 (13)

‘The son of Dyumatsena, Satyavan
I have met on the wild forest’s lonely verge.
My father, I have chosen. This is done.’
(Savitri, page 424)

Savitri’s supreme self-confidence is revealed when she convinces her mother about the need of not changing her decision, despite Sage Narad’s prophetic announcement that Satyavan has only one year to live.

‘Let Fate do with me what she will or can;
I am stronger than death and greater than my fate;
My love shall outlast the world, doom falls from me
Helpless against my immortality.’
(Savitri, page 432)

(Part 2 to follow)

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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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