Leadership Instructions from an Ancient Indian Classic


Shore Break Beautiful

Anybody who is in a leadership role is shaped by his or her history and culture and in turn also creates the culture. It’s not an either or process. Someone who evolves out of a certain milieu carries the nuances of that milieu or that culture and, in turn, he will trans-create, he will impact the culture. In an increasingly globalized world, how does one reconcile the different attitudes — shaped by history, culture, economics and other factors — toward leadership and justice?

This is looking at globalization largely from the American economic perspective. There are many different kinds of globalization. There was a globalized world when there was no demarcation between countries and when there were no passports. Ideas have no geographies. Jagdish Chandra Bose in India invented the radio around the same time or even before Guglielmo Marconi invented it in Italy, but Bose did not get the credit for it while Marconi did. Just because the motor car was first put in motion in America doesn’t mean that the technology belongs to America. It belongs to the world. Or take gravity, which was discovered by Isaac Newton….Any discovery process is just putting a name to what already is.

If anybody wants to do business in India, they have to study The Gita because most Indian CEOs swear by Gita. Starting from Mukesh Ambani [chairman and managing director of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries] down to virtually any CEO, if you ask them what is the one leadership book that has made the deepest impact; they will say it is The Gita.

Do they actually follow the principles of The Gita? Why there is so much corruption that one sees in the corporate world?

Well, there is counter question: The Ten Commandments have been around for such a long time. Do people follow them? The Gita is the deep structure of any Indian corporate leader, whether he follows it or not. One expression from The Gita — be committed to your work and not the results — is universally accepted in India. Every household in the country has read about it and while the terminology may be specific to India, the principles are universal.

There is an extraordinary amount of information overload that we carry in our heads today. Never before has the swarm of information hit us so badly. And alongside that, there is emotional turmoil. We are constantly in the "watch" mode. As a result, the pressure on the human psyche is huge. For leaders to make sense of this overload and see what is critical becomes the number one global skill. You also need to look at the rapid discontinuities that are taking place in technology. Leaders need greater adaptability skills to gear up and change themselves and their organizations. The corporate CEO, who is taking on turmoil of the proportions of a battle and is not able to handle the pressure, requires another kind of consciousness. So, leaders of today need to adapt to another kind of consciousness where they are able to take in a lot more. Their neural architecture has to be reshaped differently. This means that their consciousness of their world has to amplify. This requires another stage of evolution and I think The Gita is a book of evolution. People should look at this book again very closely.

The point is that there is nothing called ‘work versus life’. Life does not present itself in compartments, as the mind does. The mind is constantly preoccupied. So when we talk of work-life balance, you are fundamentally talking about your preoccupation with work when you are at home and your preoccupation with home when you are at work. The solution is that if your occupation is clouded by your preoccupation, you are not really doing your work — whatever work it may be. The challenge is how you deal with your preoccupations. Take away your preoccupation from your occupation, which means that you deal with your emotional overload and integrate your life well. Then the balance will be automatically restored in your life. One needs to see life in its unity and not compartments.

Anyone who has a block against the Hindu religion or India should not find it preventing him from appreciating the principles that cross geographies, cultural frontiers and also time barriers.

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