Leadership Dharma, Arjuna the Timeless Metaphor by Raghu Ananthanarayanan is available for purchase on Amazon.
The morning sun was soft and beautiful as it lit up the garden. The birds were chirping excitedly, but none of this seemed to touch Ranjan. It was as if he was sitting within a grey cloud. “What was it that your teacher said about good kings” Ranjan suddenly asked Sanam and pulled her out of her reverie. Sanam took a while to get the context of the question. “A good king understands that every decision he takes is in the context of a Dharma Sankata”. Ranjan was puzzled “I have heard you say that before, but I am not sure I get it”. “If you are a king, you are in the midst of many conflicting and contradicting pulls and pushes. Many of these are symptoms of underlying dilemmas, Dharma Sankatas, where if you ignored the connected and interdependent realities, you don’t even understand the real role of a king.”
“Tell me more”
“Ok let me contrast it with what a bad king is. A bad king is one who attacks the symptoms of a Dharma Sankata with bravado; he is blind to complexity and impatient with ambiguity. He treats dilemmas as problems to be solved, and in the process creates other seemingly un-connected problems, and creates the ground for deeper problems to emerge. He also said a great hero is one who creates a new ground for action where the Dharma Sankata is resolved.”
Ranjan fell silent again sunk in thought and the cloud looked darker.
Through a juxtaposition between the inner world and outer action, the modern and the ancient systems, Raghu Ananthanarayanan weaves the story of a modern Arjuna.
Ranjan is in despair. He has navigated the early challenges and set up a successful business. He seems to have hit a wall. Like Arjuna in the midst of the battle ground, Ranjan owns up to his despondency and starts a dialogue with his wife Sanam and his mentor Anantha Saptaparni. He opens himself to the voices of quiet wisdom and intuition because he sees that his hyper-masculine aggression is only getting him deeper into the pit he seems to be digging for himself. More of the same attitude and action that gave him the breakthrough is not working. Through his dialogue with Sanam, Ranjan begins to see how his inner Bhima took him through the early battles. He was charismatic and his team members were attracted to his passion. But, cracks are showing up, the imbalance within is making Ranjan impatient and impulsive.
“I don’t know anything about business,” Sanam began. “I will tell you what I see from a perspective that I can relate to, namely dance, and from the Mahaabhaarata. Maybe this will act as a mirror and help you introspect.”
“The way you are right now, reminds me of the warrior’s role, say a Bhima. The warrior is always restless, but when there is danger, when the enemy is sighted, he becomes calm. The rasa of Veerya (courage) has found its space and legitimacy for expression. With the warrior evoking his Veerya, the others in his group, who have been knotted up in fear and anxiety find solace. They are relieved, place their faith in the warrior hero and encourage him with songs of valour. The advisors are able to think, the helpers scurry around getting the horses ready and the swords polished. It is almost as if once the role script has been established by a ‘leader’ all others know immediately what is expected of them”. Without realising it, Sanam had sat up on her seat; her face and her eyes grew sharp and resolute. Even in the telling of the role Sanam had evoked the Bhaava in herself. Ranjan watched with fascination.
“I think you are trying to find the enemy and the source of danger outside you Ranjan. You were past this point a few years ago when Mobile Unlimited was recognised as a leader in your domain. I have watched you play Bhima without conviction and your team played the Sakhas (friends and mentors) as though by habit. Maybe the space where you are now is not at all the ‘dwarfs fighting for survival’ kind of battle scene anymore. Maybe you are fledgling giants and the space before you has expanded, except that your eyes are searching for threats and danger when you should be recognising opportunity and open space”.
