Leadership lessons from the Ramayana

Leadership skills will always hold a professional in good stead. Whether it is a first time manager or the CEO of a company, leadership skills are essential for the success of every manager. Lessons on leadership skills are available everywhere, however in this article we go back to our roots and learn about some important leadership lessons from one of the two great Epics of India– The Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Leadership Lessons from the Ramayana

The Ramayana is a simple straightforward story with very few twists and turns. Almost like our movies. We have a hero who, under extraneous circumstances, fights against a villain and rescues the heroine. Triumph of truth over false, good over evil.

There were no complications as such. No relationship conflicts with Sita or with his siblings. In the Ramayana, it is very clear that the central characters are Shri Ram & Shri Sita and the villain was always only one- Ravan.

In that respect, the leadership lesson from the Ramayana is more to do with an individual’s characteristics which displayed very strong leadership qualities.

Ramayana teaches us how to be an ideal human. Shri Ram is the epitome of a good leader. Let us see how his life teaches us various qualities of a leader which we should imbibe in us.

Shri Ram as a student

Shri Ram was an exemplary student. He learnt scriptures and archery, sword fighting at Maharishi Valmiki’s ashram.  In order to be a good leader you should know your subject. No one can rise to the top without learning the core skills – skills required to complete your job. Of course a measure of intelligence is required but along with that you must have a disciplined approach to learning. You cannot move ahead in life if you do not learn the basics.

Display of strength during Sita’s Swayamvara

Shri Ram went to King Janaka’s kingdom along with Sage Parasurama. There he very easily displayed his strength in stringing Shri Shiva’s bow and thus winning the hand of the princess Sita.

The significance here is not the physical strength displayed by Shri Ram. We are talking about the strength of character that he displayed. Whether it was assessing the task or actually carrying it forward and stringing the bow, it showed strength of character. Before touching the bow Shri Ram bowed and took blessings.

As leaders and managers you have to respect the task assigned to you. You have to display strength of character in completing the task. It is not about brute force, it is about the inner strength you need to harness in order to complete the assigned task.

Obeying his father’s wishes

When King Dashrath and Queen Keikeyi informed Shri Ram about the terms and conditions of the vow and what the queen wished, Shri Ram bowed his hands and said he would gladly adhere to their command. There was no doubt in his mind, no complaints. This shows humility at its best.  He knew that being exiled to the forest is probably not fair, but he accepted the same in totality. Where there is acceptance and when you accept what’s given, you can view things positively. Where there is no acceptance you end up complaining and cribbing about it. He did not cry over the fact that he was a prince and used to princely comforts which he has to give up now, because of a vow made by his father.

Similarly, as a leader, there will be situations which will be thrust upon you. Situations not of your making, but you have to bear the brunt of the same. A true leader will show humility and look at the bigger picture. Obeying (following instructions) here is significant because you, as a leader, have to obey to the commands of the top management.

The exile

Shri Ram knew about the difficulties he would have to face.  Obviously living in the forest for 14 years for a prince who is used to princely comforts is certainly not a bed of roses. On the contrary it would have been more like a bed of nails. Yet he accepted the life of a hermit just as he had accepted living like a prince with equanimity.

As leaders, there will be times when the going gets tough.  You can’t shrug your shoulders and say “hey, I’m the boss; I don’t have to put up with this”.  A true leader is one who accepts the good and the bad with equanimity.

Depth of emotions

During the period of exile, Sita gets kidnapped by Ravan. Shri Ram was distraught at what had happened. He did not hide from his emotions. At the same time he did not get emotionally weak and give up on his beloved wife.

Similarly, as a leader depth of emotions are equally important. You don’t show weakness by feeling emotions. You don’t show weakness by displaying your emotions either.  You show weakness when you let your emotions weaken your resolve. You show weakness when you let an emotional upheaval cause an upheaval in your daily functioning. What you should do is to use the emotions as a charge, a battery power to rise and find solutions to the problems. A leader will not succumb to the emotional distress. (In life there will be situations where you are emotionally distressed and drained).

Making Allies

Shri Ram knew very well that searching for Sita was not a one man’s job. He went ahead looking for her but along the way he made strong allies.  Whether it was Sugriva or Vibhishana, it was the allies and the friendships forged with them which helped Shri Ram conquer Ravan.

