Mayuri K. Thakur
Researcher , Ex-Deputy Manager at Axis Bank Ltd.
Leadership literature is very vast, but still very few writings exploring the ethical, philosophical, psychological and spiritual aspects of leadership are available. This article focuses on the qualitative methodology involving the interpretation of wisdom, literature, and philosophical text of the Bhagvad Gita, to draw important leadership lessons for today’s organizations. (1) Among many concepts embedded in the Gita, leadership, an important facet emerges clearly but highlighted implicitly.
“The Bhagavad-Gita is the most systematic statement of spiritual evolution of endowing value to mankind. It is one of the most clear and comprehensive summaries of perennial philosophy ever revealed; hence its enduring value is subject not only to India but to all of humanity.”
The modern leadership concepts such as vision and mission, employee’s job satisfaction, motivation, and empowerment, excellence in work importance of ethical means in achieving righteous ends, attaining meaning and fulfillment at work, service before self, wellbeing of all beings, are all lucidly discussed in the Bhavad Gita. (1) Likewise, we find that many contemporary leadership constructs such as authentic leadership, servant leadership, and values based leadership, already discussed in the Bhagavad Gita thousands of years ago. The Bhagavad Gita is a non-sectarian spiritual text with a universal message. (1)
From Battlefield to Boardroom
It has been observed that the Bhagvad Gita is as relevant in the boardroom of the twenty-first century as it was on the battlefields of ancient times, within the compass of 18 dynamic chapters it unfolds the whole spectacles of human drama full of changes met, victories won, and freedom attained. (1). The Bhagavad Gita (a part of the great Indian epic – the Mahabharta) can be a powerful tool for change management and as a catalyst for organizational transformation. It teaches us how to harmonize the needs of the individual with the needs of the society., and by extension, how to harmonize the needs of employees and the organization. It employs an inside-out leadership development approach based on self-knowledge and self -mastery, the two highly important areas for practicing true self-leadership. The Gita is a non-sectarian spiritual text with a universal message. (1)
In the context of this paper the Gita which is the masterpiece of the Indian philosophy and psychology offers the potential concepts and different aspects of management including leadership. Noting its widespread appeal and popularity, Count Hermann Keyserling a German philosopher, hailed it as “ perhaps the most beautiful work of the literature of the world.” Mahatma Gandhi who referred to the Gita as his “spiritual dictionary scribed: “when disappointment stares me in the face, and all alone I see not one ray of light. I go back to the Bhagvad Gita . I find a verse here and a verse there and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies – and my life has been full of external tragedies – if they have no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita.” (1)
Old text, New Concept
Although traditionally interpreted as a religious –spiritual text, the Bhagvad Gita encompasses great practical leadership lessons for modern times. Peter Senge, one of the key management thinkers of our time, has quoted the Gita in two of his celebrated books, namely, Fifth Discipline and Presence. (1)
In Indian business organizations, in most cases, management theories are seemed to have been borrowed from those developed in the management field by western management thinkers. Interestingly, despite having voluminous ancient literature on administration and management of different kinds of projects, nothing has been taken seriously in managing the workers, particularly in the Indian context. It is a matter of common knowledge that Indian workers understand only Indian theories in Indian language. Hence, there is a need to build an Indian theory in leadership, for workers in the Indian business organization. In this context, the Gita which is the masterpiece of the Indian philosophy and psychology offers the potential concepts and different aspects of management including leadership. David Garvin, the former editor of the Harvard Business Review, once told, “In management, everything is retold”. His statement indicates that the ancient literature all over the world, explicitly or implicitly contains the principles of management i.e. managing the human relations.
It is in this context, the present study is an attempt to search through interpretation of the verses of the Gita process of human relations in managing the affairs of business. Among many concepts embedded in the Gita, leadership, an important facet comes out clearly but highlighted implicitly.
Empowerment through the Bhagvad Gita
Bhagavad Gita propounded the fundamentals of leadership in the form of empowerment, behavior modification, knowledge as a means to work, devotion as the catalytic agent to work and achievement of goal as the product of work.
