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Posts Tagged ‘Moral Compass’

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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I have had the privilege of observing several business leaders at close quarters. Most of them are professionalsLEADERS who have become true blue leaders purely by merit. Some of them are owners and entrepreneurs who have built up a business empire by sheer innovation, risk appetite, organizational ability and hard work.

Here is a listing of some unique traits and habits which I believe make them exceptionally great leaders.     

1.   A Four-Dimensional Thought Process

Any issue being faced by great leaders is viewed through a four-dimensional lens. They possess the unique capacity to be able to see not only the spread, the reach and the depth of the problem at hand, but also its likely evolution over a period of time. They have good intuitive faculties.

Being both a visionary and a thorough person is important. All the four dimensions of a problem are intricately entwined. A great leader’s vision would be rooted in something big and motivational; it would also be backed by a detailed implementation plan, a contingency plan, and, of course, loads of hard work.

In other words, their vision and broad mental sweeps are matched by finer details. Their attention to detail could be annoying at times. Send them a note/mail with a typo and you are sure to earn a gentle reprimand. Attend a client meeting with them and your pencil color and tie pattern had better match that of the team!

Opening a sealed envelope and double-checking the figures and totals in a statement are habits they tend to have. Ensuring that an important letter is put in an envelope with the correct name, title and address of the recipient is another dimension of their spirit of perfectionism.

2.   Good Speakers but Better Listeners and Readers

Leaders who charm us would perhaps never be at a loss for words. They would conduct meetings with great finesse and nudge the discussion in a productive manner. But they would also know how to listen. Don’t be surprised to find them walking around with small cards to take notes when people talk.

Send them a well-drafted mail on a matter of critical importance and we can be rest assured it would be read with all the attention it deserves. A well thought-out response would invariably follow, if not a phone call or an invitation for a personal meeting.

For matters which are of a strategic nature, or involve a policy decision, they are never in a hurry to hit the send button.

Strong leaders like to hear alternate viewpoints. They have neither time nor patience for sycophants. Irrespective of the time or venue, they are always willing to listen. Of course, the final call on any issue is their own.

3.   A Hardened Love for People

They just love people, though it does not mean they cannot be hard on them. Understanding people and their problems comes naturally to them. In most cases, it is empathy at work and not sympathy.

If there is a personal problem, they would go to great lengths to assist us in finding a solution. If a mistake gets repeated, we can be sure of their coming down like a ton of bricks on the real defaulter amongst us.

Great leaders are invariably fair when it comes to apportioning blame. The policy they follow is that of praising in public and rebuking in private. The focus is always on finding a solution and not on witch-hunting.

They would never select a wrong person for the organization. Interviews for new recruits would be detailed and exhaustive. An exhaustive background check of a successful applicant would be done before a formal offer is made. A meticulous induction program would be in place. They would elicit feedback at all stages of our progress through the company and intervene in matters of career advancement wherever necessary.

They would not shy away from fixing tough targets. Performance would be their primary consideration. They would neither delegate nor avoid meetings where a negative feedback has to be shared with an employee. A person found wanting on initiative has no place in their scheme of things.

Zero tolerance for a breach in values and ethics happens to be one of their prime qualities. A case of immoral conduct would get settled quickly and effectively. It would not matter if it involves either a great performer or someone who has been ‘loyal’ to the organization all along.

4.   A Commitment is a Commitment

It is not easy to extract a commitment out of them. But once they commit to something, they would move heaven and earth to deliver on their promise.

Likewise, if we agree upon a target with them, we would do well to deliver on our promise. If we fail, the consequences could be disastrous for our career progression.

Each one has a unique follow-up system in place. Some have the habit of pulling out small scribbled notes from one of their pockets to check on the progress of tasks assigned and agreed upon. Some are sticklers for maintaining and updating their diaries – manual or otherwise. Once we appear on this follow-up radar of theirs, we would not find it easy to squiggle out of it till the time the task is indeed accomplished.

5.   A Stronger Moral Compass

Great leaders live by example. They create a culture which is at once innovative and results-driven, entrepreneurial and collaborative, socially responsible and pragmatic. To them, their moral and spiritual compass is as important as their business and financial compass.

At the core of their moral compass is an intra-preneurial approach. They might be employees themselves, but their vision, actions, behavior and responses would be totally entrepreneurial. They would walk around behaving just like the true owners of the business they are meant to govern. Try to fall foul of them on their basic value system and you could be getting a pink slip earlier than you think.

Smart leaders are also aware that gender diversity facilitates better decision-making at all levels of the organization.

