Leadership Lessons From the Ramayana

Of the two most popular epics in Indian literature, the Ramayana and the Mahabharat, the Mahabharat is the longer and more intriguing. Filled with insights into human nature, depicting every kind of human being from the highest to the lowest, from the most despicable to the most noble, it presents the entire gamut of humanity, encapsulated into one story. At 110,000 verses, it is also the longest epic in human history.

Though the Mahabharat is more popular at the moment, thanks to numerous television serials and movies, the Ramayana is unique in its own right. At 24,000 verses, it may seem small, but only in comparison to the Mahabharat. It is still longer than Homer's Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, combined! The story of the Ramayana is quite unlike the Mahabharat's story. The Mahabharat is a "game of thrones", a battle between two factions of a family. The Ramayana is cast more in the mode of a single man's quest to rescue his wife Sita, after she is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. War and battle are present, but they are part of the story of Rama, rather than the other way round.

Rama as the protagonist, displays many wonderful qualities of a true leader. For example, despite the ignominy of the kidnap, he still retains his dignity and composure. No revenge or hatred color his heart. His love for his wife is tremendous. Indeed, he traverses the length of the subcontinent in his quest to save her. Rescue her he must, and if he must fight a war to do so he will, but not out of thoughts of revenge or hatred.

In fact, in many versions of the story, Rama is pained at having had to kill Ravana. For example, in Goswami Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas, Rama explains that Ravana had to be killed because of his many bad qualities. At the same time, the demon king had several good qualities. If only they had been nurtured instead of the bad, Rama says he would not have had to kill Ravana. Rama expresses how there is no need to condemn a person just because he displays certain qualities. By all means condemn the qualities and work to change them, but there is no reason to condemn the individual itself, and all future possibilities he or she may hold. This is something that anyone in a managerial or leadership position would do well to implement.

Another aspect of Rama is his ability to go through even the most extreme situations with grace and dignity. It was bad enough that he was exiled to the forest with his wife. But then his wife was kidnapped. To handle such situations with a level head, walk through life with dignity, and still do whatever is need to rectify and fix these situations is quite a feat. Even one the architect's of India's constitution, and a critic of the Ramayana, Dr. BR Ambedkar acknowledges this point. This is an important aspect of any leadership role. Being a leader naturally exposes us to a variety of situations, many of which may not go as we plan. Unless we are able to walk through these untouched, we will not make very good leaders.

The Ramayana is not just an entertaining story, it is quite a goldmine and offers an education in life. Several lessons on leadership and management can be gleaned from the story, without us having to live through all the horrific situations depicted in the tale.