Leadership Lessons – Hanuman Chalisa



Last week we were having a session on Leadership within my team and we discussed many different aspects of this much sought after trait in the corporate world. But as we delved deeper into the subject and contrasted the leadership styles along with questions about morality, right and wrong, success and failure there was no one answer to the puzzle. I have always believed that among the many different qualities that one needs to master in worldly life Leadership is one of the toughest. I attribute this difficulty to the fact that while in interaction with hardware and software the outcome for a particular action is fixed, in case of human beings who posses one of the most complex softwares ( brain) known to man, the response could vary significantly. Also, while the machine will not hold the negative interaction against you and will in the first place tell you why or what it did not like a human being may never tell you about their impression but even hold their dislike for a long time. Again, to what extent even they will not know as it is a function of a number of things – your reaction, their own situation or circumstances, what others tell them about you, their own ability to forgive and forget. The data points are varied for both the leader and the follower and then you could have a dynamics going on within the followers themselves. They may see your actions as biased or dislike you for liking someone they don’t like and so on. A leader therefore has this unique of being a sage while excelling in the material world.

You see so many bosses around you but how many of them you can call leaders ?

While driving back home I was constantly engaged in the thought about how can this code be cracked.While I had enough question and a few answers it was clear to me that the answer was within me and not outside. How people look at me or get influenced by my behavior was indeed a function of my own mastery of myself. If I could attain a higher state of being unmoved by the trivial and ever enjoying a state of peaceful existence but at the same time having the drive and courage to do what is required of me I could probably inspire others around me to a certain degree.

The car stereo was all this time playing a soulful rendition of Hanuman Chalisa by Swami Tejomayananda and as usual I was humming along with Guruji. In this particular CD Swamiji has sung the Hanuman Chalisa in 7 different Ragas and in between each rendition he tells some anecdote about the great qualities of  Bajrang Bali. He was telling now about the 8 Siddhis which were awarded to Hanumanji by Sitaji and that Hanumanji was a giver of these Siddhis to his Ananya (unique or superlative) bhakts. I had heard about the Siddhis before and had always thought that Neem Karoli Baba (Maharajji)  possessed all of them. But today it was special – while Swamiji explained the verbal meaning of the what the Siddhis meant he also declared that we did not literally need to strive to achieve them but can take the gist of what they stood for and put them into practice in our lives. As an old habit I started making a mental note of what Swamiji was saying but soon enough I realized that the answer I was seeking was right there. The new 8 fold path of Hanumanji’s Siddhis was all I needed. Each Siddhi represents a different quality of ones character and if imbibed correctly they can really transform you not only as a leader but as a human being.

Let me take you through each one of them and you can decide for yourself :