Will Ranjan grow to becoming a true leader or will he just remain a great fighter on the battle ground? As Sanam shares her struggles as a dancer and Anantha Saptaparni speaks about the wisdom of the Mahabharata, Ranjan’s inner world opens up. He remembers passages from the Bhagavad Gita, “let a man not be his own enemy” it said. How am I creating the difficulties I am facing? Ranjan asks himself. As Ranjan looks at his own propensities and talents through the lens of the Pandava heroes, he begins to see how his inner Bhima is functional in certain contexts and dysfunctional in others. This is a bitter pill to swallow! Ranjan has to ask himself a whole new set of questions, Saptaparni tells him, he has to see the world through five different lenses.
Duryodhana derives his power only from the system that is inherited. He is the legitimate contender for inheritance, but is continuously under threat of losing it. He constantly compares himself with his peers, and fears being inadequate or insufficient. As a result, he always wants to be in command, and is continuously aggressive. He directs not just his own energies but also those of the system to consolidate his position. The ‘control-compliance’ mode of behaviour is a strong undertone of this role script. Duryodhana is the shadow of this identity archetype.
“The Yudhishtras are therefore either the well controlled and impeccable upholders of the system, or become the insecure controllers who are protecting themselves through the self-centred manipulation of the policies and procedures of the system,” Sanam helped Ranjan conclude.
Anantha Saptaparni listened keenly and said, “That was a very lucid insight. But let me now anchor all of this in a contemporary context. Let me paint the management style of a Yudhishtra-type manager.”
But first, Ranjan has to see the difference between solving problems and understanding dharma sankata. “When the issues are apparent and tangible, one has problems to solve, but when one has to anticipate the emergent, and balance resources one has to see beyond the visible and the tangible. True leadership is the ability to see the invisible, balance the disparate and converge the many points of view. This has always been the mark of a true leader in the Indian context. The all conquering Rambo is not our idea of a leader” Raghu tells us through the voice of Saptaparni.
As Ranjan begins to listen and open himself to his intuition, he gains insights into his situation, his own habits of thought feeling and action. As his inner frames of reference open up, Ranjan can see that the idea of the world as a battle field was very relevant for his initial forays, but he now has to re-calibrate his ways of looking at the world. This is not easy, and this is where Ranjan’s willingness to open himself to his aesthetic and artistic side becomes immensely important. Sanam is the feminine voice of Ranjan and in opening himself to this side of himself, Ranjan starts becoming more aware of the real human qualities of his team. They are not just experts in various tasks, they are individuals with their own propensities, dreams and aspirations. As Ranjan starts to recognize the Yudhishtra within, he sees how negligent he has been of the anchor of stability in his organization, namely Shanti. He sees his natural pull towards Jagan his R&D head, and a Sahadeva incarnate, and how this causes problems in his decision making process. Ranjan had always wanted to be a professor, loved math, but has suppressed this side of himself as he plunged headlong into his entrepreneurial venture. The conversations with Sanam and Saptaparni open up the inside world of Ranjan, and with it, Ranjan’s engagement outside changes also.
“I have been going over the idea of Arjuna as a symbolic hero for all ages. Looking through the evolution of human collectives, I wanted to examine the ‘Arjuna role-identity’ at each stage, as a change agent. I am going to try something I have never tried before, Ranjan. I am going to have a dialogue with you to see if you really are capable of being an Arjuna. Sanam I need your help. I was inspired to think of this after listening to you. I am going to create a new step in Arjuna’s path, a threshold he must have crossed before he met the Hunter Shiva and got the Paasupataasthra. If either Ranjan or I get stuck, please come in and help us.”
Anantha Saptaparni asked Ranjan to sit in front of him, “We start here, after you the aspiring Hero, the Arjuna wannabe, has taken a great step. You have come to terms with your Perundi, the persona full of aversions and uncontrolled passion. You have also encountered and put to rest your Mohini persona, seductive and full of desires. In front of you there is a large door with a short wall on either side of it. And I am sitting in front of the gate, a wizened old man.”
