Column: Freedom Fighters & Bhagavad Gita – Defining Leadership (Part -2)

Friday, August 05 2016, 10:36 AM
R. C. Dutt, the man who wrote the two volumes of 'The Economic History of India' also translated Mahabharat in English.

The impact of Bhagavad Gita was clear when he said "I think it's better to fight and fail than not to fight at all; but in this industrial movement I believe we are destined to fight and to conquer. I have no patience with my country men throw up their hand in despair, and declare all is lost". He had demonstrated transactional leadership.

The modern Western management concepts of vision, leadership, motivation, excellence in work, goal achievement, meaningful work, decision making and planning, are all discussed in the Bhagavad Gita. However, while Western management too often deals with problems at the material, external and peripheral levels, the Bhagavad Gita tackles the issues from the grass roots level of human thinking. Once the basic thinking of humans is improved, it will automatically enhance the quality of their actions.

Before I am accused of being conservative, unscientific in approach let me share with you that in a recent article in New York based Business Week magazine said that Bhagavad Gita is the favored text in US for ideas about leadership.

Sessions on corporate learning's from Bhagavad Gita have been conducted for members of the Young Presidents' Organization, at the Wharton School, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists in Rye, at Lehman Brothers Inc.

By applying a list of common traits of leadership in one's life one cannot become leaders. To become leaders young people need opportunities to reflect deeply on the context in which they must lead and ignite the spark within themselves. Bhagavad Gita provides lessons for living in harmony with the world and with one's conscience too. Bhagavad Gita gives the courage to take the first, difficult steps – the wisdom that Krishna gave to Arjun. Krishna is the best leader. He has no interests, no position, no power. He stands for certain values of life and wants to destroy all those who make other suffer.  

Our freedom fighters understood this and acted accordingly and became outstanding leaders. Not only freedom fighters but also business leaders of that time looked upto Bhagavad Gita. G D Birla began his day with a recitation of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. It was this understanding which made Birla, encourage other Indian businessmen to enter the jute business along with him. Walchand bailed out small Indian shippers wherever and whenever he could. Lalbhai helped other mill owners in Ahmedabad improve the quality of their cotton mills. Here these leaders demonstrated Transformational leadership.

Swaraj Paul has taken great learning from Bhagavad Gita. Sanjay Lalbhai's comment on his learning's from Bhagavad Gita while persuading 23 international banks to restructure over Rs 2,000 crore is well documented. He says "I was in an impossible situation and at that point, the ideas of nishkam karma really helped me fight the stress and find peace," he says. "Good and bad fortune are a matter of time, the Bhagavad Gita tells us, and you need to stay driven while detaching yourself from the outcome. It's a philosophy that has guided my work."  

It is important to know that Krishna did not alter the situation. He did not order the situation to change. Krishna did not bring new allies or forces for Arjuna. He merely talked to Arjuna, thereby lifting him out of his mental confusion. When Arjuna was mentally upset, he wanted to run away from the situation. He became pessimistic, with no hope of success. He wanted to run away in a panic. But once the mind became quiet and calm, though the situation remained the same, Arjuna found a new courage and confidence within himself. He rediscovered the efficiency and declared to Krishna, "Certainly I will face this problem".

Videocon Group Chairman, Venugopal Dhoot spends two hours everyday reading the Bhagavad Gita,". He says "The Bhagavad Gita has taught me the importance of work and how not to get attached to it. It has also helped me to relax and reduce stress levels."

"Bhagavad Gita a is the only book which talked about how to work and how to live life." says Swati Piramal.

No wonder, corporate calendars brought out by some of India's leading companies — Reliance, the AV Birla group — often come laced with Sanskrit quotations from Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Gita makes a penetrating analysis of the qualities of a leader and of leadership role. Bhagavad Gita provides us with ideal concepts of leadership.

In his ‘21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ John Maxwell presented the idea that Leadership can be described as a set of principles that can be learned and applied. When practices align with these principles, leadership is effective. In his book ‘Principle-centered Leadership’ Stephen Covey takes this a step further. Not only are the practices, or the "how" of leadership governed by principles, but the actual direction and goal of leadership, or the "what" and "where", are also subject to universal principles.

Bhagavad Gita describes these fundamental universal principles – the underlying framework of the universe that reflects the purpose of the universal architect. Leaders who align their practices with these principles will be effective leaders. Leaders who align their goals and the goals of the organizations they steward with these principles will be authentic leaders – leaders who are empowered to create a better world. Leadership is absolutely crucial. As the oft-repeated saying has it: "everything rises or falls on leadership". Failures or lack of leadership can be found at the root of most of the problems. At this present moment in time, with so many social and environmental indices tottering toward the red line, the world is crying out not just for effective leadership, but for authentic leadership. Bhagavad Gita contains the timeless principles that will empower leaders to be effective and authentic leaders. The greatest need at this point in time is for those people who have been called to lead to step forward and take up the Service of Leadership.

Bhagavad Gita speaks on many levels about many different things. This is the nature of scripture – it is purnam, or complete. Viewed from different angles it reveals itself in different ways. The University of Oklahama in the United States has included a research work on managerial aspects drawn from the Mahabharata in the syllabus. A manager at Sprint Nextel Corp. has penned the inevitable how-to guide: Bhagavad Gita on Effective Leadership.

Leadership is not merely a set of tools and techniques but it transcends much beyond into the vale system, beliefs, attitudes and cultural patterns of individuals, groups and organization. Bhagavad Gita provides ways and means of leading people.  

The author of this column Sandeep Singh is a graduate from Rourkela Ispat College, Rourkela and post Graduate in Rural development from XISS, Ranchi. He later pursued an Executive General Management from IIM Banglore. After working in corporate sector for over a decade, he is now pursuing research and writing in the area of Indian Management Thinking and Practice. Published in March 2008, his first book ‘Business of Freedom’ explored management lessons from India’s freedom struggle. It was published in 2008. His next book ‘Indian School of Management – in Practice’ aims to explore the ‘elements’ of business as practiced by Indian entrepreneurs spread across industry in India and put them in points, grids, matrix, charts etc.