  1. Anima – is to become small. Taken literally it is the miniature form that Bajrang Bali takes when he takes Shri Ram’s message to Sita in Lanka. But if you consider the import and apply it to our lives then it could mean not pandering to our ego on every small instance. We all know that there are times when if you can say sorry the job will be done but we keep holding our position just to satisfy our ego. Sometimes we even garb it as self respect. Trust me the ‘self’ does not need respect of all things as it is beyond human condition. In daily life it could mean a simple thing such as saying sorry ! In personal and professional life sometimes even if you know that the other person is being unreasonable, look at the larger picture and say OK you win. But then there is a challenge – you should know when to hold on and when to let go. A leader represents change and disrupts the status quo so he cannot be seen as giving up the cause. Having set a higher goal, the trick is not get bogged down by the trivial. This is the key.
  2. Mahima – The second Siddhi is the opposite of Anima and verbatim it means to become big. In Hanuman Chalisa this is described as Sukshm roop dhari siyahin dikhawa, Vikat roop dhari lank jarava, bhim roop dhar asur sanhare Ram chandra ke kaaj sanware. Hanuman ji attains a humongous form and burns the entire Lanka fighting with numerous powerful demons and jumping from one palace to the other as if he was jumping puddles. So now if we consider what this could mean to us – well, in life we meet so many situations where we have to act bigger than what we actually are or let me say what we think we actually are. This is specially relevant in the context of leadership. There are stations in life which require you to ‘become’ big and take a higher position. It could be a team lead, head of an institution, a CEO and so on. But when such a challenge comes don’t have self doubt or cower down, cringe and lose confidence. Understand that its not because of some false  image that you have projected that you are being given a higher role, it is because others have seen in  you the qualities that can help achieve the objective. You are in the front seat so you are being asked to drive. Don’t bring in your ego as it will create all kind of illusions. Just do what needs to be done ! Rise to the challenge and take everyone along with you. If your intention is good and your ideals high then where is the question of not taking a bigger form ?
  3. Garima – The third Sidhdhi has been described by many of Maharaj ji’s followers. Once he was not well and being an old man a disciple tried to offer support while going down the stairs. He recollects that when Maharaj ji gave his hand he felt that the weight of the entire world has come upon him and he will get crushed.neem Just then Maharaj ji looked at him and he was back to normal. Of course, this was Babaji’s leela ! Now for us this Siddhi could simply mean that one must have a Stoic nature in life. Good and bad , Happiness and sorrow, Winning and loosing are all part of the game of life. Swami Chinmayanada used to say that always remember – Even this will pass away. This holds equally true for favorable and unfavorable conditions. Just like the good times did not last so will the phase when things are less than perfect. Again for a leader it is important to know that praise needs to be taken in one’s stride as much as criticism. Not everything you do or every decision you take can be favorable to all and it also depends upon their own understanding and state of mind. If you get exalted with every little success or every small praise then you are bound to act the opposite when you have to face tougher times. Stand straight, not straightened as Marcus Aurelius the great Stoic would say.
  4. Laghima – is the quality of becoming light as a feather. This lightness enabled Hanumanji to fly as fast as the fastest bird and being the son of Pavan- the God of air he had this inherent quality of being like the air itself. Now the interpretation of this lightness for us would mean being ‘light hearted‘ or not taking every little thing too seriously. Have some fun in what you do everyday and take time off for simple pleasures of living. I have come across many people who take life quite seriously and they have found my view of life so different from theirs that they have gone to the extent of calling me careless, slow and easy. But on the other hand I have seen the misery of these characters who will stay up the whole night as someone passed a comment which they thought was not in the right spirit. Now the person who said it went home and slept but they will stay up the whole night thinking – oh my God how could he/she say this ! Also, almost always I have found that what seems to be a big problem as we conjure up dooms day scenarios within our minds usually has very simple outcomes. I am not saying that we keep acting funny and stupid but then take time to step back and look at things as they are. To be able to laugh at yourself is a wonderful way of doing away with the burden. Bob Marley said – Don’t you worry about a thing…every little thing is gonna be all right. I think he really made a point there.
  5. Prakamya – or taking the desired form at will. Hanumanji could transform into a Human being, a monkey and take many other forms he willed to or if they were required for him to accomplish the task of his master Bhagwan Shri Ram. It is a great Siddhi again which tells us that to meet the given objective or to perform the task at hand one should be able to change the attitude, the manner and the disposition/temperament. I always joke that Shah Rukh Khan has not acted in some 50 movies , he has acted in just one movie but it has been released or shown to us some 50 times ! As in the world of drama it is important to get under the skin of the character, in life too it is important to understand your role really well. And just as in the movies if one is playing a king he should look and feel like a king not a beggar in life too if one is in a position of respect one should make sure he does not bring down the stature of the position. ‘ Acting’ your part is an art we need to develop consistently. When in the office behave like a boss or an employee but once at home change your role to a father, a son or a loving husband. Never take the tension of your home to work or bring back worries from the office to the dinner table. The ability to switch ‘on’ and switch ‘off’ is one of most important traits of a great leader. And if we keep the first 4 Siddhis in mind and practice them well Prakamya should become our second nature.
  6. Prapti –  This Siddhi relates to transcending the limitation of Human form and to be able to reach wherever and whenever. It also implies being present at different places at the same time. This great Siddhi was possessed by Maharaj ji as there have been numerous instances of devotees seeing Baba Neem Karoli at different places at the same time. Many times people have described him to appear and disappear almost instantaneously although he always tried to find some excuse or the other for this phenomenon and scolded his followers of creating unnecessary myths.  For us this Siddhi would simply mean ‘resourcefulness’  or being able to create an environment around us that is favorable to what we want to accomplish. Getting the right tools, the right people, the right financial resources which can take the endeavor  forward is what is required of a leader. It could also mean removing the hurdles that would take the team or the organization from point A to Point B. Of course, where the point B is something bigger and higher in the  scheme of things. To be ‘able’ to reach the desired goal through one’s enterprise and to inspire others is in true sense having Prapti as a Siddhi.
  7. Ishitwa –  The way of being a Lord or a Master is referred to as Ishitwa. If taken literally it could itself mean being a leader but a leader is not a master or a lord. He is one among the followers and yet he is revered and respected as the group believes that by following the leader they can bring about positive change in their own life. Unlike a Master a leader does not permit freedom or impose sanctions. The leader shows the way within the same boundaries and limitations that the followers are also subjected to. Now in doing so he does win the hearts of the followers and in a sense he does rule over them, but over their hearts.Ruling over the heart is the key to Ishitwa as the organization structure or the position one holds for the time being may give powers so you start believing that it is you who can change the destiny of your people. But it is important that the belief is there not in you but in the people for whom you are responsible for. Remember that you are not only responsible for the good that happens to your followers but even the bad that they have to go through because of your indecision, your incompetence, your self doubt.
  8. Vashitwa –  To have someone in your ‘vash’ is usually thought of as a kind of Hypnosis. But wouldn’t you get hypnotized by the very presence of someone as pure, as powerful and as simple as Hanumanji. Even Bhagwaan said that I have two kind of Bhakts – First are those who love me a lot and the second are those whom I love more than everyone else. Hanumanji was one such Bhakt that even Bhagwan Shri Ram was hypnotized by his love and selfless service. We can also have people not only liking us but loving us as they would just be reciprocating our sincerity and genuineness towards them. A bond of loyalty is stronger than any form of Hypnotism. It has the power to stay even after the bad times have fallen and the name, fame and power are long gone. A true leader will have followers who love him for who he is and the feeling of being loved and cared for in his presence. The sense of security that comes from the fact that the leader would not let any harm happen creates a special bond of trust. This bond is what keeps the group together.

