Business Sutra |2.2 | Context of Leaders

Business Sutra |2| Leadership

In the first episode of the TV serial on CNBC 18, spread over three segments, Devdutt Pattanaik presented to us the most visible form of the business – the corporation : its meaning, its purpose and its action perspective.

In the second episode Devdutt Pattanaik discusses Leadership. The first segment of the second episode dealt with the role of the leader. In the present, second segment, what impact does the context have on the leaders.

Business Sutra |2.2 | Context of Leaders

Team Activ8 in its blogpost 4 leadership “weapons” used by great leaders states that ‘good business leaders display many traits but there are 4 leadership “weapons” used by great leaders:

  1. They use their “business binoculars” to provide CONTEXT
  2. They instill VALUES using their “moral compass”.
  3. They build TRUST with their “business shield”.
  4. They encourage MOMENTUM with their “business rocket booster”.

This gives us one dimension of the context of leaders wherein the leader sets the direction for the organization. Neither the leader nor the context impacts each other. Leader sets the sail w.r.t. to the given context.

In The Leadership Paradox, Jim Selman adds one more perspective.  He states that leadership is inherently paradoxical in that it is inclusive of both the individual and the group or team or community. If this is so, then leadership is a context, a powerful opening for innovation and something new to emerge. From this perspective, leadership isn’t about process, or technique, or some set of skills beyond the capacity to be authentic and committed to a possibility larger than oneself.
Leadership from this perspective is the ability to operate within the present and appreciate the larger context: that results and possibilities grow not from our individual choices only but from the power and contributions of those we lead.

Tony Mayo states that Context-based leadership manifests when environmental factors and individual action come together. And “come together” is the most important part…..The environmental factors create a specific and sometimes unique context for business. Within this contextual framework, some individuals envisioned new enterprises or new products and services, while others saw opportunities for maximizing or optimizing existing businesses, and still others found opportunities through reinvention or recreation of companies or technologies that were considered stagnant or declining….. In other words, it can be construed to reflect awareness of and ability to adapt to the contextual intelligence…..The ability to succeed in multiple contexts is based on what Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas in Geeks & Geezers called adaptive capacity — the ability to change one’s style and approach to fit the culture, context, or condition of an organization. Success in the twenty-first century will require leaders to pay attention to the evolving context.

That brings us to the theme of Victor H Vroom and Arthur G Jago’s paper:  The Role of the Situation in Leadership – Leadership depends on the situation. Few social scientists would dispute the validity of this statement. Three distinct roles that situational variables play in the leadership process are:

  1. Organizational effectiveness (often taken to be an indication of its leadership) is affected by situational factors not under leader control.
  2. Situations shape how leaders behave.
  3. Situations influence the consequences of leader behavior.

Looking at behavior in specific classes of situations rather than averaging across situations is more consistent with contemporary research on personality and more conducive to valid generalizations about effective leadership. If . . . then . . . relationships are not only at the core of attempts to understand what people do but are also the basis for attempts to understand what leaders should do.

In What the Best Leaders Know: Context Matters, John Kamensky sees ‘the traditional leader is seen as a charismatic hero, a lone figure, towering above the rest.  These are seen more in the military or business worlds – General George Patton, auto executive Lee Iaccoco, computer guru Steve Jobs.  But in reality, the success of a leader depends on the context or environment, in which they work – the deck they’ve been dealt….Today, new forms of shared leadership are evolving – where a leader serves as a visionary, a broker, a convener, a mediator.  And occasionally is recognized as a hero!  

In an in-depth study, Leadership in Context, Michael Bazigos, Chris Gagnon, and Bill Schaninger note that ‘even the best scripts can ring hollow in the wrong settings. (Their) research suggests that the most effective leadership behavior reflects the state of a company’s organizational health. Top-management teams that are serious about developing vibrant businesses and effective leaders must be prepared to look inward, assess the organization’s health objectively, and ask themselves frankly whether their leadership behavior is strong enough in the ways that matter most at the time. This question has implications not just for developing but also for assessing a company’s leaders. However much an executive may seem to have a leadership “it” factor, the organization’s health, not the claims of individuals, should come first when companies determine which kinds of behavior will be most effective for them. In short, they should spotlight different sets of actions in different situations. Fortunately for aspiring leaders, they don’t have to do everything at once.

Reams and reams of literature have been published on the subject of The Context of Leadership. Within the limitations of only one post on the subject, we have set up the stage for enlisting some of the articles and papers to know what the current Western thinking is on the subject.

