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By V Pradeep Kumar

The Ancient Hindu epic contains profound lessons for those in the leadership role that can be applied to the modern-day battle ground—the corporate world

The Mahabharata (ie, The Great War) is an epic narrative of ancient India about the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes. A careful study of the scripture teaches us important lessons from the perspective of leadership. Lord Krishna is an avatar (reincarnation) of Lord Vishnu and is a highly popular and respected Hindu deity, synonymous with great intelligence, communication skills, love and affection, and the capability to resolve any crisis faced by his devotees. In modern parlance, Lord Krishna can be best described as ‘The Greatest Crisis Manager’ the world has ever seen.

Through the pages of the Mahabharata, many diverse characters impress us with their resilience in the face of adversity. However, Lord Krishna, as a central character, time and again comes across as a master strategist and tactful leader adopting different leadership styles according to the situation and people he had to deal with. Let us look at some well known anecdotes from the epic to illustrate this point.

1.The one about Bheema and Jarasandh: The story is about the fight between Bheema and Jarasandha in the presence of Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Jarasandha picks Bheema as one worthy to fight with. Bheema and Jarasandha fight for days, matching each other. Every time Bheema kills Jarasandha, miraculously, Jarasandha’s body recovers. Bheema, realising that Jarasandha was more than an equal match, looks up to Lord Krishna for direction. Lord Krishna, who knew the story of Jarasandha’s birth, picks up a stick, breaking it in two halves and throws the two halves far away from each other and in opposite directions.

Bheema understands and throws Jarasandha to the ground, and splits his body in two. He then throws the two halves of Jarasandha’s body far away from each other in opposite directions, killing him. While Bheema is credited with superhuman strength unmatched by any of his brothers, he is known to be sensitive and short tempered, with a huge appetite. Lord Krishna appropriately uses an authoritative style of leadership in this instance.

2.The one about Arjuna’s reluctance: During the Kurukshetra war with the Kauravas, Lord Krishna takes the reins as Arjuna’s charioteer. On seeing a reluctant Arjuna unwilling to fight and destroy his own relatives in the war, Lord Krishna advises Arjuna in the nature of a discourse called the Bhagavad Gita about the responsibilities of a soldier and the finer and broader aspects of human life. Arjuna was a sensitive but extremely thoughtful, righteous person with a great sense of duty. The tactful Krishna, understanding Arjuna’s personality, uses the directive style of leadership effectively, persuading Arjuna to begin the war.

3.The one about Bhishma and Shikandi: Lord Krishna, being a great supporter of the Pandavas, does not spare even Bhishma and manages to find a way to tackle the veteran general of the Kauravas, who had led the war for the first nine days, causing extensive damage to the army of the Pandavas. Bhishma had a towering personality befitting kings—a true soldier and a great warrior; as strong as steel in character, symbolic of truth and duty and extremely humane. He was invincible and blessed to choose the manner and time of his death. Lord Krishna takes Yudhisthira to Bhishma seeking the secret to becoming victorious in the war. Bhishma, aware that the Pandavas truly deserved to win the battle, tells Yudhisthira the secret of overcoming him as a prelude to winning the war (ie, he would not aim at a woman). Bhishma, thus confronted by Shikandi (a transgender woman who had undergone surgery to become a man) on the 10th day of the war refuses to consider him as a man and throws down his bow and arrows, choosing not to fight. Lord Krishna, thus uses an influential style of leadership and tackles Bhishma by making him, the General of the enemy front, an ally by using subtle diplomacy.

4.The one about Drona and Ashwatthaama: Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, was the very embodiment of Satya (truth) and Dharma (righteousness). When the Kauravas’ guru and General, Drona, was leading the battle, tactful Lord Krishna uses Yudhisthira cleverly. Drona was unconquerable and was devastating the army of the Pandavas. Lord Krishna realises that the only way to get rid of Drona was by exploiting his weakness for his son—Ashwatthaama. Lord Krishna tell the Pandavas that the only way to kill Drona is to convey to him that his son Ashwatthaama is dead. Understanding that Drona can only believe this story if Yudhisthira says it, everyone looks at Yudhisthira to take up the responsibility. Yudhisthira accepts the responsibility and says, “Ashwatthaama hathaha (Ashwatthaama dead)”, but his conscience remains somewhat unblemished as he averts killing Ashwatthaama, getting an elephant called Ashwatthaama killed instead. The word ‘elephant’ gets lost in the din of the battle and Drona only hears “Ashwatthaama hathaha. A disheartened Drona gives up the weapons and dies in the battle. Lord Krishna thus achieves the objective of eliminating Drona by using a participative leadership style to prepare Yudhisthira to accept the responsibility of telling a half truth.

Lord Krishna was thus a great pragmatic and clever leader, using the resources of men and material most efficiently and proactively. A leader in the corporate world attempts to do exactly the same, as increasingly, businesses are getting more people oriented. Therefore, there is great potential and opportunity to gain wisdom by drawing examples from our great epics and use them as our guiding philosophy in the corporate world, as well as, in our day to day lives. A corporate leader is a visionary working towards the well being of all stakeholders, while also trying to remain on the righteous path (dharma).


The author is Executive Director, Mother India Farms, and author of ‘Simple is Difficult’, a guidance book for management professionals

This article was published in the April 2016 issue of Pure & Eco India

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