I sincerely wish and hope that Lord Hanuman will help me develop the above qualities. I know this itself will be a big Sadhana for me. It is much easier to write a blog post than to practice these seemingly easy behaviors in the ‘real’ world. But I also know that without ‘Tapa’ there are no ‘Siddhis’ and if I cannot push myself for these simple earthly qualities I can never hope to  pursue what is higher and divine in this life.

Lessons from Mumbai Dabbawalas

The story of Mumbai dabbawalas who deliver home cooked lunch to 2 lakh customers everyday on time every time has been an inspiring one and is much hyped since the management gurus discovered that there is more sense in their simple ways than there is in all management book combined.

In the last 5 years everyone from Prince Charles to Richard Branson to CK Prahalad have flocked their workspace ( streets of Mumbai) and every organization worth its salt has piled them with certificates on managing quality,supply chain,cost,change etc etc .They have been named as SIX SIGMA organization with 1 error per 16 million transactions.They have lectured at every management school from the IIM’s in India to Stanford and Harvard in the US.The list is endless..

The big deal is that all this has happened without a single computer in place ( assuming human brains are not computers) and more than 85 % of workforce (shareholders) being illiterate.

Without going into the temptation of demeaning the so called MBA’s I will straightway go to the lessons I learnt when I went to hear them out at the ISB last weekend.There are some key takeaways so more than what you read just sit back, absorb what is being said and then try to implement at your workplace.

1.Keep operational costs low – these are cost of doing business and eat profit

2.Do not invest unless it gives you assured returns and you will almost certainly loose out if you don’t

3.Customer is not the Raja but the Maharaja – Prince Charles was asked to met the dabbawalas at churchgate station so that the deliveries for the day are not affected

4.Complexity opposes compliance – workers shun tedious systems and processes and they do no good except bring down productivity and frustrate everyone around.Simplify as much as possible and create processes only when you can’t do without them.

5.Deviation from your core competency can reduce focus and affect current sales and profits negatively.Don’t jump around to the first idea to diversify just because the consultant tells you so.Use your own brain.

6.Technology is to support business and business is not there to support technology.Computers are for helping people and people are not there to help computers.Don’t put the cart before the horse !

