Corporate Gods — self-manifested or annointed — can be most dangerous.

All of us grow up looking up to others who we believe are our role models. People whose achievements we admire and whom we would like to emulate. Thus it has been over the millennia.

As we grow and mature, we may have different role models who appeal to the different aspirational goals that animate our personalities.

Many a time we also have a select few who are our heroes - larger than life figures, who are beyond our reach and who personify strengths and virtues that really excite us.

Sometimes, the importance we attach to our role models crosses the boundaries of acceptability. People who are great role models are transformed into heroic figures in our imagination and we start paying homage at the altar of hero worship.

It is quite likely that the persons thus worshipped may not be aware of our feelings and in most cases, may not even wish to be treated in this fashion.

In corporate organisations, the importance of role models cannot be over stressed. They play an important part in transmitting the DNA of the system. They also instil hope in others, that if they emulate the role models, they can also aspire to greater roles in the organisation.

At different points in one's learning and growth cycle, it is important to look up to role models.

A word of caution -- role models are not paragons of perfection; it is just an indication that they are very good at a few things that we wish to emulate.

It will be ideal if they can be found within the smaller working groups that every one is a part of, so that emulation becomes easier. However, the reality is likely to be that while some part of what we seek to know can come from those who work closely with us, some more traits will probably need to be assimilated from others who are not a part of our immediate circle. This is something that needs to be encouraged and nurtured in organisations.

However, in some organisations, this is taken too far and role models are transformed into Heroes, whom everyone is required to venerate. This sets up a cult of hero worship, which is detrimental to all concerned -- the individual, others in the organisation and finally, the organisation itself.

Logic and informed discussions are the most immediate casualties and the organisation becomes inward looking and thus vulnerable to external challenges.

The irony in all this is the fact that in a lot of instances, many of the role models and heroes are probably most reluctant to don this mantle, but find it difficult to shake off the tag and the halo imposed by the others.

Slowly but steadily their very human tendencies are denied to them because their followers expect them to be perfect.

The fact is that no one is perfect but the adulatory masses seek to see perfection where it does not exist.

Inevitably, when the fall happens and their very human frailties are revealed, the role models and heroes are discarded and the search begins for newer versions.

Beyond the role models and heroes lurk the most dangerous and damaging of beings – the Corporate Gods. They come in two flavours -- the Swamyambhus (the self-manisfested) and the Annointed.

Both types are bad for the organisation and both types attract ‘priests' like honey attracts ants and soon we have the priestly middle layer routing the traffic both ways.

It is also made clear by the priests who surround any ‘God' that professional nirvana cannot be obtained unless they obey the rules that the priests set out. In most cases, a leadership cult is formed.

By definition, cults are closed systems. Access is by preference dictated by self-appointed elite and over a period of time logic is replaced by blind faith.

And anyone who has the temerity to question the orthodoxy is deemed a heretic and punished.

The ‘Gods' who are propitiated by daily poojas supervised by the priests , start thinking that they are really Gods, and that they are therefore omniscient and invincible.

Surrounded as they are by sycophants, slowly but steadily they lose touch with reality with inevitable consequences to the fortunes of the organisation and its people.

Let's choose our role models wisely; elevating anyone to a hero's position only sparingly – knowing all the time that they are also human like us and thus prone to failure from time to time.

Let's make sure that the Gods stay where they ought to be - in the Heavens above!

The writer is corporate advisor to Manipal Education and Medical Group and an IIM-A alumnus.

(This article was published on May 4, 2012)
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