Guidelines from Gita for Practising Managers

There is an important distinction between effectiveness and efficiency in a manager's role.

Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things in a dharmic way. 

Bhagavad Gita provides a succinct answer to a fundamental and oft repeated question - how to be effective in one's job. It simply says, "Try to manage yourself." Once the basic thinking of a man is improved, it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions and the results.


Work Commitment

A popular verse in Gita advises 'detachment' from the fruits, or results, of one's work. Working only with an eye on the anticipated benefits would result in the quality of one's performance suffering. The expected fruits may not always be forthcoming. Gita's advice is not to mortgage the present commitment to an uncertain future. Some people tend to argue that, not seeking the result of work and actions might make one unaccountable. In reply  Gita draws attention to the universal law of cause and effect, making the doer responsible for the consequences of his deeds. The Gita advises to eschew avarice and selfish gains.

While discharging one's duty, Gita does not absolve anybody of the consequences arising from discharge of his or her responsibilities. Attaining this state of mind of detached, but excellent work, is known as nishkama karma, and this is the right attitude to work. Gita's advice of 'disinterested work' should in fact be viewed from a wider, universal perspective. Sri Krishna says that, one who shares the wealth generated after serving the people is freed from all sins. On the contrary, those who earn wealth only for themselves may encounter frustration and failure. Detached involvement in work is the key to mental equanimity, or the state of 'nir-dvanda'. This attitude leads to a stage where the manager begins to feel the presence of the divine power guiding his actions. Over time, his perspective matures to recognise the supremacy of organisational goals as compared to narrow personal targets of achievements and successes.


Work Culture

As part of developing an attitude of diligence and intense effort towards completing any given task, Sri Krishna elaborates on two types of work cultures: daivi sampat or divine work culture, and asuri sampat or demonic work culture. The former involves fearlessness, purity, selfcontrol, sacrifice, straightforwardness, self-denial, calmness, absence of fault finding, absence of greed, gentleness, modesty and absence of envy or pride.

On the contrary, the asuri work culture involves high personal ego, delusion, indifference and work not performed in a spirit of service. It is in this light that the counsel, "yogah armasu kausalam" should be understood. Kausalam means skill or technique which is an indispensable component of work ethic. Gita defines Yoga as 'samatvam yogah uchyate', meaning an unchanging equipoise of mind.

The principle of reducing our attachment to personal gains from the work done is the Gita's prescription for attaining equanimity. Some people argue that this principle could lead to lack of incentive for effort, striking at the very root of work ethic. On the contrary, concentration on a task for its own sake leads to the achievement of excellence and true mental happiness of the worker. Gita's principle thus leads one to the intrinsic rewards of mental and moral satisfaction.


Mental Health 

Sound mental health is the goal of any human activity - more so in management. It is a state of mind that maintains a calm, positive poise, in the midst of vagaries of work life and social existence. Internal constancy and peace are the prerequisites for a healthy, stress-free mind.

Some of the impediments to sound mental health are greed for power, position, prestige and money and envy about others' achievements, success and rewards. Egotism about one's own accomplishments, suspicion, anger and frustration, are other impediments to sound mental health.  While the driving forces in modern businesses are speed and competition, there is a distinct danger that such forces cause erosion in the moral fibre of the person. In seeking the ends, many are tempted to permit themselves to indulge in unfair and immoral means, or being 'economical with the truth'.

This phenomenon is often mentioned as the 'yayati syndrome', drawing reference to an episode described in the Mahabharata. The epic describes the king Yayati who, in order to revel in the endless enjoyment of flesh, exchanged his old age with the youth of his obliging youngest son for a thousand years. However, he found the pursuit of sensual enjoyment ultimately unsatisfying, and came back to his son pleading to take back his youth. The episode thus shows the conflict between externally directed acquisitions (extrinsic motivation) and inner values and conscience (intrinsic motivation).


Practice What You Preach

"Whatever the excellent and best ones do, the commoners follow," says Sri Krishna in the Gita. A visionary leader should be a missionary, highly practical, and ever dynamic in his attitude. Such dynamism and strength of a leader stems from a spontaneous attitude of helping others. “I am the strength of those who are devoid of personal desire and attachment. O Arjuna, I am the legitimate desire in those, who are not opposed to righteousness," th says Sri Krishna in the 10 chapter of Gita

Gita is a practical handbook of how to transform despondency into a successful action force. Sri Krishna, by sheer power of his inspiring words, changes Arjuna's mind from a state of inertia to one of righteous action, from a state of what philosophers call 'anomie' or alienation into a state of self-confidence.


  •  Sriram Mahadevan
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