7.Keep your organization as flat as possible.Hierarchies boost egos not your business.Let your people take their own decisions as far as possible.The guy who does the job knows best and one does not need to take approvals for going to the loo.That was OK in kindergarten – grow up please !!

8.Promote cooperation inside to take on competition from outside.If your employees keep working on thwarting internal competition they will be weak to take on external challenges.Do not have people within the organisation to compete amongst themselves.

Let the leaders emerge rather than get nominated.

9.Build extra cushion for exigencies and emergencies.The computers may konk off,people can fall sick,debtors can default and suppliers may delay.But it has to be business as usual for your customers. You can bounce back quickly if you are not on a rigid surface.

A word of caution though – the spring in your sofa keeps you comfortable but if its too cushy   you can start to spoil your spine.

10.Commitment matters – qualification doesn’t.It should matter what you can do rather than what you have done.

Your most talented and educated people are no good if they keep networking for pastures greener and use company infrastructure for scouting higher paying jobs.Put a question about what you gained during your MBA to any of the Ivy league institutes in India or abroad and they will say ” networking”.There could be nothing more silly and out of place than this.An unfortunate fact is that more than 50 % of fresh MBA’s switch  at at least 3-5  jobs in the first 5 years until they find a comfortable place to park their fat ass.

One committed employee can do more for the organisation than 50 educated ones who are looking for options outside.A committed worker will not be afraid to ask for a raise when he feels its due to him while a non committed individual will change jobs at the slightest pretext.I have come across folks who have changed jobs for a 5 day week !

11.Educate employees about the importance of what they do.Once they know they will make sure that errors are minimized and even in the absence  of a code of conduct they will strive to deliver better results for their customers – internal or external.

12.Use existing infrastructure – its free ! Look around your self and you may find stuff that you can use rather than buy or build on your own.If you can use Indian postal services at 2 % higher cost to reach out why create a logistics company of your own.When there is milk from the dairy farm why buy a buffalo ?

13.Abandon bad customers – hard to admit but a reality of life.If you have bunch of bad customers who bring down your efficiency,de motivate your people and cost you a bomb to serve you should not waste time in taking the “call”.Dump bad customers before the good ones dump you.

Good money can’t be chasing bad money as simple as that.

14.Promote self discipline rather than discipline and don’t be shy when it comes to penalizing wayward behavior. Bad behavior gets imbibed faster – remember no one taught you smoking but you picked it up just by looking at your friends.Each one of us knows what is the right thing to do and people cannot be allowed to make examples in bad conduct at the cost of organization.

Rules are meant to be broken – surely not in this company.

15. Multi tasking is another name for screwing up a lot of stuff all at one time.Cross fertilization is management bull shit peddled by managers to stay away from taking responsibility of a single task and its outcomes.

Unless proven to be ready for the next level an employee must demonstrate potential rather than flash his fancy degrees.Your customers don’t give two hoots about who delivered the Pizza as long as it was on time.

16.Human beings are emotional and that is what differentiates them from animals.What a hundred HR workshops can’t do can be achieved by a simple lunch together everyday. Money can’t buy love but it certainly can buy lunch once in a while when you want to celebrate the group’s success.

If one man in a team can stand up  for the other with a belief that when it comes to my partner even he would do the same, you know that you are ready to take on the world.

17.High salaries can attract mercenaries and pigs but not dedicated,inspired and motivated people.Narayan Murthy of Infosys was once asked that how he retained talented people during initial phases of the company and he said

” Everyone was giving them a job, I was sharing my dream with them”

Money takes care our bodies but it is our mind which moves the body.The choice is clear – a pat on the back at the right time and at the right place can do more to motivate and inspire than a wad of notes in the pocket which no one knows about.

18.The humble improve.Humility has to be promoted as religion in your organization.Fullness is an enemy of growth and one who thinks he knows all perhaps does not know that there so much more.

If you rest on your laurels you are probably wearing them at the wrong place.We all know the hare and the tortoise story  but a twist in the tale is that now the hare gets stamped by the bull from the stock market while he is asleep.

In the Jungles of Africa it does not matter if you are a Gazelle or a lion what matters is that when the sun comes up you must start running – If you are lion to catch the gazelle and if you are a Gazelle to outrun the lion.