When CEOs are left twiddling their thumbs, Bhagavad Gita could help!
Many a times, CEOs and managers give in to a mood of despondency, much like Arjuna on the battle field of Mahabharata. It becomes a case wherein the person may approve of the broad general principle of a strategy to be followed or a target to be cracked, but cannot help but shudder inwardly at the prospect of putting it into effect.Outside the window of the incumbent’s corner office, the sun may be shining. The sky may be an azure blue. A gentle breeze may be swaying the trees. Birds may be chirping. But Nature fails to provide solace. The mind is boggled. The heart is laden with woe. Confusion and self-doubt reign. A defeatist attitude prevails. Decisions taken in a mental state of this nature merely add to the chaos.
When the mind is boggled
CEOs would formulate a business strategy and even go into detailed planning of the steps involved with their team members. But when implementation starts, there is always a chance that they might develop cold feet. Practical considerations which were latent earlier suddenly pop up. Some initial steps reveal a chink in the organization’s armour. Or, some fresh feedback comes in, changing their perception of reality.
A new product launch could have been conceptualized and details worked out. Product attributes and design might have got frozen. R&D and Production might have burnt the proverbial night oil to come up with bulk samples which would have been successfully test marketed. Pricing might have been finalized. Packaging might have been given the go ahead. Members of the supply chain might have been brought on board.
However, when the launch day dawns, they might wake up all of a twitter, trying to imagine the reaction of a mightier competitor, or discover an environmental challenge or a customer health issue the product may pose, when pushed aggressively in the market.
Likewise, when a big manufacturing unit has to be shut down in the overall interest of the business, the unit head may develop feet of clay, twiddling her thumbs about the future of the career of so many capable persons who would have to be called in, looked into the eye, and handed over a pink slip. Persons with whom there has been a long working relationship. Professionals who have been groomed by the unit head herself. Those who have been key members of the next rung of the organization’s hierarchy. Employees who are elder in age and had assisted her in so many ways to settle down when she came into the organization and took over the reins of the unit. Those who have been loyal and had supported her through the slings and arrows of business faced by the unit.
Ramping down a business unit
Yours truly once faced a similar situation. A premium unit of a very large export house had become a liability in more ways than one. Over time, quality had suffered. Productivity was abysmally poor. Industrial relations had deteriorated. Every month, the headquarters had to be approached with a begging bowl, so wages and statutory dues could be paid off. Repeated attempts to revive the fortunes of the unit had failed. The mists of doubt had engulfed the befuddled mind.
Aided by a senior team member, a water tight case recommending immediate closure of the unit was prepared and presented to the management. A long phase of discussions, exchange of ideas and explanations ensued. Finally, clear thought and perseverance paid off. The painful decision to ramp down that part of the business was taken. Careful separation plans were worked out in advance. The pain of implementation followed. Some professionals had to suffer in the process. But in the overall interest of the organization, the task was carried out.
Of corporate dilemmas
The dilemma facing Arjuna on a battlefield some 3,500 years back was whether to go ahead with a war against his own cousins and senior family members.
Here are only two of the several cases which arose due to in-family disputes and misunderstandings.
Of Puma and Adidas
When brothers Adolf and Rudolf Dassler founded a shoe company in their mother’s laundry room in the town of Herzogenaurach, Germany, in 1924, little did they imagine that their relations would turn sour during World War II. A split followed in 1948, leading to the emergence of two brands – Puma and Adidas. The two still have rival factories on opposite sides of a river. Rudolf died in 1974 at age 76, Adolf in 1977 at 78. Never did they reconcile. Both are reportedly buried at opposite ends of the same cemetery.
The human pain behind Raymonds
Back in India, retired tycoon Vijaypat Singhania, entangled in a property dispute with his son Gautam Singhania, concluded thus: “Love your children and care for them, but don’t love them so much that you are blinded”.
Having made Raymond a household name across India, the father had handed over his shares, worth over Rs. 1,000 crore, to his son who now controls the Rs. 6,000-crore group. At the core of the dispute between the father and son were their rights over JK House, a family owned 36-storey redeveloped property in the posh Malabar Hill area of south Mumbai. The father was forced by the son to move to a rented accommodation, causing him discomfort and mental anguish.
If one considers the mental state of the businessmen who acted in the manner they did in a given situation, one’s mind invariably goes back to the kind of despondency and fatalism experienced by the great warrior Arjuna, upon surveying the armies facing each other. The army of Kauravas was not only numerically superior, but was also led by Bhishma, the grandsire. The futility of war which had cousins belonging to the same clan on either side left him twiddling his thumbs and wondering why to go ahead with the same, causing death and ruin all around.
