I have been greatly inspired by Ancient Indian Knowledge System as such and more specifically by Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Therefore I suggested that I would share some thoughts from the Gita, particularly on leadership. We are in a situation today that the greatest scarcity we have in this country is leadership. We have seen improvements in educational standard, new avenues for education, several new opportunities, new material resources etc. We seem to have everything but I think what is in scarcity is leadership. Therefore I feel it is important to talk about this topic today in the context of whatever is happening. What I found in Bhagvad Gita is some interesting set of ideas on leadership. Today I have chosen to take two contrasting ideas from Bhagvad Gita on leadership and share with you. The first message is what can cause failed leadership? There is no better place to understand this than Bhagvad Gita. In fact the entire preaching of Bhagvad Gita started there because a great warrior Arjuna, all of a sudden, collapsed in the middle of the battlefield like a pack of cards. What happens when leadership fails? How can leadership at all fail? That’s the first part of story that I want to narrate and the second part is “What are the elements of good leadership?”
Leadership – Today’s Context
I will start with the context for leadership. What are some of the broad challenges that we are going through? At an individual level there is an issue which all over the world people talk about. In the nutshell, people in a number of working scenarios, be it a University, or multinational corporation, or government and even temple or at home, often complain that they are deprived of meaning at their work place. This is very loud message that is coming today. We seem to spend a lot of time in our work place. In fact in all these multinational companies people go to work at about 8 O’ clock in morning and do not know when they come back, perhaps it may be 10 O’clock. Still they do not find meaning. Many American managers are apparently saying, “give us less money but more meaning”.
The second message we often keep hearing today, especially in the western societies, is that people prefer time affluence over money affluence now. They have reached the stage now that working professionals are saying, “give us less salary, but give us more time with family. Give us little more time so that I can do other things of interest in my life.” Every time I hear management researchers talking about this, I wonder what really is happening in today’s workplace.
Let us turn our attention towards organizational issues. There was a research conducted sometime back on “How long will companies live?” This research conducted by an Executive Director of the Royal Dutch Shell Company, culminated in a book. The book titled, “The Living Company”, which was published about 15 years back had some interesting things to share. According to that research, the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company was only 40 years. Compare this with the average life expectancy of every one of us in India today, which is about 78 ‐79 years. What was more disturbing was that one third of Fortune 500 companies listed in 1970 disappeared in 1983. In some sense, in a matter of 13 years they became the most unfortunate that they had to perish. Another information in the book showed that 40% of all newly created companies die within 10 years. This is the best example for infant mortality. It is hard to imagine that a number of organizations cannot even survive beyond 10 years.
So what are we doing? What is the issue here? Of course the book talks in some details in terms of why it is happening. Most importantly the research pointed out that the workplace is not at all interesting. There is cynicism, too much of control and stress that stifles imagination, it doesn’t promote imagination. The backdrop of management research & practice is such that we do not even know how to make our company live long. This is the management that we have understood and we are teaching. Individual seems to have problem, company seems to have problem because they are not able to live long.
This is an excerpt from the Eighth Vedanta Vacaspati Justice Radha Nath Pukhan Memorial Lecture delivered in Guwahati on March 1, 2015 by Prof. B. Mahadevan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
B. Mahadevan, a Professor at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, is currently the Vice Chancellor of Chinmaya Vishwavidyapeeth. The ideas expressed in the article are the author’s personal views. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org