Krishna’s Leadership Dilemma or Ours – If Arjun had it his way before the war?

Krishna’s Leadership Dilemma or Ours – If Arjun had it his way before the war?

The Story

In the story of Mahabharata, as many of us may know, at the battleground, just before the great war, Arjun (the mightiest and the best warrior from the side of Pandav’s) decided not to fight. And if you read the chapter 1 of Bhagwat Geeta (dialogue between Krishna and Arjun in the epic Mahabharata ), you will realize that the reasons cited by Arjun to not fight were extremely logical, to the extent that a counter argument to them seem almost impossible. Without Arjun fighting, Krishna knew that they would lose the war.

So, what did Krishna do? Let’s evaluate the options Krishna had during times of Arjun’s demotivation (to put in more familiar terminology)

  • Could he have gone back to Kaurav’s (the other side) and said, “We can’t fight today, we need a
    little more time to prepare, can we please postpone the war for few more days?” – not feasible
    rather a ridiculous option. You can’t go to your client all the time asking for more time, could
  • Could he have let go off Arjun? No as he was their “Star Performer” (Sounds familiar?)
  • Could he force Arjun to fight irrespective of his heart into it? He could, but then he would have
    had a half-hearted warrior who could be more detrimental to the entire force (by his cribbing all along and sloppy body language) and the outcome would have suffered

Krishna didn’t attempt any of these. So, what did Krishna do? He changed the perspective of Arjun about the people and the war, systemically addressing all his concerns with various arguments. When you can’t change a situation, you change perspective.

Relevance in today’s time

As a leader of a team, group or an organization, often we have found ourselves in a situation when one or more of key team players were disengaged with work, that too during the most critical time of the project. This poses a dilemma; to care for my team members or to get the work done.
Many a time, the leaders end up using one of the above three options that Krishna had but didn’t use

  • Sometimes they will go back to client to negotiate on more time
  • Sometimes they will exercise their positional power to force their “Arjun(s)” to work
  • Sometimes they will let “Arjun” have their way (using hedonic means of rewarding e.g. extra
    pay, compensatory offs etc.).

While these options may seem to solve the problem, they are very tactical in nature. Each of the above solutions have their own negative consequences in the longer run e.g. negotiating time with client may have reputation loss or revenue loss, exercising positional power may lead to losing the employee or leading them to be disengaged and extrinsic means of motivation are exhaustible resource and can create an unwanted culture in the team.

One of the ways to address this is the “Krishna Way” i.e. to help “Arjun(s)” change their perspective of the situation and come into the battlefield, whole heartedly.

For the leaders to be able to do that, the first thing is to know the broader perspective themselves and imbibe it so well within, that it shows in their daily action. Apart from that, there are several competencies that leaders need to work on to unleash their leadership potential and they take time to develop. The question is not about which competencies. That can be discovered easily for individual. The real questions is do we have the will to develop those competencies and transform ourselves into better leaders?

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