A unique blend of Mythology and Management: Book Review of The Leadership Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik

Fusing Hindu mythology and management, Devdutt Pattanaik continues his unique insights into the role of power in the corporate set-up in his new book, The Leadership Sutra.

Bringing out the refreshing perspective on power and its role in organizations, the book challenges the interpretation of power as something negative and leads the reader to the understanding that the quest for power in humans is inevitable.  

Distinguishing between ‘Durga’ – the external power and ‘Shakti’ – the inner power, the author explores the concepts of ‘significance’, ’property’, ‘rules’ and ‘stability’ that lies somewhere between the inner and external power through analogies, illustrations, and sutras.

Beginning with the concept of ‘Significance’, the book scrutinizes how recognition through social structures allows humans to feel significant, to nurture ‘our mental image of ourselves’ and to feel powerful. As this concept only exists in human society, it can only be signified by other humans and hence, the need to be constantly endorsed by other human beings regularly. So, ‘praise empowers us’ while ‘insults disempower us’.

Contextualizing mythology in the Indian management structure, the author brings out power dynamics in an organization. To validate ourselves, we create organizations as they grant us value. But what we often ‘fail to realize is that while need the organization, the organization doesn’t need us.’ Ayodhya survives though Dasharath dies.

Moving forward with similar analogies and illustrations, the author explores the concept of ‘Property’ – ‘an idea of man, by man, and for man.’ Explaining the role possessions play in our lives, the author examines how human worth is measured by his belongings. So Indra wants a bigger palace to manifest his superiority over others.

The loss of possessions reveals the true personality and whether we are powered by Durga or Shakti. As Shakti is awakened in Ram, the loss of the kingdom means nothing to him while for Pandavs; it means devastation and deprivation as their self-worth depend on Durga. However, ‘A relationship is about thoughts, not things’.

Appraising the role of ‘Rules’ in the framework of an organization, the author infers ‘Rules help humanity overpower the law of the jungle that might is right.’ In human society, rules give meaning to ownership and possession as in nature, everything is up for appropriation. Though rules are supposed to create a better world, the world where might is not right but they end up creating new hierarchies where the one who designs the rules feels powerful and mighty as he can bend the others to his will. Hence, ‘rules can be oppressive’, can ‘end up creating a culture that is unfair and oppressive.’ So, god (Krishna) in the Hindu mythology is also a rule-breaker as he can see that rules can propagate oppression and injustice.

To take the society forward, change is necessary and so is the breaking of rules. Krishna bends and breaks the rules constantly and creates new ones as ‘Innovation is not possible unless rules are broken.

Concluding with ‘Stability’, the author describes how change can be stressful while stability peaceful. Hence, the need to kill the other, ‘destroy the unfamiliar’. However, at the same times, the book also floats the idea that though change is stressful, it also brings the opportunity for growth. ‘In the difference lay new ideas, new thoughts and new challenges.

Structures and systems are created with the intent to outlast apocalypse as well, though that never happens. As Kansa’s insecurity turned him into a villain, the need for stability drives people to hamper growth. The author concludes with a piece of wisdom that prevailing structures curtail innovation as the need for stability outwits the need for innovation and growth. However, change is inevitable for growth.

The Leadership Sutra offers an interesting perspective on management and leadership by blending Hindu mythology, human behavior with the structure of the organization.

Most of the modern management books dissect managerial theories and principles and are driven by the ethos of target achievement.

Pattanaik’s book showcases how the organizational structure is driven by the human factor and not ‘a set of targets’ which can only be understood by appreciating the motivating factors behind the human behavior.

Though the author tries to understand the guiding factors behind the organizations, there are no standard answers. They are a quest towards ‘expanding the mind to accommodate more views and string them into a single whole.’  

P.S: A review copy of the book had been sent by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review

Links: AmazonGoodreads

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