6.   Straddling the Digital Divide

They have also perfected the art of balancing the digital world with their real world. They answer every email addressed to them. If they are part of the hapless ‘cc’ brigade, they do not hesitate to intervene if and when a multilateral dialogue on the mails becomes either unproductive or political in nature.

Somehow, they always find the time to communicate face-to-face. They strongly believe that if something is worth communicating, it is surely worth over-communicating.

We would not find them coming up with knee-jerk solutions to problems. Dispassionate at heart, they have somehow mastered the technique of always maintaining their equipoise, radiating positivity all around them.

Management can be learnt; leadership is basically inborn. The good news is that there are several leadership traits which can also be emulated and learnt.

Imbibing such traits needs a great deal of focus and sustained effort. The journey could well transform us into becoming better leaders, whose style would trickle down the organization. This would improve employee morale and behavioral consistency across the entire set up, thereby making the organization more effective.

 

 

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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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Businesses all over the world chase profits, and rightly so. However, when they do so at the cost of the planet we depend upon or by usurping the legitimate rights of communities they operate in, there is a cause for concern.

All professionals who care for probity in corporate lives, stand for sustainable living and detest relentless pursuit of profits would heartily welcome the recent initiative taken by some of our far-sighted business and community leaders. These leaders have pledged themselves to work on an alternate paradigm for business which puts people and planet alongside profits.

Planet, People and Profits

Known as The B Team, the initiative is a global nonprofit venture co-founded by Sir Richard Branson, and Jochen Zeitz in October 2012. It brings together international activists and business leaders to “make business work better”. The “B” in The B Team represents the need for a “Plan B” for Business. By implication, “Plan A” is the current framework in which corporates are driven by commercial greed alone.

Branson has stated that business has had many positive impacts on the world but needs to move away from a focus on immediate profit to one where it invests and operates for the long-term good of people and the planet. The B Team intends to achieve this vision by dividing an Agenda into Challenges, which will be acted upon and implemented by B Leaders in their own organizations.

Upon its formation, the group assembled a collection of young influencers and gathered feedback on where and how The B Team could have the most impact and pinpoint the roadblocks that prevent businesses from contributing to the greater good.

The B Leaders

On June 13th, 2013, at an event in London, the full list of sixteen B Leaders was announced:

  • Sir Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group comprising around 400 of its business entities, and Co Chair of The B Team.
  • Jochen Zeitz, Director of Kering and Chairman of its board’s Sustainable Development Committee; Co-Chair, The B Team. He has worked on the first-ever environmental profit and loss (EP&L) for Puma.
  • Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland is an international leader in sustainable development and public health. Under her leadership, the Brundtland Commission had defined the word ‘sustainable development’ in the 1980s. She served three terms as Prime Minister of Norway (1981, 1986–89, 1990–96), and has served as the Director General of WHO. She now serves as a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
  • Shari Arison, the owner of the Arison Group, is an America-born Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist and is one of Israel’s wealthiest women. She is the owner of several business companies, the largest among them being Bank Hapoalim. She also manages several philanthropic organizations which are subsidiaries of The Ted Arison Family Foundation.
  • Kathy Bushkin Calvin is President and CEO, United Nations Foundation. She joined the Foundation in 2003, following a diverse career in politics, journalism, public relations and business.
  • Arianna Huffington, Chair, President & Editor In Chief, The Huffington Post Media Group, is a Greek-American author and syndicated columnist. She is best known for her news website The Huffington Post.
  • Dr. Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British mobile communications entrepreneur and billionaire. He worked for several other telecommunications companies before founding Celtel. After selling Celtel in 2005 for $3.4 billion, he set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to encourage better governance in Africa. He also created the Mo Ibrahim Index, to evaluate nations’ performance.
  • Guilherme Peirão Leal is a Brazilian billionaire entrepreneur. He is the co-chairman of the Board of Directors of, and owns a 25% stake in, Natura, Brazil’s leading manufacturer and marketer of skin care, solar filters, cosmetics, perfumes and hair care products.
  • Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and chairman, of global telecommunications group, Econet Wireless. He currently serves on a number of international boards including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Advisory Board of the Counsel on Foreign Relations, the Africa Progress Panel, AGRA, the UN Sec General’s Advisory Boards for Sustainable Energy, and for Education.
  • Dr.  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a globally renowned Nigerian economist best known for her two terms as Finance Minister of Nigeria and for her work at the World Bank, including several years as one of its Managing Directors (October 2007–July 2011).
  • François-Henri Pinault, is a French business person and the CEO of Kering. He is the son of the company’s founder, businessman Francois Pinault. Often nicknamed ‘FHP’, he is also Director of Financière Pinault, as well as the President of Artémis’ executive board.
  • Paulus Gerardus Josephus Maria Polman is the CEO of the multinational Anglo-Dutch food and detergent company Unilever. He is committed to transforming Unilever, its customers as well as supply chain partners, into strict followers of sustainability.
  • Mary Therese Winifred Robinson served as the seventh and the first female President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Robinson returned to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and has set up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be ‘a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered and the marginalized across the world.’
  • Ratan Tata, KBE, an Indian business person of the Tata Group, a Mumbai-based salt to software conglomerate. He was the Chairman of the group from 1991-2012. Since 2012 he holds the position of Chairman Emeritus of the group which is an honorary and advisory position. The Tata Group and its companies & enterprises are perceived to represent India’s best-known global brand within and outside the country as per an ASSOCHAM survey.
  • Zhang Yue, Chairman and Founder, Broad Group of China, which is one of the few Chinese manufacturing companies that has been widely recognized for its green policies and commitment to countering climate change.
  • Professor Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi banker, economist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. As a professor of economics, he developed the concepts of micro-credit and micro-finance. These loans are given to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans.

