In this age of VUCA there is no dearth of unsteady contextual business problems around us. It is commonplace for leaders to go back to modern management principles to approach tricky situations. The ancient Indian ethos which has stood the test of time can help leaders to create a more sustainable model of management.
Panchatantra, the series of inter-woven fables have a wealth of wisdom hidden in its stories. Its tales generate inferentially, aphoristically, principles of good management. It is really interesting how through simple stories Panchatantra delivers the most complex messages.
Remember Jveernadhana, the merchant’s son who mortgaged his iron balance to another merchant to travel the country to seek success. On his return the sly merchant informed him that his iron balance was eaten by rat. As it turned out, Jveernadhana did not lose his calm even on hearing such an obnoxious argument. He maintained cordial relationship with the sly merchant and on one fine day took his boy along with him with his permission. When the sly merchant discovered that his boy had not returned for a long time he confronted Jveernadhana. To this he responded that a flamingo carried his boy off in its claws. Enraged by his senseless argument, the sly merchant dragged him to village elders where the witty Jveernadhana asked, “Sir! In a city where rats eat iron, why cannot a flamingo carry a child?" He then narrated the entire sequence of events to them and explained how he had hidden the merchant's boy in a cave to get his iron balance back.
The story beautifully educates leaders to maintain their inner balance when faced with unpleasant situations and respond effectively rather than reacting to stimulus. It is a normal tendency for humans to get into a fight or flight reaction mode when faced with unpleasant situations. A high level of emotional intelligence is expected from the leaders to overcome this tendency to be effective in their roles.
Another story about 2 fish and a frog brings out how leaders should behave in these times of uncertainty. 2 fish Sahasrabuddhi and Satabuddhi were close friends with a frog Ekabuddhi. One evening, they heard few fishermen planning to catch fish from their pond. The frog took heed of the situation and advised his friends to go to some other pond. Overconfident in their talent and turning a blind eye to the impending danger, the fish decided to stay in the pond of their ancestors. The next day fishermen came and caught them alive.
The story teaches leaders to develop their peripheral vision, scanning for faint — but vital — signals that will help them give their companies an edge and save them from any dire consequences. Demonstrating vigilance is a leadership skill most valued in its absence. No board or investor wants to hear about from leaders that they ignored the warning signs or they missed the boat. On the positive side, vigilant leaders can spot opportunities and threats before competitors. Boards don’t expect prescience, but they do rely on the leadership team to sense and act on early warning signs of trouble, or opportunity.
Yet another story about a merchant and a king’s servant shows how it is important to respect even those who are at the lowest rung. In a city called Vardhamana, lived a very efficient and prosperous merchant. He maintained cordial relations with all the important people in the city. Once he invited them for a family function. One of the king’s servants also attended the function without invitation. He took a seat reserved for royal nobles. This made the merchant very angry and he insulted the servant in front of everyone. The disgruntled servant pledged to take revenge against the merchant for dishonoring him for a small mistake. By using his tactics, he sowed seeds of distrust against the merchant in the mind of king.
The story warns leaders of the cost they could pay for breeding disgruntled employees in their organization. It is best to articulate policies, set clear expectations, and provide constructive regular feedback to employees. Leaders should take legal advice before firing employees. To summarize, employees should not be disproportionally punished or caught by surprise if they are facing the music.
Leaders have a lot of takeaways from Panchatantra. In this age of change when we are talking about need for strong leadership, storytelling through Panchatantra is a very powerful technique of exemplifying the qualities and relating to Indian mindset.