Books

Rooted in ancient wisdom

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on June 27, 2021

Title: Karma Sutras: Leadership and Wisdom in Uncertain TimesAuthor: Debashish ChatterjeePublisher: Sage PublishingPrice: ₹450

The book brings a fresh perspective to the leadership debate

Leadership is a much written about subject. Yet, despite reams being written about it, there is still a mystery about it, and questions that remain unanswered. And because of this elusive quality about it, it prods more enquiry, which in turn provokes more authorship.

Debashis Chatterjee, the erudite Director of IIM Kozhikode, brings a fresh perspective, rooted in ancient wisdom, to the subject of leadership in this book aimed at high potential managers — and it is especially relevant in a post-Covid world where many are seeking anchors in spiritual thought.

The book wonderfully delineates the difference between a manager — one who has subordinates and a leader — one who has followers. A full chapter is devoted to highlighting the differences, one leads by the clock, the other by the compass, one is task focussed, the other is people focussed, and so on.

It’s a book that shows a lot of scholarship, deep thinking, a philosophical bent of mind as well as an experienced teacher’s ability to distil wisdom in amazingly simple fashion. This is also a book whose delivery module is suited to our times of low-attention spans as it can be absorbed in short bites (and preferably in solitude and silence).

Food for thought

Although the book is structured in two parts — the first devoted to karma (conscious action) and the second to sutras (insights) — you can dive into it from anywhere and come away with lots of food for thought.

Within karma, the book explores the new uncertainty, the difference between managers and leaders, the difference between power and authority, the new world of work, culture and technology. These are on a practical plane.

The sutras section is on a higher plane, diving into consciousness, love, personal mastery, workship (as opposed to work in the earlier section), human values and the organisation.

The book begins with the new normal, and dealing with the current uncertainty. What you are carrying in your head — the mindset — is the old normal, whereas the new normal is what you are creating through your karma, your thoughtful action now, rather than sitting and doing nothing, says Chatterjee.

A story from how P&G navigated the great depression, when counter-intuitively it increased advertising, sponsoring daily serial dramas (that’s how the term soap operas came) is illustrative of what karma begets. P&G’s soaps thrived as did the serials it sponsored.

The book is replete with many corporate stories even as it dives into old Chinese and Indian wisdom, bringing forth the teachings of Lao Tzu, the gospels of Buddha, the Upanishads et al. What is noteworthy is the skilful weaving of the old thought and the contemporary where Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts are delivered to the reader in a way that resonates as much as Sheryl Sandberg’s comments.

I particularly liked the bits on hierarchy in the chapter on Human Values, and am so glad Chatterjee has tackled the subject because as he rightly says, it has become a dirty word in contemporary business and hierarchical organisations are looked down upon. Chatterjee sets the context and restores the balance with his take.

“No relationship can exist without a difference in potential. Whether it is a relationship between two metals, or between the members of a family, or between the different parts of an organisation, the preconditions for any relationship include not only diversity but also a difference in potential,” he writes. The elder brother is not necessarily better or more able than the younger brother, but he is more responsible because he is older.

“Hierarchies in human organisations are just that — an amalgam of position and perspective. The superior positions of leaders only give them greater perspective,” he says.

A powerful chapter in the book is the one on nature’s manuscript — what we can learn from the forest, the garden, the sky, the mountains, the various cycles of nature. The simplicity with which the language of nature and the power of self organisation is explained is enchanting.

There was a time when the Western school of thought dominated the management world. But increasingly, the storehouse of knowledge on consciousness that resides in Eastern cultures is becoming recognised. Chatterjee’s book, which is peppered with beautiful illustrations, is yet another step in bringing to the surface this wisdom and consciousness.

Published on June 27, 2021

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