Hinduism and Leadership

Leadership is being debated with ever greater vigor these days – whether it is business leadership, political leadership, religious leadership or social leadership.  Each institution seemingly requires a different set of attributes and strengths – a sort of specialization if you will.  In this article, I would like to discuss what Hinduism teaches us about leadership.

Hindu scriptures describe in detail the qualities, or, to be more specific, the abilities, capacity and suitability of a person to attain the position of leader.  Thinkers in the Western world list attributes such as the ability to face all types of challenges, analytical mind for problem solving, being goal oriented, ability to unite others towards the goal, etc. as necessary qualities in a leader.

Hindu philosophy emphasizes selflessness, ability to govern, commitment to dharma, perseverance, and fair-mindedness as paramount, in addition to the above.  The commitment to dharma, which means proper conduct, and unwavering morality are cornerstones of a leader.  Integrity and sincerity – the most essential ingredients for a good leader, are hard to find in the face of current definition of success – which is success at any cost.

Does this mean that a leader has to be perfect?  Hindu philosophy does not demand that – factors that contribute to imperfection are also described in Hindu scriptures.  Some are internal – such as shortcomings due to intellectual (“buddhi”) deficiencies, or strong biases – natural or cultivated.  Others are external – such as undue and/or improper influence from persons around the leader.

One of the biggest internal imperfections is a strong ego.  Ego that leads to obliviousness to facts, lack of objectivity, deviation from fair-mindedness, and misuse of power.  Leaders need to make every attempt to shed the shackles of ego.

The other aspect of cultivating leadership that Hinduism addresses is the importance of proper and extensive tutelage in grooming a leader.  Hindu scriptures describe the process in detail, especially as it applies to the offspring of royal families.

Discussion of leadership leads to discussion about hierarchical structures.  A great amount of contemporary research, especially in the field of business, has endeavored to examine hierarchical organizations versus flat organizations.  Some types of political structures can also be looked at and evaluated in light of these paradigms.  Whatever these analyses might conclude, one can not forget that members of a society or an organization have varied attributes and capabilities, and a natural hierarchy exists regardless.

However, any hierarchy based on gender must be guarded against.  This is one area in which Hindu scriptures seem to be silent – perhaps because Hindu society has been a patriarchal one since ancient times.  This is rather surprising, given that Hindu religion has many revered Goddesses, and Hindu scriptures describe Goddesses having equal power compared to Gods.  And history tells us that there were famous Hindu ladies in religion such as Meera Bai, and warrior ladies such as Jhansi ki Rani.  Contemporary times, of course, have witnessed many female political, business and social leaders.

If one were to condense the teachings of Hindu philosophy on leadership, the conclusion would be that leadership manifests itself from a strong base of spirituality.  But in a world that emphasizes secularity, and mistakenly equates spirituality to religiosity, it is not easy for people to understand the foundations of strong leadership.


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