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Bhagwat Gita On Leadership

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Bhagavad Gita on Leadership in organizations

"I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson1

Mahabharata2 is one of the major ancient Indian Sanskrit epics. At roughly seventy four thousand verses, it is one of the longest epic poems in the world. It is also of immense religious and philosophical importance in India, in particular for including the Bhagavad Gita, an important text of Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita3 is a philosophical text that has had an immense influence on most Indians. It is considered by some to contain within itself the summary of the Indic philosophy as expounded in Vedas and Upanishads. Having read expositions of the text by Gandhi and others I have gleaned a lot of leadership lessons from it. I believe that looking at organizational leadership through the lens of Gita can be very enlightening. So, I will talk about what I see as the most important lessons for leadership in organizations seen through the lens of Bhagavad Gita.

Context of Gita2: Pandavas are 5 brothers, sons of Pandu. Also, Kauravas are one hundred brothers who are sons of Dhritrashtra. Both clans belong to the Bharata Dynasty and share a common paternal grandfather who was the ruler of a major Kingdom in India. Kauravas have been evil rulers and have through deceit taken away the just share of the kingdom from Pandavas. After negotiations completely fail, Pandavas and Kauravas agree to meet in the battlefield to make the decision. Here Arjuna who is of the Pandava clan can be seen as the leader of the organization fighting for the people. Although Arjuna is not the commander of the army he is the real leader. When they reach the battlefield, Arjuna is filled with remorse and asks Krishna (considered by Hindus to be incarnation of God) his charioteer as to why should he fight and kill his own brothers. Krishna at this point gives him lessons on reason for fighting evil and also what real leadership is. Bhagavad Gita is this set of lessons as given by Krishna on the battlefield.

One of the first leadership lessons that Krishna gives is the necessity for a leader to sometimes take hard decisions for the greater good of the organization. In this scenario, Arjuna is the leader who is fighting for the people of his kingdom to help them escape the clutches of evil rulers. Krishna tells Arjuna that a leader sometimes faces a dilemma where he has to take a decision for the greater good of the organization, but may harm those who have been very close to him. A leader has to take the difficult decision in order to rid the organization of its negative aspects. Arjuna is faced with a similar dilemma on the battlefield and Krishna helps him face the issues.

Krishna explains that a great leader has to excel in adversity. It is the situation which reveals a leader's real character. That is why Gita is set in the middle of adversity where Krishna's lessons enable Arjuna to rise up to the challenge. Lesson: Leaders need to face adversity to grow into great leaders. Handling of adversity is what separate great leaders from others.

Krishna then tells Arjuna that his attachment to his family is not allowing him to see purpose of his leadership, which is to leave a legacy for his people and clan and allow them to live in peace and harmony out of the clutches of his evil brothers. He asks him to separate himself from his ego and stop thinking in terms of "I, me and mine" To achieve his true leadership potential, he needs to lead with not his but his organization's interest at heart. This is also essence of servant leadership5, where the leader becomes the servant of his organization and stops worrying about his place, rank or selfish interests; he achieves his potential as leader. Lesson: A leader needs to let go of his own personal "I, me and mine "thinking and become the true servant of the organization and become a great leader. In other words, become a purpose driven leader rather than self-interest driven leader.

Chapter 2: Verse 27:3 "Your right is to work only; but never to its fruits thereof. May you not be motivated by the fruits of actions; nor let your attachment be towards inaction" Here again Krishna gives a great lesson on leadership. What he is pointing out here is that if a leader focuses too much on the reward that he is going to get from his position and actions then he will never become a great leader. To become a great leader one needs to let go of attachment to personal gains from his actions and become the true servant of the organization. A leader needs to only focus on his actions and its effect on the organization that is being led. Paradoxically, by focusing only on the higher purpose of success of the organization, and not on own success, the leader becomes a great leader. The other thing to note here is that Krishna specifically says that a leader cannot be attached to inaction either. Only action driven people can become great leaders. Lesson: Leaders should focus on leadership actions and responsibilities and not on the potential rewards from their positions.

Krishna also explains that it is attachment to the rewards of action that is the reason for a person not reaching the highest state of consciousness. So, Arjuna asks as to why he should even take action for the easiest way to get away from the negatives of attachment to the actions is to follow the path of inaction and do nothing. At this point Krishna gives Arjuna another important leadership lesson by explaining the path of karma yoga, or path of action to higher state of consciousness. He explains that he cannot attain excellence through inaction. In fact, Krishna says, that person who restrains his actions and "sits revolving in the mind thoughts regarding sense objects, he or she, of deluded understanding, is called hypocrite"3 (Chapter 3 Verse 6). He goes on further to explain to Arjuna that this world is bound by actions and thus the better way to attain supreme state of consciousness is through action devoid of attachment. Quoting Gita4 - "Therefore do thou ever perform without attachment the work that thou must do; for performing action without attachment man attains the supreme." Lesson: Excellence cannot be reached through inaction and attachment to desires of actions can obscure the purpose of leadership. Thus, action with detachment to personal rewards is the path to great leadership.

In the Chapter 4 verse 18, while explaining when is the right time to act, Krishna gives another great lesson of leadership. Krishna says 2"One who sees



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