Team B therefore draws upon a wide array of skills, whether from business or from social activism side. There is a geographical diversification in the choices made, thereby bringing on board a broad spectrum of regional perspectives.

Challenges Aplenty

All the members want to first start practicing before they start preaching. In other words, they intend to start making changes at their own organizations first and then start motivating others to follow suit.

In an interview on the website of B Team, Ratan Tata touches upon the need to curb corruption in the corporate world. He also points out that 66% of the stake in Tata Sons, the holding company of the group, is held by Tata trusts which eventually plough the earnings back into charity. There is increasing realization within the group that the trusts’ activities should now spread globally, no longer restricted to India alone.

In the days to come, one would watch with considerable interest the way things shape up for the Team B. One hopes that fostering of values at the work place would be taken up as a serious challenge, as would be the task of developing future leaders driven by a strong moral compass.

Green Shoots of Cleaner Businesses

In a dismal scenario where not a week passes without us hearing of some corporate scam or other and where the memory of Lehman Brothers is still fresh in our minds, some recent initiatives sound like green shoots which have the potential of changing the business scenario by modifying the ways in which profits are pursued, as also by utilizing the returns from business for the common good.

Formation of The Team B is one such laudable initiative. In 2006, the World Economic Forum launched its Partnering Against Corruption Initiative. It continues to make progress by roping in more and more corporates from across the world. Earlier, in 2003, UN members had signed its Convention against Corruption. As of June 2013, there are 167 countries, including the EU, which are a party to the same.

If these initiatives bear fruit, most responsible corporates the world over would perhaps be e-publishing their EP&Ls in not too distant a future. More significantly, we shall have the collective satisfaction of handing over a healthier planet to the coming generations!

(Related blogs that you might find of interest on this site:

  1. Getting a Moral Compass would be a Sound Business Strategy for India Inc.’ published on December 9, 2012.
  2. Bidding an adieu to Mr. Ratan Tata’ published on December 27, 2012
  3. What would our Business Leaders be like in 2025?’ published on January 27, 2013.
  4. Combating the Cancer of Corruption’ published on April 4, 2013.)

 

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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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Leadership is a much discussed virtue in management literature. However, like Peter Drucker says, there is no ideal type 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 goodies!LEADERS

There is no doubt 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 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? Several CEOs I spoke to said that 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. Also, it would be a more urbanized world. Thanks to the rise of a new global middle-class, society in general would have 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.

We could still be in for surprises, though. 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

Decision Making Under Higher Uncertainty

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.

I am not an expert in Econometrics, but could venture to guess that for those who are quantitatively inclined, advanced statistical tools would come in even more handy. I say so because there will be an overdose of data as well as information available to a business leader then. However, ultimately, his/her intuitive abilities – based on personal experiences in their formative years – would prove to be more valuable.

Sir Colin Marshall, the ex-Chairman of British Airways, transformed his organization into one of the premier customer 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.

Higher Trust in Instincts

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 turn, 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 the dense economic fog enveloping the business highways.

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 agree 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 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 multicultural team of followers would pose a challenge – irrespective of whether the situation demands a leadership which is ‘transactional’ or ‘transformational’.

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 Democratic Style

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.

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.

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

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.

And our time to start preparing the leaders of tomorrow starts now!

 

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