Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Lordly lessons


Business managers normally do not see the Gita as a how-to guide for sorting out modern-day leadership issues.

That's because, at it simplest, the Gita is an extended conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruchettra. The warrior Arjuna is hesitant about taking part in a war that requires him to kill his own cousins, most of whom are baying for his blood. Krishna, Arjuna's friend and charioteer, dispels this confusion by teaching Arjuna how fighting this righteous war amounts to fulfiling earthly duties. Arjuna's actions in the battlefield, Krishna instructs him, are a sliver of a larger truth about the nature of the universe and man's place in it.

In Bhagavad Gita on Effective Leadership, Pujan Roka applies Krishna's instructions to effective leadership practices. Roka reinforces those lessons with examples drawn from American settings. Published last year, this 172-page book carries an approving blurb from the dean of the Kellogg School of Management. Last October, it was cited by Businessweek in an article entitled 'Karma Capitalism', which asked whether the Gita had replaced Sun Tzu's The Art of War as "the hip new ancient Eastern management text" in boardrooms and classrooms.

The book's 18 chapters are written in easy-to-follow language. Each chapter details traits a leader should possess. Most are the usual leadership fare: leaders must be self-aware; they must have the ability to embrace challenges; they must have the desire to leave a legacy; they must have an ability to influence others; they must have a big-picture sense of how what they do is connected to everything else, and so on.

To this mix, Roka's makes two unique contributions. First, he calls on leaders to derive spiritual nourishment by having faith in a higher authority. Second, he asks them to achieve success by engaging in meditation, practicing sacrifice, and selfless giving, and adopting a sattvic mindset that is open to hard work without being worried about the results.

Roka puts lessons from the Gita in today's business context by weaving what Krishna says to Arjuna with vignettes of stories drawn from the lives of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King or former IBM head Louis Gerstner, and from baseball and basketball. I was intrigued, for instance, by the parallels he draws between Krishna's showing his virat rupa, or universal form, and an effective leader's displaying holistic vision.

My quibbles are small and large. The book could have been edited further to cut down on repetitions. And in terms of helping readers exercise leadership traits, the book could have taken a more pragmatic how-to approach. For instance, for any leadership action, it gives the Gita's version. It then gives examples of similar actions taken by contemporary leaders. What it doesn't do is help ordinary readers understand how they too can start transforming what they \'know\' about leadership into how they \'do\' leadership in everyday situations.

But this problem is common to most leadership volumes, whose authors seem to forget that their readers are not Gandhi, Mandela, or Arjuna, but ordinary mortals who struggle daily with both self-discipline and self-leadership.

Perhaps in times ahead, as neuroscience, which has become the newest tool of leadership scholars, makes further advances in understanding how the human brain works, we will learn more about how to turn ancient wisdom into habits that we can call our own. Until then, regardless of whether one has read the Gita, this book serves as one handy reference for managers to view their short-term decisions with a long-term life-fulfilling horizon.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)