Business Today

The route to 'dharmacracy'

Management practitioners are turning to the introspective wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita and other Indian texts as an alternative to rapacious capitalism as they believe it balances the pursuit of wealth and material success with the mastery of the self and the quest for inner happiness. E. Kumar Sharma reports.

E. Kumar Sharma        Print Edition: December 14, 2008

Come January and Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of Strategic Innovation and Management at Tuck School, Dartmouth, US, will be in India with a group of 50 USbased executives. His mission? “I have arranged for Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev to spend a day with the executives. The Sadhguru teaches spirituality. I want western executives to understand how spirituality informs leadership,” says Govindarajan, who feels there is a need to temper capitalism and individual gains with compassion. “We celebrate individual financial success. But I have seen executives who are successful on the outside—they have multiple homes, fancy cars, etc.—but these same executives are not happy inside. Spirituality is about seeking inner peace. It is needed more than ever now.” In fact, in February this year, the Indian School of Business (ISB) set up a research centre called the Centre for Leadership, Innovation & Change, that, among other things, is looking at this area of Indian philosophy in management. The idea is to research deeper into it, and, perhaps, include it in the management course.

Capitalism is facing a crisis—and desperately needs a remedy. “There are many reasons for this,” says Govindarajan, adding that a central problem is that there is something rotten at the core of American corporate values—it measures success by short-term personal financial gains. That needs to change.

Balanced approach
This is where Indian philosophy, which balances the pursuit of wealth and material success with the mastery of the self and the quest for inner happiness, comes in, offering, as it does, an alternative to the “greed is good” ethos that has characterised the neo-conservative economic thinking pervading the corporate corridors of the US and much of the western world. The deeply introspective, yet practical, wisdom contained in ancient Indian texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharat and the Vedas also stands in stark contrast to the language of conquest popularised by management theories based on Sun Tzu’s sixth century BC classic, The Art of War.

Says T.V. Mohandas Pai, Member of the Board and Director, Human Resources, Infosys Technologies: “When people are in trouble, they always fall back on ancient wisdom to see what went wrong.”

It is not without reason, therefore, that recently, the ISB’s Centre for Leadership, Innovation & Change organised its first international conference on “Igniting the Genius Within.” One of the topics discussed was Indian philosophy. “The idea,’’ says S. Ramnarayan, Professor and Member of the Management Committee of the Centre, “was to expose students and management professionals to broader management vision and to look for integration of various perspectives.”

Karma capitalism
The following are the major takeaways for modern management from Indian philosophy.

Dharma or ethical code: This is the very foundation of Indian philosophy, best exemplified by the phrase “Yato Dharmah Tato Jayah”, which means “True victory comes from righteous conduct only”.

Balance: The pursuit of artha (wealth) and kaama (pleasure) should be in tandem with dharma (righteousness) and moksha (liberation). Pursuit of the first two with no regard to the whispers of conscience leads to imbalance and chaos.

Keeping sight of the larger picture: Indian philosophy teaches the value of equanimity in pain and pleasure. Being steady, when changes around you are large and intense, gives managers the ability to make the best decisions.

Focus on efforts, not results: Focus on results often distracts people’s attention from the goal. Results are not based on one person’s action alone and other people’s efforts as well as your past actions work together to create the result.

Clarity of intention: Every activity must start with sankalpam, the goal. Once the goal is clearly defined and communicated, the means will follow.

Appreciation: Leaders should appreciate others’ works and focus on encouraging optimism.

Divinity and uniqueness of every individual: Customise offerings for customers and cater to their unique requirements.

Multiple perspectives: Maitri (friendship), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathy) and Upeksha (abstinence) are essential leadership qualities that encourage leaders to see things from others’ perspectives.

Self-control: When feeling all-powerful, self-control is essential. When feeling vulnerable, give to others what you want most. When you feel upset and angry, be kind to others.

Humility: Another cornerstone of Indian philosophy, humility is considered one of the important qualities of a good leader.

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