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Management Lesson~

from the Bhagavad Gita
B MAHADEVAN

Introduction training, we have hardly made significant
Modern management practices and progress in addressing some of the vexing
theories were developed during the last 150 issues. These include, among others, dealing
years, ever since the industrial organisations with people around us, understanding what
of the West began to get established. It is a motivates oneself, doing one's work in the
pop~lar belief that globally renowned corpora- most efficientmanner, making leaders for 'high
tions adopt best practices and manage their performance' organisation and creating organi-
organisations very well. Against this backdrop sations that can live long. On the other hand,
consider the following statistics about how we often notice that there is a disconnect
organisations are managed according to a between quality of life at large and work life.
study made in 1997. In his book, The Living We also have serious issues about sustenance
Company, 1 Geus mentioned that most large and of firms and the environment in the long run.
apparently successful corporations are Given this state of affairs, it indeed
profoundly unhealthy. According to the study, impels one to look for alternative paradigms
the average life expectancy of Fortune 500 for better management practices. The goal of
companies was 40-50 years. One-third of this article is to st:iIr'ulatethinking in the minds
companies listed in Fortune 500 in 1970 of management rest:archers and practitioners
vanished by 1983 and 40% of all newly created the enormous potential that ancient Indian
companies last less than 10 years. Such a high literature has in suggesting better alternatives
rate of infant mortality of organisations point for management. We will explore some aspects
to primitive stages of management that we are of these from one of the sacred spiritual texts
in today. of ancient times, viz., Srimad Bhagavad Gita-a
If we conduct a survey of managers of text for spiritual progress and self realization.
modern corporations we may infer that Through this article we do not hazard to
managers in these organisations experience undermine the primary objective of this holy
stress, struggle for power and control, cynicism text nor do we advocate a self-study mode
and a work environment that stifles rather than leading to some of the management lessons
releases human imagination, energy and that one can derive. The sacred texts are to be
commitment. Many senior executives in studied first under the guidance of a competent
companies today will agree tC' the fact that and spiritually evolved guru. We may later
even after several years of management contemplate on multitude of ideas that the

d
~ I The author is EADS
of Management, - SMI Professor
Bangalore. 0 of Sourcing & Supply Management, Dean (Administration), Indian Institute

The Vedanta Kesari -558- DECEMBER 2008

Good management must quarter after quarter and in order to meet these result in greater satisfaction for all stake guidelines they engage in a variety of activities hold~rs. to ensure work can be expected of them in the next quarter. Modern organizations suffer from extreme levels of 'short termism. A careful study run and instead develop some conviction to of Gita from this perspective will lead us to engage in activities and decisions that seek to important principles that managers must create a balance between short term and long inherit to create rightful and long living term. The cardinal principles of CflftOQq am. to cut costs ~nd show impressive ['right to work'] and logical explanations results. Otherwise how can consistent with this requirement. While some have understood this tained in the Gita. Clearly. the market players and their stakeholders what process and the environment. management is a body known as quarter-on-quarter guidance. chapter 2 of the Gita and the concept of lffi: this will make the organisation less equipped ['sacrifice'] laid out in chapter 3 of the Gita for the future. aspect they have not been able to change the Gita offers a framework for stimulating way they work and take decisions that are high levels of motivation. A good under- a war against a battery of most credible and standing of this helps managers to feel less competent leaders in the society and pressurized of performance targets in the short eventually winning the war. a series of short amply demonstrate that the fundamental I terms never makes a long term for any requirements of good management are con.:rcrn: For instance. DEe EM 8 ER 2008 . lesson to Arjuna is to train his mind to the mental agony and hair raising experience notion of time that is essentially long term (~11ll. 119 texts offer after this initial training. notion of time. it is customary in several organizations leading to the proclamation that Tim: ~ to slash training budgets and expenditure on ctT~~ ['yoga is skill in action'] laid out in Research and Development (R & D). ably brings negative results in the long run. organization. This invari- (karma yoga). In of knowledge that enables entities to deal with simple terms what it means is that they inform a multitude of situations involving people.' Soft- A Compendium of Management Lessons ware companies in India provide what is In simple terms. Unfortunately. is done efficiently to deliver goods and services Invariably they project a positive outcome useful to the society. If we carefully study the Gita. Sri Krishna's first Arjuna has gone through from a state of fear. Such a study will help us they develop comfort in the fact that people discover certain aspects of high performing come and go and good principles and ideas organizations and . one explain the magic transformation that In the Bhagavad Gita.559 . in the most efficient manner. tions.may provide vital clues for must remain and drive choices in organisa- alternative paradigms of management. we infer that create stress.11?llfUl. Change management becomes easier as organizations. Slokas 11-13). and a short term oriented that the central issue is all about doing work approach to managing business. They will also begin to realise (as it The V a d ant a K e s a r i . ~~~) to one of waging (Chapter 2. We merely Alternative Paradigms from Gita point to the endless list of benefits that the Notion of time text offers to a management practitioner and One of the pressing problems that illustrate it by culling out some ideas that one modern organizations face arise out of their may find very useful to apply.

