The experience of reading Pradeep Chakravarthy’s book, Leadership Shastra: Lessons from Indian History, was more like reading a collection of short stories. It was fascinating to read how the story unfolded in the life of each historical personality featured in the book. The author has chosen to focus on a select few who lived between the 15th and 19th century in the geography equivalent to present day India. These personalities left their mark on the society they controlled, either as a ruler or as a person who could influence the ruler of the land. They were leaders of their time.

The personalities featured in the book are: Malik Ambar (1548 – 1626); The Deccan Sultanates (Early 16th Century – Mid 17th Century); Chhatrapati Shivaji (1630 - 1680); Ahilyabai Holkar (1725 – 1795); Babur (1483 – 1530); Jahanara (1614 – 1681); Aurangazeb (1618 – 1707); The First Five Sikh Gurus (1469 – 1606); Marthanda Varma (1706 – 1758); Tipu Sultan (1750 – 1799); Serfoji II of Thanjavur (1777 – 1832); Sankaradeva (1449 – 1568); The Ahoms of Assam (1228 – 1826); Osman Ali Khan of Hyderabad (1887 – 1967); The Mughals after Aurangazeb (1707 – 1862)

As a reader, one theme that I could relate to each of the personalities is their ability to endure and find ways to realise whatever they wanted to achieve in spite of adversities. For some it was through bribery and deception, and for some others by waging wars. Are there lessons to be learnt? Sure, there are. It depends on the context of the reader and what one is looking for. These personalities lived in a society very different from what we live in today. Therefore, the strategies and tactics employed by them may or may not be relevant today.

I was particularly impressed with the lives of the two women who are featured in the book – Ahilyabai Holkar and Jahnara. They prevailed and succeeded in a male dominated society where it was almost impossible for a woman to lead. Yet they persevered and succeeded. Their stories were amazing to read. Their ability to build strong relationships helped them succeed against many odds.

Another person who impressed me was Serfoji II. Before he became the King of Thanjavur he was persecuted by his uncle and he was subjected to physical and mental torture. When he did become the King, his powers were rather curtailed and he only had a small area of 30 sq km to rule with a fixed annual grant. But, instead of leading a life of leisure and taking to vices as many in his position would have done in those days, he chose to build educational institutions, libraries and medical facilities. The famous Sarasvati Mahal Library of Thanjavur is a legacy he left for future generations.

By the very structure of the book, the reader has to relate to the fact that the contents are interpretations and perspectives of the author. In the few pages devoted to each personality, one can only get a summary of few select events as interpreted by the author. 

Having spent many years as a HR professional in large corporations, he provides perspectives of how one can use the life and times of the historical personalities to improve oneself. The author says, “.... our limited purpose is to make history help us improve our performance.”

After each chapter, the author provides his perspectives under three headings: Lessons from the life of the historical personality, the business connections of the personality and how the personal touch of the personality provides inputs for use in today’s context. 

In the end, the author does suggest a 7-step process of how the book can be used to examine one’s beliefs and alter behaviour. This process requires you to enlist the help of a friend/companion (Sakhi).

The narrative style is very attractive and the book is very easy to read. I enjoyed reading it. I was inspired by the actions of many. Am I planning to use the book to improve my performance? I don’t think so.

(The reviewer is an entrepreneur and co-founder, Proklean Technologies) 

Check out the book on Amazon here

LEADERSHIP SHASTRA, Lessons from Indian History

by Pradeep Chakravarthy

Published by Westland Business

Rs 426 Pages: 168