Similarly as leaders you should build a strong network of allies. A strong second line is a strategic requirement in today’s world.

Clarity in vision

Shri Ram was very clear about what he wanted. The goals and objectives and the way he would go about achieving them was very clear. There was a vision – whether it was getting Sita back or a vision for his empire (which he had after his pattabhishekam) and there was clarity in that vision.

Similarly for a leader, having a vision is extremely important but having clarity in that vision is even more critical. No point in viewing the future through blurred spectacles.

Identifying the latent potential in the team

Shri Ram understood the powers and capability of Hanuman and the entire Vanar Sena of Sugriv. He encouraged it, motivated the team and got them to complete what is considered as a near impossible task of building a bridge over the ocean.

As a leader, you should never underestimate the power of your team. It is your job to identify  the potential in each team member so that this can finally be used in realising the ultimate goal.

Belief in your abilities

Not once did Shri Ram ever doubt that he would not get Sita. He believed in himself and he believed in his ability to get the best out of the rag-tag army of monkeys.

As a leader it is essential to believe in oneself. If you can’t believe in yourself, your ability, your strengths, then how can anyone else believe in you? The minute your self-belief is shaken, you can be assured that your team will stop believing in you.

 Planning

There was no doubt that Shri Ram’s planning was perfect to the T. From organizing a search party, getting advice from the elders in the team (like Jambavat), trusting the young and energetic Hanuman, to planning the war strategy, everything was well planned.

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning is a key skill required of every leader. Planning is done at each and every stage of every activity and planning should be done in detail.

Organizing resources

What did Shri Ram have with him? A brother who could fight and Hanuman who could fly! Besides that he had essentially a rag-tag army of monkeys. Yet he organised these available resources to carry out his plans.

A real leader does not get daunted because of lack of perfect resources. A real leader will take the available resources and make them perfect.

Respecting the team’s opinion

Despite misgivings from the tribal chiefs, Shri Ram accepted Vibhishan under his protection and even took advice from Vibhishan. He used Vibhishan’s knowledge and made assessments about Ravan’s strength. Never once did he underestimate Ravan’s power or strength.

It doesn’t matter who in the team, gives the idea. If the idea or the advice is worth it, a leader should respect the individual and accept the advice. There is no rule which says that only the leader should do all the thinking. In fact for succession planning, it is vital that a leader encourages his team to also think. A remarkable trait in real leaders is that they respect their teams opinion and thought process, nurture it and let it blossom.

Execution of plans

Shri Ram personally oversaw the execution of the detailed plans made by him. Between Lakshman and himself, they taught the army of Sugriv and the tribal chiefs the art of warfare. He saw to it that the bridge was constructed well – even though the same was commissioned to Nala (a descendent of Vishwakarma).

Planning without execution is probably the most wasteful aspect of management. There is no point in planning if the same cannot be executed. And execution has to be perfect lest all the detailed planning is pointless. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that the team executes the plans, to foresee any deviations and to take corrective measures accordingly.

 Crisis Management

It is not as if Shri Ram’s life was a bed of roses. Besides the kidnapping of Sita, it was Lakshman’s grave injury in battle which was probably one of the most painful aspects faced by Shri Ram. Yet, he did not lose his cool. Hanuman was sent to get the Sanjivani plant which eventually saved Lakshman’s life. It was his expertise which Shri Ram depended upon.

The one thing a leader is sure of facing during the course of his leadership years is crisis. There can be multiple crises too. Handling the crisis with composure and level-headedness is a critical quality one has to imbibe. Invariably this quality surfaces only when faced with the crisis. Another important point to remember is that you, as a leader, cannot always provide solutions every time to handle a crisis. You have to trust the expertise of your team and expect them to support you at the time of any crisis.

Code of Conduct & Ethics

During the battle with Ravan, there was a time when Ravan was rendered weapon less and was all alone. Shri Ram stopped fighting and told Ravan that the war/ battle can be continued when he was armed again.

There can never be any compromise on code of conduct and ethics. Integrity of a leader should never be questioned. The day a leader’s integrity is questioned, he has lost all that he has accumulated by way of qualities and respect.

These are the leadership lessons that we learn from the Ramayana.

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