Gita and its Challenges of Leadership

One of the most interesting topics that I had the privilege to speak on in
the New Year has been on ‘Gita as a perennial source of leadership’, at a
conference, organized by the School of Management Studies, Varanasi.

A galaxy of speakers from government, academia and manufacturing industry
spouted Sanskrit shlokas and pearls of wisdom and for once, there was more to
get than give in this unique event.

At first glance, it would seem that there is very little for modern
management to learn from the old scriptures, since management can be construed
as being all about "managing" or making do with available resources
and operating constraints, both internal and external. But the Bhagavad Gita is
all about realization of ultimate truths. In fact, the Arthashastra, which
defines performance ethics and the Vedas, particularly the Rig Veda, provide
better guidelines to the process of management and even leadership. It is
amusing that the Arthashastra even prescribes when a king should relax,
probably worth learning for globe-trotting IT CEOs!

is amusing that the Arthashastra even prescribes when a king should
relax, probably something worth learning for globe-trotting

The Mahabharata itself is a lesson in the art and science of leadership and
followership. As Prof Pritam Singh of MDI puts it, "One of the essential
keys to the triumph of the Pandava army was the willingness of the five heroes
to fight under a lesser mortal as leader, whereas leadership squabbles were rife
in the Kaurava camp.

However, there are a few eternal truths that the Gita provides that would
serve us well in this fast changing environment. First is the Yoga of action,
which prescribes unselfish and detached action and the performance of duty,
unaffected by personal desire or motive. The success stories of F C Kohli,
Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji in placing their companies and the industry
itself in its current position of pre-eminence have shown the value of action
and making things happen rather than waiting for or watching occurrences.

In an industry, where knowledge management is seen as the key to learning and
success, and reusable code and solution blueprinting frameworks are becoming
standards for productivity and process improvement, the virtues of moving up the
data-information-knowledge-wisdom value chain cannot be over emphasized. The
role of leadership in the IT industry today is all about mentoring, knowledge
dissemination and use and institution building and there is much to learn from
ancient Indian wisdom on these topics.

An interesting insight from Meera Uberoi’s book on the Mahabharata is the
definition of the characteristics of good kings and good ministers. "He is
the best of kings who has wisdom, who is possessed of liberality, who is ready
to take advantage of the weaknesses of his foes, who is prompt in action, who
has his wealth under control, who is not vindictive, and who vigorously pursues
to completion all works commenced by him." And "The king’s minister
should be competent in directing wars, making treaties, he should be
intelligent, possessed of courage, modest and capable of keeping secrets."

What does this imply for the building of management teams? That strong
leaders will be successful only if they are supported by management councils or
leadership teams that can take the company’s vision forward.

Moving on to overall leadership for the ICT sector in the global arena, the
time has come for a concerted government—academia—industry partnership to
ensure that India retains its competitive edge in both IT and BPO and also
assumes leadership in emerging fields like Nanotechnology and Bio Informatics.

There are wonderful academicians like Dr Vijay Bhatkar, Prof Ashok Kolaskar
and Prof Jajoo who can become thought leaders through their excellent
institutions and it will take nothing short of a complete revamp of educational
curricula and pedagogy to convert at least 20% of India’s graduates to truly
worthy entrants to India’s information technology industry.

The author is deputy chairman & managing director of Zensar Technologies
and chairman of Nasscom’s SME Forum for Western India.

Ganesh Natarajan

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