In the story of ‘Odyssey’ one learns about Odysseus, who is shipwrecked and marooned; while powerful young men in his community back home, run riot in gluttonous, unrestrained and wanton behaviour. The story steers to an undeniable fact that, the quality of life in a human community; and this includes business organisations, depends on the quality of its leaders.
In a democratic world, which includes business organisations owned by shareholders, we have the responsibility to choose our leaders with care. We should stay vigilant to ‘camera facing’ leaders, who are adroit at managing their ‘charisma’, even while paying scant attention to their leadership style.
The need for Rajarshi style Leadership in Corporates
In Indian tradition, there was a Yuga (a period) when no leader (king) was necessary. However, when ‘evil forces’ grew, Indra was selected by the Devas to lead them – the first King. What followed, was the coding of Dharma.
In today’s time, with our world losing its way to ineffective leadership in crisis, plummeting into dubious practices and some outright scams and financial impropriety; now, more than ever before, is the need for the emergence of the Corporate Rishi – a ‘Rajarshi’ Leadership style for our times.
Rajarshi leadership style has been advocated in Indian thought for centuries. The modern mind is too egoistic to admits its illness. Modern day leadership styles and definitions flow largely from Academia; researched with WEIRD participants (western educated, industrialised nations, rich and democratic), which by itself is non-inclusive and undemocratic. Worse still, the notion, ‘sauce for the goose, must be sauce for the gander’ and its belief that it has universal application. We seem to be headed on a slippery slope of ‘technological advancement, with diminishing consciousness’.
All is fair in love and war, is not a mode for Rajarshi Leadership. Our own tradition offer us insights on Appadharma in times of crisis and emergency as well. In a crisis, we need to be even more guarded to protect a few citadels.
A strong need for Values in times of Crisis
For one, Values stand out the most. I applaud a few companies who have gone out of their way to do what is right (increments, continued focus on training, etc), while the majority have responded to the imperatives: down-sizing, lay-offs, work beyond office hours, etc.
The espoused ‘we value our people’ flies against the practiced and the experienced. Employees are ‘burning out’ at home, working longer, are far more stressed; while bosses continue to intrude and violate boundaries of personal time. In some states, even the authorities have colluded to ‘suspend’ labour laws, rather than intelligently modify them. When one suspends the social contract (especially legal contracts), both sides act ‘lawlessly’.
When there are ‘no rights and duties’ from both sides, it gives way to use of power; and legitimate authority is undermined. Indeed it is said that ‘The wise build bridges, the foolish build dams’. I leave you to judge which category of actions determine your behaviour as a leader.
Leadership Style with Humility and Compassion
The time now is for an Organisation (as a community) to show its humane face, sensitivity, compassion and care. In this, leadership is crucial to steer towards the North Star, a code of unflinching principles and values, despite everything. Adaptability is enhanced when there are ‘core’ principles, rather than hampered by it. We expect Individuals to get on with their ‘leadership development’, hoping that transformation will emerge from this; yet fail to provide the scaffold to support the transformation within the organisation.
The reason that SEALs and other fighting forces (always working in crisis) are so successful is because they train to do just three things: Move, Shoot, Communicate; and they spend a lifetime skilling themselves in all art forms of these. They are individually brilliant, but they hunt in packs! That’s the difference.
How can leadership provide the inspiration to ‘fight in formation’ during a crisis? For me, I see new warriors – and they are actually quite different to the folks in black suits! I see warriors in everyday places, in different shapes and sizes who act with leadership. May the tribe increase!
What we need now is humility, compassion, and a newer kind of response. The ‘normal’ has changed. It would be helpful for leaders to remember, that ‘normal leadership’ will be irrelevant to our current times.
I am hoping we act as trustees, to leave a richer legacy for those that follow us. For each of us, we will be remembered for not just what we did, but what we failed to do.
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