Of Dualities, Dilemmas and Analysis Paralysis
CEOs of today face not only challenges of an economic nature, but also emotional upheavals caused by ethical and moral dilemmas involved in decision making. Regulators and NGOs keep snapping at their heels, while they are busy in a relentless pursuit of materialistic goals. There are indeed times when self-doubt plagues them. They feel as if they have reached the level of incompetence and can neither face a business battle, nor dare to tinker with the targets of economic expansion and business lust which normally pervade any business enterprise.
CEOs in the corporate world routinely face dilemmas which arise out of the dual nature of things. Almost all business situations are based on dualities. Often, these lead to the CEOs suffering from an Analysis Paralysis Syndrome.
Peter Drucker, the renowned management expert, frequently touched upon the dualities of freedom and power, authority and responsibility, progress and conservation, good and evil, worldly actions and spiritual fulfillment. He believed in the sanctity of spiritual creation. He considered traditional Christian values to be a type of practical wisdom and an ethical basis for responsible corporate leadership.
But Arjuna is smart. He is not only a proficient warrior prince, but also someone who has had the sterling sense of befriending a great friend, philosopher and guide in Lord Krishna. Gita is all about how Krishna pulls Arjuna out of this sense of despondency and motivates him to do his duty without attachment to the result thereof. Krishna has extraordinary skills in transforming the thinking of his disciple’s mind, gently steering it towards the task at hand.
The Bhagavad Gita for a befuddled mind
It is a human tendency to magnify one’s weaknesses and provide some extraneous reasons for justifying one’s state of inaction. Also, when one realizes the kind of sacrifices one has to make to achieve the goal one has set for oneself, doubts arise about the worth of the goal itself.
This is how Arjuna expresses himself at the beginning of the Great War, in Chapter 1:
वेपथुश्च शरीरे मे रोमहर्षश्च जायते || 29||
गाण्डीवं स्रंसते हस्तात्वक्चै व परिदह्यते |
My whole body shudders; my hair is standing on end. My bow, the Gandiv, is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning all over. My mind is in quandary and whirling in confusion; I am unable to hold myself steady any longer. O Krishna, killer of the Keshi demon, I only see omens of misfortune. I do not foresee how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in this battle.
न काङ्क्षे विजयं कृष्ण न च राज्यं सुखानि च |
किं नो राज्येन गोविन्द किं भोगैर्जीवितेन वा || 32||
O Krishna, I do not desire the victory, kingdom, or the happiness accruing it. Of what avail will be a kingdom, pleasures, or even life itself, when the very persons for whom we covet them, are standing before us for battle?
येषामर्थे काङ्क्षितं नो राज्यं भोगा: सुखानि च |
त इमेऽवस्थिता युद्धे प्राणांस्त्यक्त्वा धनानि च || 33||
They for whose sake we desire kingdom, enjoyment and pleasures stand here in battle, having renounced life and wealth.
Handling the lioness of a mighty challenge
When mighty challenges in one’s career menacingly stare at one, much like a lioness surprised when running into a hunter in the forest, one is apt to see no ray of light in one’s life. One feels as if one’s Guardian Angels have gone off on a long vacation, that too without seeking any prior consent, let alone permission.
At such times, when the fighting option has simply evaporated, Bhagawad Gita gives one a chance to introspect and make an objective assessment of the situation at hand. In the midst of an overwhelming situation, reason returns to its throne. Trees and bushes nearby, which are just a step away and offer a possibility of the flight option getting exercised, get evaluated. The time it would take to load the rifle and shoot the lioness gets assessed. One even weighs the option of smiling and looking into the eyes of the animal, thereby hoping to settle down in a spirit of peaceful coexistence. One thinks of nibbling at some juicy lamb sandwiches after having first shared some with the cub lurking around nearby. Sure enough, a gesture of this kind is apt to make the lioness take a less jaundiced view of the proceedings, enabling the hunter to emerge unscathed from the encounter.
When one has sunk to the bottom of an emotional pit, and the horizon looks bereft of any hope, one can safely find solace, inspiration and guidance in the Bhagavad Gita. It speaks in detail about such concepts as detachment, equanimity and the need to uphold righteousness under all circumstances. It describes in detail the kind of practical steps one can take to handle the harsh slings and arrows of one’s life and career.
(A version of this post will appear in a yet-to-be released book authored by yours truly on Management and Bhagavad Gita)
(Illustration on top has been drawn by Mr Upendra Ratra, an artist. The illustration depicting Krishna and Arjuna in the battlefield has been reproduced with permission from the illustrator, Arati Shedde, and Heartfulness Magazine – www.heartfulnessmagazine.com.)