In Leadership in Context, Kim Turnbull James sets the tone for the future. He states – the leadership literature has begun to identify that if leadership is to meet the organisational requirements of organisations with complex bureaucracies, with multiple stakeholders, multiple professional practices, politics (with small and big ‘p’), working across boundaries within and across organisations, then hoping for a few, or even a whole raft of individuals who can influence deep into an organisation will be insufficient. In addition to good strategic leadership from the top, leadership must be exercised throughout an organisation. Identifying individuals who have leader potential is not the (only) solution. Leadership development ‘in context’ does not just mean individual leadership development adapted to a specific locale, but means people from that locale coming together to learn to lead together and to address real challenges together.

Now, let us look at what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say on the subject in the Segment 2: Context of leaders: jaisa yug, vaisa avatar

Do various incarnations of Vishnu represent leadership at different stages of a corporation’s life cycle?

Before go into reply to the question of different incarnations, we need to understand Vishnu. Mythology is a method of communication of ideas through form. Let us look at image of Vishnu. Vishnu manages the world. He holds a conch with which he communicates with the people. He has a wheel on the other side. He also has a mace and a lotus flower, called Padma. The wheel in his hand is for review. Lotus flower is for appreciation whereas mace is for maintaining the discipline.

In a way this image represents ideal traits of leadership. We do not see any rule book here, but if he has to set the discipline, rules of reference are needed.

However rules exist in a given context only. Rules can thus be interpreted differently, but have to be interpreted with reference to a fixed principle. The concept of context is explained in mythology using the age (Yuga). Human cycle of life has four parts. There is childhood when we learn, then youth when we mature, then old age that represents systems slowing down and then comes death.

In many ways, this represents the phases that a corporation also undergoes. Each of the Age will have different set of rules based on a common principle called Dharma(loosely translated a Faith of morality). Dharma is a principle, not a code of conduct and certainly not religion. So you have to understand the principle of Dharma and then you have to understand the concept of The Age, and then the Incarnation in each of these. Each one is upholding Dharma but following very different rules. For example you have Ram who is monogamous, faithful to one wife and you have Krishna, lover of beautiful, many women. How do you reconcile the two who both are Gods and both are upholding the Dharma. For Parashuram, there is no wife around in his life.

So we have three gods and each has a different rule. In other words, there an overarching principle: different kind of leadership is required in different phases of the life cycle of an organization, but all are abiding one Principle.

All these are equal, they just represent different phases and different styles of leadership, then why is one greater than the rest? For instance, every time we talk of a perfect society we call it Ramrajya. It is supposed to be heaven on earth. There are many other leaders, there are many other gods, then why is Ram revered so much more than the rest?

Remember that’s the only form of God which is visualized as a king. Krishna is not King he’s a kingmaker. You worship Krishna as a cowherd and a charioteer not as a king. Ram is only deity of all the deities in India who has so many temples in India. He is only one deity who  was visualized as a king. He is the only one king who’s worshipped.

But it can’t be his position that draws the faithful. The fact is that being the king is not instrumental in why he is so visual. What is different?

Difference is in his role. Krishna is Vishnu but so is he the cowherd or the charioteer.

Why so much emphasis on the kingliness of Ram?

Because he is doing what a king is supposed to do; he’s living the life of as what a king is supposed to be. That is what Ram is associated with. And, what is that supposed to be? He is living for the people, to the point that when given a choice between an honest and faithful wife and cruel, unjust, unfair subjects, the King takes a decision to choose his cruel subjects and rejects his faithful wife. It’s the classic conflict between personal life and professional life. He chooses the professional life over the personal life. He sacrifices.

But he sacrifices the professional life for the good of the people not the professional life for his own personal advancement in the profession.

If you look at our legends, not mythology, people who have sacrificed their children are put on a higher pedestal, because we know how impossible that is.

So Ram Rajya is almost the attainment of the impossible, because it is about sacrificing what your love for your dearest, and chooses to love others.

We thus observe that both, Western and the Indian view of role of leadership are driven by the context. In so far as the leader does what the context has demanded to do in terms of the dictates of the fundamental principle(s), of is caring for others, first , he has done justice to his role of befitting the Leader.

In our next session next month, we will take up segment 3 of second episode – Leadership – of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra viz. Leadership in different Business Cycles

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

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Author: ASHOK M VAISHNAV

In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging! One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems. So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation. At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships. I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator. And yet, The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

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