positive Vs negative and so on. one way to broad-base the problem to learn to tolerate the ups and downs that and search for acceptable solutions is to revisit characterizes the world of duality «1jRaRterrq the notion of time. It is important to note here happen and evolve no methods to face these. articulates: One of the greatest contributions of the (a) The doer has the right to work (CfiqoUq Bhagavad Gita is to develop a good 3tf'~:) understandine of the risks of living in this (b) The doer has no control on outcomes/ contrived world of duality and equipping the fruits of action (ln~~) managers to rise above the plane of duality. (c) The doer has. world of duality that a leader/manager must all act~ons and outcomes are first classified possess to be successful in his/her work place. Based will the quality of management. central idea and therefore it requires a good experience stress in their work place. Modern revisits the notion of sense of equanimity and management practices approach this issue in reminds Arjuna of the virtues of it2• Slokas 24 the context of a world of duality. they develop no skills to expect acceptable idea to an uninformed and casual negative outcomes. In chapter 2 verse 14 he urges Arjuna problems.:) The Vedanta Kesari -560. 120 happened to Arjuna) that whenever they face critical aspect of managing the world of complicated and apparently insurmountable duality. the dual the important attributes pertaining to the perspectives are first established. It works at and 25 in chapter 14 provide in a nutshell all two stages. the managers begin to Perhaps the most profound insight that develop a false notion that only good things the Bhagavad Gita offers to managers in are going to happen. For example.no control on the root Shri Krishna had devoted much time on this causes of the fruits of action (In Cfiq'fl('1~<!'4. belongs to my camp Vs opposite leadership will dramatically improve and so camp. which is a quintessential attribute management is the mindset towards for a leader/manager. that many verses in Chapter 2 and the This is clearly unrealistic. The definition of work presents outcomes in this scheme of duality. on these. the quality of performer. Later in chapter 2 verse 48 he proclaims that developing a sense of equanimity begets Performance Metrics and Assessment a composed and a complete personality (~ The biggest constraint for modern "l:.im ~). expectations are set that pertain only to the positive aspects of this world of duality. There are four aspects these negative emotions and stress back home to the definition of work that Shri Krishna and spoil their family life as well. deal with understanding in its totality. good Vs bad. managers develop needless tension. In modern management modern corporations is the definition of work practice. If managers can develop a sense of equanimity desirable Vs undesirable. In the first stage. In several chapters he performance metrics and assessment. itself as a paradoxical and often an un- Consequently. '+fRO). In the absence of following chapters of the Gita build2 on this these. It requires deep their sub-ordinates in non-managerial and at contemplation and guidance of a guru to times unprofessional ways and even carry understand the concept. DECEMBER 20('8 . to understand why these reader of the Gita. using a framework of duality. Work and Efficiency At the second stage. it is a bad thing to expect negative and efficiency. as indicated in the Gita. performer Vs non.

0 E C E M B E R 2 0 0 8 . At least. 0 References I. we tend to say 'I was lost in requires deep contemplation of this idea and the work'? What do we mean by getting lost a conviction of its usefulness. Is it not common for us that when we may appear like a simple idea. work for ever and enjoy doing it. Harvard Business School Press I 2. If managers can Too much of result orientation breeds a sense of take these two important lessons from the Gita. we do not realize that powerful lessons. work. Simply extending this dominant paradigm 'I must enjoy fruits of logic. is one who 'leads like the baby'. Some people do the best work when led. one may come to the conclusion Therefore with excessive result orientation one that one may rather choose not to engage in tends to escape the dynamics of 'present' and g<:)after' fu ture'.--------_. Getting results somehow will bestow his divine blessings on us to achieve dominate individual's behaviour. Developing a good sense of during our life time there have been several neutrality is an important pre-requisite for occasions when we indeed practiced this discharging one's work very effectively. The current those moments of time. 14. Some of them are as follows: management in organizations. On seeing the first three of future and work is a matter of present. Till' Livillg Company. . Krishna has ruled out this option. work but having no desire and/ or control on mangers can take away some simple yet outcomes. fl'ar and discomfort as several of us are wary of we can not only build an alternative paradigm failures. Moreover. 32.24-25 -. Results and outcomes are a matter definition is easier. A. we can easily conclude that l1f ~ CflGlil"l action-else no work' will generate enormous concept simply enables us to get lost in the amount of wasteful effort.. is the king of the household.. 29. 121 (d) There is no choice to revel in inaction nowadays. a desire to have control on of management but also succeed reasonably fruits of action will invariably force us to focus in the practice of management. Because of this. however. As we see this goal.l'US.. though apparently depending on everyone. 8:428 The V e d ant a K e s a r i . (. (1997). 13. 13. The Take Away Managers will revolt at the idea of doing Based on these illustrations from the Gita. __ . components.. Gita. However it do good work. 39.4. 6. Only out of such in the work? It merely means we ceased to a conviction can one generate new behavioural look for outcomes and fruits of action during patterns consistent with this idea.7-9. The best leader._----------------------------. 12. Embracing the overarching principle of There are other important reasons for karma yoga will have to be the alternative managers to actively consider practicing this paradigm for improving the quality of idea.18-19. However.10. that is the secret . The baby.561 . to my thinking. -Swami Vivekananda. This virtue._-_. CW. May Lord Krishna orientation.. In chapter 3 he also explains why the so called state of inaction does not exist in reality._ . Not everyone is born to lead. d. such behavioural patterns have the (l1f ~ ~sRttCfi4fQl) potential not only to destroy individuals but also Explaining the fourth component of this institutions. 5. the greatest tribute we can offer to the sacred process orientation will give 'way for result text of Bhagavad Gita. That can be on enus instead of means.