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Management Lessons from the Mahabharat

Management Lessons from the Mahabharat

gaurav.dave ,  02-Jun-11
A good mentor is worth an entire army!

If you were to choose between a supremely talented army without an efficient leader versus a mentor who could guide you through all kinds of problems, whom would you choose? While some would go in for the army that would drive your side to victory, some would choose a person who, by his sheer presence, could show you and your army the way and motivate you to achieve your goals, your target in the face of all obstacles. This, precisely, was the conundrum faced by Arjuna as well as Duryodhana when they went to Krishna to enlist his support before their great war. While Duryodhana chose Krishna’s large Yadava army, Arjuna chose Krishna (who, by the way, had vowed not to pick arms in the war). Keeping aside Krishna’s divinity for a moment, this was still the right decision. Arjuna knew very well that both sides had fearsome warriors who could singlehandedly decimate the largest of armies. What he and the Pandavas needed was a friend, a philosopher, a beacon who could show then the way from time to time and keep their hopes from flagging. The master strategist that he was, Krishna became all of these and more, and it can be easily said that he led the Pandavas to victory without lifting a single weapon.    
Virtue + Silence = Vice!

It is no use simply being good, pious, virtuous, talented, etc. These qualities are incomplete without them being put into action. An ancient proverb says “A good man’s silence is worse than the lies of a hundred evil men”. History knows that Bhishma and Drona were among the most virtuous and courageous men that India, and probably the entire world, has ever seen. However, in spite of all their goodness and virtue, they ended up on the losing side; on the side that came to be associated with evil. All they had to do was to stop Duryodhana and Shakuni when they cheated in the game of dice or when Duryodhana repelled all attempts to stop the war. However Bhishma’s loyalty towards the kingdom and Drona’s loyalty towards the king came in their way. This misguided loyalty stopped them from doing their duty towards humanity and the end results are there for all to see.

Talent by itself is meaningless; it gets meaning from how you use it!

Archimedes is remembered today as a great scientist whose inventions helped humanity. However, not many people know or remember that he also developed weapons of mass destruction as well as instruments of brutal torture. His talent, or legacy, is remembered positively only because his inventions for the benefit of mankind outweigh his more damaging ones. This story, in reverse, also applies to Karna; one of the most compelling and complicated characters of the Mahabharat. Karna is remembered today as a generous man or “Daanvir”, and also as an evil man who ordered the disrobing of Draupadi in the presence of all the kings of India. Karna is remembered today as a great warrior who was as good as, if not better than, Arjuna and also as a part of pack of wolves who attacked and killed an unarmed and injured 16-year old Abhimanyu. Had Karna used his courage, wisdom and generosity in the right way, and kept his perceived sense of injustice in check, the Mahabharat would probably have never been written!

Think before you commit! A commitment may change your life and that of everyone around you!

“Ek bar jo maine commitment kar di, phir main apne aap ki bhi nahi sunta!” Famous words by Salman Khan. Very often we end up making promises or taking on commitments that we have no idea how to handle or how they will pan out in the future. These very commitments generally come back to haunt us, especially when we make these commitments impulsively or when someone throws us a challenge. Had Bhishma thought for a minute before taking a vow of life-long celibacy and of abstaining from being king, he would have automatically brought peace and prosperity to his kingdom and would not have seen his clan get destroyed for an empire. His empire!!

An excess of any emotion is more dangerous than the absence of that emotion!

Who is more lethal? Someone who does not love you or someone who loves you to the point of insanity? Someone who does not care for what you do or someone who obsessively fusses about every small thing that you do? It has to be the latter because an overdose of any emotion clouds rational thinking. Anyways, by nature, man is an irrational animal! When you couple this fact with obsessive love or hatred, you end up with not an irrational man but with an irrational and obstinate mule, who simply refuses to see reason. How else would you classify Dhritarashtra, whose obsessive love for Duryodhana led him to reject all sane wisdom from his elders and well-wishers and made him encourage Duryodhana’s plans that ultimately led to the war? How else would you classify Duryodhana whose insane hatred of the Pandavas stopped him from seeing reason and indulge in a suicidal war?

Any skill learnt (or knowledge gained) is never wasted!

If you think that some small thing that you learnt in your childhood or some talent that you developed in your adolescence is now useless, stop and think again. If nothing else, go back and read the Mahabharata. Read how Arjuna who learnt classical music and dance in Indra’s palace and felt that it was all a colossal waste of time had to use that very art in Virata’s kingdom to survive the final year of exile. Read how Abhimanyu who learnt the art of penetrating the Chakravyuha in his mother’s womb used it 16 years later in a deathly charge simply to protect his uncle Yudhistira? Nothing you learn ever goes to ground! It gives fruit! You just need to know when and how to pluck that fruit!

Strategy means utilising the right tool (or person) at the right time!

Strategy is not about having the best people or material or systems and processes. It is about using them at the right time and in the right way. During the war, Arjuna and Bhima both lost their sons Abhimanyu and Ghatotkach respectively. Both these boys fought like veteran warriors and gained the respect of their elders and peers alike. However they also served a greater purpose. It can be said that Krishna needed Ghatotkach to die at Karna’s hands so that Arjuna would not have to face Karna’s lethal Shakti astra. It can also be said that Abhimanyu had to die in violation of all the decided laws of war so that the Pandavas could use this as precedence and break these very laws to kill Dronacharya, Karna and Duryodhana. It can be argued that Krishna could have prevented these young boys from dying. But it can also be argued that had these two events not occurred, the outcome of the war would have been totally different!           
The Mahabharat is like a vast ocean from which we can keep on picking pearls of wisdom every time we dive in it. Its greatness probably lies in the fact that its lessons are as applicable in practical, realistic terms in today’s world as they were a couple of thousand years ago and as they will be a couple of thousand years later!

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