And we now start to see the uniqueness of an Arjuna, that part of us which can ask fundamental questions in the midst of deadly challenges. It is by accessing the aware, balanced and calm self, capable of having a dialogue with ones own inner intelligence, that true leadership emerges. Ranjan has to ask himself disturbing questions: Why am I doing what I am doing? Who am I and a who do I wish to be? What is my real dream? Have I exhausted the real meaning of my initial excitement? Is that why I feel dry within? Where am I really? Do I have a systemic perspective of my organization? Do I understand its relationship to the business context? And in the asking of these questions and seeking answers, the dialogue moves in and out of the Pandava saga, and we find ourselves treating the book like a mirror to our selves. We delve into the disowned and shadow sides of each of the archetypes. We see that without creating a space within for a deep appreciation of the archetypal energies, we reflect our blindness outside and fail to create balanced perspectives for action, we fail to create space for the unique genius of our team members. We see the extraordinary power of shAntam, the ability to calmly look at the whole system without getting drawn into issues, the ability to ask fundamental questions before we plunge into action, to be a sthita pragnya in a the contemporary world of unpredictability and complexity. Raghu shares with us insights from the Natya shastra and the Yoga Sutra through the dialogues between Sanam, Saptaparni and Ranjan. We begin to realise that these are our three key inner selves. The vibrancy of our inner sakhi and the lucidity of our inner meditator are the foundations of wisdom. How often we bury these voices in our over engagement with the world of action.
“It is important to keep in mind that the interdependence between the individual and society is taken for granted in Indian thought. Ideas such as ‘dependent origination’ of the Buddhist tradition as well as the idea of ‘Gati (continuous change), Samghatana (interdependence of all parts of the universe) Niyati (order and rhythm in the change process)’ enunciated in the Saankhya tradition, underpin all the traditions of Indian wisdom. Therefore, the individual is a microcosm of the macrocosm and any change within his consciousness impacts the whole, just as the individual is a continuum of society and is impacted by changes in any part of society. Also, mind and body are a continuum and are two aspects of a single phenomenon.”
We struggle with Ranjan as he grapples with the many dharma sankata he must encounter as a leader: scalability and standardization vs innovation; creating inclusive teams vs demanding excellence; creating certainty and stability while remaining responsive and agile and so on. We realize that resolving these dilemmas start with examining ones own propensities, assumptions and conclusions. Where the inner space is absent, there is only resistance to the importance of the two sides of the dharma sankata and lack of proportion and perspective. Decisions that are driven by the inner ‘dhritarashtra-like blindness’ to the larger questions of dharma, pile up and become blocks to growth. We awaken the Arjuna within even as Ranjan nurtures his own inner Arjuna.
“I was meaning to share this with you Sanam,” Ranjan began, “this inner transformation stuff is not very easy. As you know we are sitting down every couple of weeks in a dialogue and reflection forum, as we call it these days. What we discover is that it is not only individual propensities that we need to look at, but also the dynamics between us. Arun Natarajan, our Angel investor says that all the five hero archetypes exist inside us, but we get more proficient in one or two of them and find it difficult to express the others. So whenever there is time and clarity in our actions we are practicing the new behaviours, but when there is pressure we are falling back.”
“Isn’t that great?” Sanam responded. “I mean you are recognising it. I did not have peers and coaches around me when I tried on my new ‘Self ’, and it took me a long time to see how I was falling back.”
A post-Graduate in Engineering from IIT Madras, Raghu has delved deeply into Yoga and Behavioural Sciences to develop a unique approach personal unfolding and organizational transformation. He has developed a unique methodology called “Totally Aligned Organization” and a model called the “Tensegrity Mandala” that brings together his understanding of Yoga, Human Processes and Manufacturing Systems. He has pioneered the use of vernacular theatre and the Mahabharata in experiential learning.
He is a direct disciple of Yogachaarya Krishnamaachaarya & TKV Desikachar. He also has the benefit of a long apprenticeship with Prof. Pulin K. Garg (IIM Ahmedabad).