Lessons from Kurukshetra - Building a Sustainable Organization
Arjuna and Karna were Highly competent, with a deep rooted motivation to succeed.
What role do leaders play to groom talent in their organizations?
Of all the glorious warriors from the Mahabharata, two warriors stand out not just for their supremacy in their chosen area of expertise, but also for their personal rivalry, and an unwavering commitment to their craft.
One had a hard earned reputation to protect, while the other had a lifelong desire to be recognized for his potential. In the end, while the one who strung the Gandiva emerged victorious, the other who drew the Vijaya, was no less a hero.
Karna, to this day is remembered for his good deeds, virtues, and the apparent injustice meted out to him by circumstances, people, and the prevailing social structure of the time.
So, what was that one factor that tilted the balance in Arjuna’s favor?
After a long tiring day at battle, when the Kauravas sat around in Duryodhana’s tent to deliberate strategies for the next day’s battle, Karna put forth his observation; he pointed out the one advantage that Arjuna had over him – “The Charioteer.”
The role of a charioteer is paramount on the battlefield, he guides the chariot in the right direction, discusses tactical and operational aspects of the war, steers the chariot out of danger when needed, and most importantly keeps the warrior in the right frame of mind.
Arjuna, had the benefit of having none other than Shri Krishna Himself as his charioteer. Thus, the Kauravas decided that King Shalya of Madra, should take up the mantle of being Karna’s charioteer, owing to his skills in driving one, and also to score a psychological advantage over the Pandavas as Shalya was also their uncle.
While Karna was precise in identifying the need to have a skilled charioteer, he had not accounted for the disengagement of the one who was identified.
In fact, right before the war when Shalya announced his decision (an unpleasant one) to fight for the Kauravas, owing to the deception of Duryodhana, he instantaneously accepted Yudhistira’s suggestion to utilize his mental faculties for the benefit of the Pandavas, by dampening the morale and spirit of Karna.
True to his word, on the ensuing 16th and 17th days of the war, while performing his duty as Karna’s charioteer, Shalya demoralized Karna by highlighting his short comings and eulogizing the greatness of Arjuna. Shalya delivered on his promise so well that even when he offered a well-intended advice that would have ensured Karna’s victory, Karna ignored it, and eventually ended up losing the battle and his life.
There is a very important lesson to be learnt here, from an organization’s perspective.
To have a sustainable future, organizations need to build a leadership pipeline that is not just competent, but also fundamentally rooted into its culture.
While these leaders are expected to reach out to the skies, and steer the organization to realize into the future, they will need to be firmly grounded on a rock solid foundation reinforced by the value system and culture of the organization.
Successful organizations achieve this by ensuring that their talent is groomed and coached by highly engaged Leaders. Those who strongly believe and are aligned to the organization’s Vision, and Strategic direction. Leaders who walk the talk and live by the values that the organization promulgates.
If disengaged leaders entertaining personal agendas are assigned the responsibility of developing the future leaders for the organization, they could destabilize and demoralize the talent under their supervision. In doing so they are not just impacting the fate of the organization, but also jeopardizing the future of those individuals.
When employees witness the in-congruence between the values propagated by the organization and those demonstrated by their leaders they find it hard to believe that living by those values would lead them towards achieving their goals.
A highly engaged leader, though a master of his craft will take up the mantle of being a charioteer like Krishna, having a strong desire and the necessary capability to partner with highly talented individuals like Arjuna towards -
1. Building trust and rapport, while reinforcing their own credibility by showcasing capability in achieving challenging business outcomes.
2. Channeling their team member’s potential towards realizing their career goals in alignment to the organizational goals
3. Offering support and much needed wisdom based on the body of knowledge they have accumulated over the years, owing to their commitment to the Job and the organization
4. Providing timely insights about the likely pitfalls, and at the same time encouraging them to come up with an effective mitigation plan
5. Constantly reinforcing a sense of positive attitude, while keeping the evils of fear, self-doubt, and limiting beliefs at bay.
Organizations that are focused towards developing their leadership pipeline in this manner are assuredly galloping towards a sustainable future.
In the words of Sanjaya who concluded the Bhagawad Geeta,
“Where there is Krishna, the Supreme Master, and Partha, the one who carries the bow, there one is bound to find victory, fortune and prosperity.”
As leaders and people managers, it is pertinent to reflect whether we are playing the role of Krishna to an Arjuna or that of a Shalya to a Karna.