Corporate Management - Leadership secrets from the Mahabharata
by Aalif Surti
Mahabharata, one of the greatest epics of all times, is not just the story of a fratricidal war or a fount of wisdom for philosophers, it is also a comprehensive manual on strategy. The analogy between kingship and leadership and the application of kingship to modern business practices, makes Vyasa’s epic poem a pertinent handbook on management. According to some, Mahabharata falls in the same league as other management bibles such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Prince by Machiavelli and Go Rin No Sho (The book of five Rings) by Miyamoto Mushasi.
Meera Uberoi, poet, painter and writer, has culled management insights from the Mahabharata in her book, Leadership Secrets from the Mahabharata (Penguin).
The knowledge imbibed from the Santi Parva, the Bhagavad Gita Parva and the Adi Parva from the epic, and some selected verses, stand codified in the book under different chapters: duty, war, spy, friend, foe, finance, conduct and counsellors.
a king can easily cross the oceans of the world with kingly duties as his boat, urged on by the breeze of gifts, with the scriptures as the tackle, intelligence as its helmsman and kept afloat by the power of righteousness.
To ascertain the successful delegation of one’s duties, at first the means to it needs to be secured. The means are the resources like manpower and wealth, appointment of a skillful employee or a clever transaction of business makes all that difference.
A king who is compassionate to all creatures, who never loses time by procrastination and who is careful in protecting his own self, succeeds in advancement.
The enjoyments of good things after sharing them with others, paying proper honour to the ministers and subjugation of persons intoxicated with strength are said to constitute the duties of a king.
victory acquired by battle is very inferior.
Having started (a war), he should see the act to the end.
A king should acquire a large army consisting of four kinds of forces: infantry, cavalry, chariot and elephant warriors. But he should first seek to accomplish what he desires through peace.
A king should first subdue himself and then seek to subdue his foes.
if by slaying a single individual a family can be saved, if by slaying a single family a village can be saved, and if by slaying a village a kingdom can be saved, such acts of slaughter are not transgressions.
Kingdoms in which anarchy prevails cannot exist. They are afflicted from without and the inhabitants devour one another. No one should dwell in a kingdom torn by anarchy.
A king should, without doubt, look upon the subjects as his children. In determining their disputes, however, he should not show compassion.
That king who, even when overcome with danger and fear, still keeps his eyes on the duties of all men, earns the merit of the people.
A person who serves the king cannot (with impunity) be guilty of heedlessness in doing the king’s work.
A friend whose joy knows no bounds upon beholding the aggrandisement of the king and who is miserable at the king’s fall is the best of all friends of the king.
It may be possible that in a matter of time, a friend becomes a foe and a foe becomes a friend, for this reason everyone should be trusted and also mistrusted.
The boon that a friend can become, a foe is capable of the same intensity of treachery. A king cannot ignore a foe, however weak, for “a spark of fire can produce a conflagration and a particle of poison can kill”.
Kings may have many friends as also many enemies. However, he should ascertain who are friends and who are foes.
one who is allied with foes and who does not regard the interests of the king’s subjects should be known as enemy.
No foe should be neglected through disdain.
A king should always be ready to strike, taking advantage of the foe’s weaknesses and hiding his own.
Kings must ascertain the strength and weakness of all friends and foes and learn to distinguish between right and wrong.
a foe that is disregarded, rises and strikes at the proper season, especially when his enemy makes a false step.
In his court, the king should have preceptors and mighty bowmen, persons skilled in architecture, astronomers and astrologers, physicians and men of wisdom and learning.
The kingdom has its roots in the counsels of policy that flow from its ministers and its growth proceeds from the same source.
Like the tortoise protecting its limbs by withdrawing them into its shell, ministers should protect their own counsel.
In all matters of importance, the king should appoint persons who have their senses under control.
A king should never disclose counsels to a minister who is not devoted to him.
A king who is mindful only of the means of acquiring profit never succeeds in acquiring either merit or wealth.
A king that has never been afflicted with calamity can never have prosperity.
The treasury is the root of felicity in heaven and victory on earth.
The one with the profit motive alone can never acquire either wealth or merit. If desirous of prosperity, a king should adopt all arts—humility, conciliation, bowing his head, inspiring hope and the like.
The mantle of counsellors should be chosen quite intelligently for the policies flow and proceed from this source.
One who seeks to govern steeds without the proper methods only succeeds in enraging them.
A king’s acts should lead to his own benefit as well as that of others.
A king desirous of prosperity should always act with prudence, adopting measures to suit time and place. It is well known that time and place when taken into consideration, always produce the greatest good.
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 conversant with what is bad for each of the four orders of his subjects, who is prompt in action, who has his wealth under control, who is not vindictive, who is high-minded, who is not irascible by disposition, who is not given to boasting, and who vigorously pursues to completion all the work commenced by him.
Courtesy: Leadership Secrets from the Mahabharata, by Meera Uberoi, Penguin Books, Rs 125.
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