I was watching Mahabharata on TV yesterday, the episode showed sons of Hastinapur dynasty, on day one at their Teacher’s (Drona) Ashram (resident school). The teacher takes all students for their first lesson. First task is to hit a bird’s eye with an arrow, while ensuring that bird doesn’t fall from the tree branch it is placed on.
We will use his interaction with four main protagonists namely Yudhisthir, Bheem, Duryodhan and Arjun; to draw parallel with Leadership challenges and expectations in Business (Corporate or otherwise).
Drona calls Yudhisthir, to take aim and asks him what he sees. Yudhisthir answers that he sees tree, tree branch, a bird’s nest on the branch below, an ant hole at bottom of tree. He has to ensure that while hitting target he doesn’t end up hurting/destroying any of them. Drona compliments him for his ability to see so many things and says these are qualities of a good ruler but Yudhisthir can’t be a good Archer.
Similarly, Leadership is all about being able to see big picture and build/protect institutions, processes and organization whilst delivering organizational goals. Important part is not to forget to hit the Aim. Great leaders not only bring set of skills and competencies but also able to attract and retain great people with complementary skills.
Next in line is Bheem, Drona asks him what he sees. Bheem answers that Yudhisthir has made life difficult for him as he is seeing everything Yudhisthir saw, and he is also seeing delicious fruits and want to eat them. Drona punishes him while observing that he is seeing so much but isn’t aware that the rope on his Bow isn’t tied.
Similarly, people wanting to be leaders jump in projects, teams and roles based on what others tell them and in anticipation of rewards. They never reflect if they are ready and whether they have competencies required for the Job. Same applies to leaders mindlessly pursuing opportunities or launching products/services. To quote Abraham Lincoln – "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Next Drona calls Duryodhan, to take aim and asks him what he sees. Duryodhana answers that he sees tree branch and bird. While hitting the bird his arrow may chop the branch and bird may fall with impact. Drona asks him to withdraw saying a warrior must asses and determine impact of his hit and should not attack unless he can control outcome.
Similarly, it is important for leaders/businesses/individuals to not rush in, currently there is too much emphasis on going after next account, client, market or market share, with little consideration for impact and consequences. Recent mortgage crisis and global meltdown in financial sector is prime example of this behavior.
Finally Drona calls Arjun to take aim, and asks what he sees. Arjun replies that he only sees Bird’s eye. Drona asks him to release his arrow and Arjun hits the aim without disrupting bird’s position or anything else.
Bottom-line Effective leaders see big picture and impact of their actions across dimensions like Yudhisthir yet focus and hit the aim like Arjun. They can’t get carried away with big picture and lose sight of their goals and customers. In Steve Jobs’ words – “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”.
Leaders have to constantly learn and relearn. They can’t afford lacking control like Bheem and Duryodhan. To quote Indira Nooyi, Chairperson PEPSICO, “I am a learning CEO, I go to school all the times. We look for people who are able to understand and work around geo political environment quickly and surround themselves with great talent. Who are agile, can work with scarcity of commodities (read resources) and make something out of nothing.”
Signing off for now till we are back with next one!!Happy Reading!