The Bhagvad Gita is propounded on the battlefield (Kurukshetra), where both the armies (Kourava & Pandava) were arrayed. Standing there, Arjuna (one of the Pandava) saw in both the armies, his uncles, grand-uncles, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, cousins, son etc. He saw the members of his family, assembled on both sides. (2) He got de-motivated, not to kill his kinsmen. Hence he decided to not to wage the war. (2)
Here the situation is akin to that of a worker denying performed his duties. The situation de-motivates him and provokes him to not to perform his job/task. In this situation, the leadership of Krishna adopted strategies in such a manner that made him to wage a war. (2)
यदि मामप्रतीकारमशस्त्रं शस्त्रपाणयः।
धार्तराष्ट्रा रणे हन्युस्तन्मे क्षेमतरं भवेत्।।1.46।।
It would, indeed be better for me, if the sons of Dhritrashtra armed with weapons, killed me in battle, with me, while I will be unarmed and unresisting. (3)
Arjuna says, “If I turn away from the war, perhaps our opponents will also desist from it. Why will they fight, if we are determined not to fight? But even if, regarding us as their enemy, they zealously, armed with weapons kill me, that will indeed be in my own interest, as it will be a kind of repentance for the determination , which I had made, in the war to kill my preceptors, and I shall be purified of the sins. It means that if I do not wage war, I will escape sin and my race, will not be destroyed.”
He turns away from war, and sits down having laid down his bow and arrow. (3)
The Lord Krishna gave Arjuna a perfect advise –
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा तेसङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।।2.47।।
Your right is only to perform your duty, but never to claim its fruit. Do not be the cause of the fruit of action nor let your attachment be for inaction. (3)
Here Krishna make Arjuna understand the importance of his duties and outcome of performed duties. Your right is to perform your duty, you cannot claim the fruit of action, because you are not free in getting it, which is dispensed by the destiny. (3)
इति ते ज्ञानमाख्यातं गुह्याद्गुह्यतरं मया।
विमृश्यैतदशेषेण यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु।।18.63।।
“Thus has this knowledge (more secret than all secrets), been imparted to thee by Me. Having reflected over it fully, do as you think best.”
Here the term ‘Iti’ (thus) stands for refuge in the omnipresent Lord, Who dwells in the hearts of all beings. This teaching is more secret while the teaching of Karmayoga (Discipline of Action), is a mere secret. (4)
Here, the Lord told Arjuna, the more secret knowledge, in the form of surrender tells him, that the topic of refuge is full of devotion. So Krishna advises Arjuna, to reflect fully over His teaching and then do, as he best wishes. It shows, Krishna ‘s manifest intimacy, grace and benevolence, for him. (4)No-where Krishna forced or ordered Arjuna. He just advised him and asks to take his own decision.
अर्जुन उवाच नष्टो मोहः स्मृतिर्लब्धा त्वत्प्रसादान्मयाच्युत।
स्थितोऽस्मि गतसन्देहः करिष्ये वचनं तव।।18.73।।
“O Achyuta (Krishna), my delusion is destroyed and memory is gained through Your Grace. I stand firm, with my doubts dispelled and I shall act, according to your word.”
In the above few verses, the situation changed from – ‘not to wage a war to whatever you say I (Arjun) will follow’. Here, no-where leader ordered to his follower to perform his duties. Leader just advised his follower . Leader only make follower understand the importance of his duties and by his entire senses follower understands and accepts his duties.
Empowerment means delegation of power or duties. Employee’s empowerment is the process of providing managerial guidelines and then allowing them to make day to day decisions that affect their duties. Empowerment is giving liberty to perform one’s duties according to his own style.
In this modern era, corporate world needs to improve their working style for the sake of employee’s job satisfaction. Unsatisfied employees lead organization towards disaster. It leads to employee attrition as well. Lack of empowerment turns people towards disgrace, dissatisfaction, de-motivate them to work hard and so on. Bhagvad Gita, the masterpiece of the Indian philosophy and psychology offers the potential concepts and different aspects of management including leadership. Leadership is the ability of a manager to induce the subordinates to work with confidence and zeal. Bhagvad Gita teaches us how to come out from the state of detachment, dispassion, aloofness, unawareness, distress, delinquency towards duty, sorrow, and dejection to a state of perfection, clear understanding, engagement, wisdom, renewed strength, and triumph.