And I am still learning.
As a newly promoted manager, I had expected my mentor to give me valuable advice, do’s and don’ts and tips’n tricks on how to be an effective leader.
Instead, he just handed over to me a bulky well-thumbed book.
“Just read through this book and you will get all your answers. I have highlighted those verses which need your specific attention,” he said, smiling at my confusion.
To give a brief background on The Bhagavad Gita-:
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian philosophical literature. It presents the counsel of Krishna to Arjuna — two prominent leaders of the epic of Mahabharata. Mahabharata is the epic of the feud between two warring clans — the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
Before the battle of Kurukshetra, Krishna, who is a friend and the charioteer of Arjuna, drives the chariot to the middle of the battlefield, so Arjuna can observe his army and his enemies.
Seeing his own kinsmen lined up against to fight him, Arjuna trembles at the thought of killing them. Krishna cajoles Arjuna, “Nothing is higher than a war against evil. A warrior such as you should be pleased with such a war, as it leads to heaven.”
Krishna‘s discourses are described in the eighteen chapters of the Bhagavad Gita. At the end of his discourses, Krishna successfully convinces Arjuna to fight the battle of Kurukshetra.
Since I had nothing better to do (my new project was stated to start only next month), I pored over the book for the next seven days. An attempt which began half-heartedly soon became my passion and the Gita fueled my curiosity, enticing me to spend hours understanding its intricate nuances.
On the 8th Day, I got all my answers.
Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Lead by example
Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps, and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
— The Bhagavad Gita
Leaders derive their credibility, respect, and power from their unwavering commitment to walking the talk. This is because, if the leaders say something and do something else, the followers will not take the leader very seriously. Rather, they will do a similar thing as their leader and nothing else.
Therefore, Krishna warns Arjuna that he needs to lead by example. If a leader is weak-willed and lack courage in making proper decisions, the team will just blindly follow the leader leading to disastrous consequences.
Therefore, every leader should first strengthen his own self and make it free of all weaknesses, only then he can be a good role model for others. According to the Bhagavad Gita, it is not possible to become an effective leader if the leader does not understand his or her own self, and does not understand his or her own potential and purpose.
Set a good example and follow it to the book. Your team will use you as a benchmark and try to exceed you. Great culture starts always at the top.
Be Resilient in all situations
One has to learn tolerance in the face of dualities such as happiness and distress, or cold and warmth, and by tolerating such dualities become free from anxieties regarding gain and loss
— The Bhagavad Gita
One of the biggest problems that leaders face is their inability to take bad outcomes as it unfolds at times. When everything goes well the leadership is fine. However, the moment some unexpected things happen (such as losing something significant, a defeat of one kind or the other etc.) they just lose their balance.
This is a problem that requires a solution of managing the world “within” the leader and not the “world outside”. According to Lord Krishna, the world is full of dualities, it will blow hot and cold and we will experience joy and happiness as well as some unpleasant moments
Likewise, build a culture which encourages resilience within the team. Not everything can be hunky dory and life can never be always a bed of roses. We can have situations which go beyond our control and may create a feeling of despair and frustration within the organization.
The Bhagavad Gita says that we should not be overtly excited in good times and overtly depressed in bad times. Keeping a composed mindset at all times helps us to achieve more peace and happiness in our lives.
Value your Team
If the result of sincere effort is a success, the entire credit should not be appropriated by the doer alone. If the result of sincere effort is a failure, then too the entire blame does not accrue to the doer.
— The Bhagavad Gita
The eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita culminates with an important lesson for effective leadership; this lesson is about leadership renunciation.
The Gita defines renunciation as abstaining from selfish acts (sannyasa in Sanskrit). The definition of renunciation, according to the Bhagavad Gita, suggests that leaders must practice selfless giving and strive for the common good.
You may have glowing success as a leader but always remember you are not the only doer. You are a leader only because of your team and credit needs to be shared where it is due. Power tends to corrupt leaders and it blindfolds them to the need to understand the importance of selfless giving. Practice servitude and compassion to be an effective leader.
Lord Krishna says this very clearly to Arjuna when he asks him to abandon his ego as a famed archer and think about himself only as “one of the many soldiers” fighting the battle.
If we win, credit goes to all. If we lose, all share the blame.
Bringing it all together
It has been a long time since then and the grapevine tells me that I had been a good leader so far.
The Bhagavad Gita stays with me all the time and whenever in doubt, I flip through its well-thumbed pages seeking hidden nuggets of wisdom. Today is getting better and tomorrow needs to get even better and the Gita helps me to do precisely that.
As Beautifully told in the Gita:
Look to this day,
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truths
And realities of your existence;
The bliss of growth
The glory of action, and
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes
Every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salvation of the dawn.
— The Bhagavad Gita
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