Chanakaya Models of Leadership

May 9, 2018

9th May 2018, Mumbai | Speaker : Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai

The second session of Perspective, a unique initiative by Sapphire Human Solutions, saw its red carpet rolled out for Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai, an eminent author and speaker.

Dr. Pilllai has done his PhD from the University of Mumbai and is known to have done extensive research on “Kautilya’s Arthashastra”, a well known book written in the 4 th BC. Dr. Pillai is currently the Dy. Director of the Chanakya International Institute of Leadership Studies at the University of Mumbai. He has authored many books on Chanakya and his philosophy, and is a prolific and an erudite speaker at various forums in India and abroad.

The session was hosted by Mr. Utkarsh Patel, a corporate-professional turned mythologist and author, and was attended by Human Resource heads from different industries, like Banking, logistics, power, etc.

After a brief on the genesis of Perspective, and introductions of the guest and the participants, and after establishing the relevance of a synergy between academic and professional worlds, the floor was left open for the guest of the day, Dr. Pillai.

Dr. Pillai, began with his idea of what he thinks of the term Perspective and its significance. He felt that with maturity comes the necessity to change ones perspective and quoted Rumi, “We are not a drop in the ocean, we are the whole ocean in a drop.” He felt that sometime it’s important not to do anything, but just to think differently. According to him, Chanakya only made people think differently. It was important not to just ‘build organisations’, but ‘build larger families’. Dr. Pillai harped on the significance of this, especially in the case of Indian organisations, which generally is found to thrive like a family. He then went on to give a few examples of how certain organisations have built ‘family’ organisations, ensuring professional atmosphere, along the way. He felt that even heads of successful organisations ought to think like an HR professional and not just CEOs. He mentioned about Mr. Vineet Nayars book, ‘Employees First and Customers Second’ and how it was important to make employees the first priority for organisations.

After giving a very brief historical background of Chanakya, he shifted focus on the principles laid down by Chanakya in his tome, the Arthshastra. According to Chankaya, one important tenet was ‘never fight a battle alone, take a friend along’, harping on the need to collaborate. It is only human beings who thrive or need collaborations and cannot survive in isolation. If an organisation is not doing well, it is mainly because the organisation was not discussing their problems.

Chankaya’s Arthshastra, delved in close to 180 topics. One of the most important aspects of a selection process is the learning capability of the person being onsidered. It is important to understand if the resource is trainable and/or willing to be trained. Chanakya harped on certain aspects of the person being selected or being interviewed. For this, it is important to ask such questions which tests ones trainability. The fear of learning is ones biggest problem and at any stage of an organisations hiring, a candidate, no matter what be his background; if s/he displays a fear of learning, then the person is not a good fit. When pointed if this was more of a fear of failure, Dr. Pillai mentioned that more than that, it was the fear of the unknown.

Dr. Pillai then went on the impress upon the gathering the Saptanga model of Chanakya, which refers to seven aspects, as quoted in one of the verses from the Arthashastra, “Swami, amatya, janapada, durga, kosha, danda, mitra, iti prakritaiya” [6 th book of Arthsahstra, Book no 1, sutra no 1]. To interpolate this to the corporate world, a leader should take care of seven aspects. Swami is the leader, amatya is the council of ministers or head of the departments, janapada are the citizens or clients, durga is the fort, in this case it refers to the organisations infrastructure, kosha, is treasury should not only be full, but overflowing, danda is the army, or a large workforce, mitra refers to friends, alliances or an external support of an organisation. To summarise the verse, Dr. Pillai said that a leader (Swami) needs to work with his team (amatya) to keep the clients and other stakeholders (janapada) satisfied, provide good infrastructure (durga), with adequate finance (kosha) for the workforce (danda) and leverage the support of an external help (mitra). For a successful organisation, a leader must ensure that all the seven parts are in a proper synergy.

Out of the seven aspects, five are people driven, the other two, i.e. mainly durga and kosha also exist for the people. According to Chanakya, it is the people who are at the heart of an organisation – build people, one will build an organisation. If people are happy, the organisation will be happy. Chanakya laid a lot of stress on financial state or an organisation. According to him, all decisions are financial decisions.

During the discussion, Mr. Vinay Ranjan brought up the reference to a research which said that if the employees of an organisation were happy, then the organisation was not very successful. To this Dr. Pillai said that it is a tight-rope walking, between keeping employees happy and productivity leading to the success of an organisation. Both have to be linked and organisations have to use both pressure and professionalism to maintain happiness as well as productivity. This led to a debate on the idea of happiness linked to productivity amongst the participants.

Mr. Patel added that salary should not be considered to be a benchmark for motivation, leading to happiness as salary is a measure of one’s work. In such a scenario, and given the cash-crunch and job insecurity around, how does one keep ones workforce happy? To this Dr. Pillai mentioned that this was a leadership problem. He opined that down-sizing was seldom an issue of times or the market, but often a failure of the leadership.

Mr. Purvesh Kapadia, brought up the aspect of build vs. buy option when it comes to filling up internal positions; hire people from outside or promote internal people. This also brought up the peoples role of the leader. The leader must give time to his/her people at a personal level, and build relationships.

Mr. Ankit Bansal enquired about Chanakya’s style of decision-making. Dr. Pillai explained that Chankaya promoted autocratic decision-making but taken democratically! Dr. Pillai then went on to explain the consultative process of the leader before he takes it in further consultation with people at large. The maturity lies in the leader’s ability to ensure that the decision is hailed by the majority.

The session ended with Mr. Patel thanking Dr. Pillai for the wonderful session and echoing a general feeling of the people that there was much to learn from Dr. Pillai and that Perspective would love to have him again sometime in the future. The group unanimously appreciated the format of Perspective as it enabled a close interaction amongst the people.

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