Inspirational and Moral Leadership Lessons from Guru Gobind Singh

Guru Gobind Singh is the most misunderstood man in the world. He has been misused and misrepresented by all by all people for their own purposes. But still his life can teach us timeless lessons in management especially considering India’s current economic situation. India’s businesses and those of the world are largely oligarchies. So starting a business in an area say banking against a state giant like SBI and PNB or Corporate giants like ICICI and HDFC or MNCs like HSBC is no less a struggle against of Sikhs against the Mughal Empire.
Now whether one is starting a new organization or leading an old one well established one. The Guru’s ideas seem relevant even today.
Some of them
Take Care of your Followers-
Langar: The common kitchen was started by Guru Nanak but it was Guru Amardas which made it an obligation. The idea was simple. To bring all people of various castes and religions together. So the king, the tax collector, the village priest, the washerman, the trader, the land tiller, the land lord, the untouchable, etc. whether Hindu or Muslim or Sikh could come together abolishing all caste, creed and religious barriers. Now we live in extremely political polarized times with Neo Nazi organizations dominating the political sphere with racialism as a core ideology, plus we have organizational hierarchies and caste based biases prevalent even today. So wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a common kitchen canteen where the CEO of the company and the peon eat the same food. First it would lessen the distance between departments, stop formation of ethnic groups in companies and make the leader more open and aware to issues in the company. I am not saying the food should be free but at least the food should be decent, healthy and of good quality. It could also ensure lesser absenteeism with fewer people falling sick since the CEO would be eating the same food. If it is a small team or branch or organization, it would ensure better bonding in the organizations. If it is a factory then the workers and the plant manager eating the same food would ensure lesser labour problems and the workers would consider the managers and the superiors as one of their own resulting in higher productivity and better worker morale.
Anti tobacco: Sikhism is the only religion with a religious injunction against tobacco and other intoxicants including alcohol and drugs. The corporate world may have its pressures but pressures should not culminate into substance, alcohol and tobacco abuse. If we see the amount of people dying of cancer everyday, the deformities it causes and the lives it destroys there should be no doubt in people’s minds to ban tobacco permanently. It will increase the general well-being of worker’s also and create a much cleaner organization. Alcohol abuse is far more serious. It causes much more problems including indebtedness, violence against women and rise in general aggression. Most sexual harassment cases happen on account of alcohol in organizations. Shouldn’t we ban alcohol and tobacco in corporates? Better health in organizations and lesser absenteeism.
The Five thieves- Cupidity, Anger, Greed, Avarice, Ego
One way to convert Hindus to Islam was through seduction through prostitution called Finding Fish in today’s lingo. Guru Gobind Singh encouraged monogamy and self control on sexual matters symbolized by the kaccha in the 5 K’s. Honey trapping key corporate executives to let out corporate secrets is a well known tactic. Also honey trapping intelligence and government officials and politicians is a well known intelligence tactic, the recent Shashi Tharoor and Mehr tarar case is a recent example. So controlling the sexual urge is an important part of protecting yourself and your company. Personal Greed is another major problem. The Galleon Case involving Rajaratnam and Rajat Gupta is an example of personal greed taking precedence over the organization’s interests. A story of Captain Gopinath underlines this point in his own words underlines this point.
Air Deccan was on a high in less than four years Air Deccan had a fleet of 45 planes the largest market share matching Jet Airways, twice the network of both Jet and Air India, listed with a market cap of 2000 crore in three years hardly an debt but still losing money. The private equity investors panicked and wanted to make a quick return when the going was good and exit. They had no dreams, no emotions or commitments to Air Deccan. They wanted to play safe. And they were reluctant to fund Air Deccan further. I was under pressure to sell as many big corporate were wooing me. I was now swimming naked in the high seas full of sharks in a metaphorical sense. With the news leaking of Anil Ambani and others approaching the stock was on a roller coaster and so was on the pressure was on me to sell Vijay Mallya made an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I didn’t handle it. I succumbed As Oscar Wilde said, “The best way to handle temptation is to yield to it.” I yielded. Once in the saddle Mallya got the board on his side. He convinced the board that the low cost model was stupidity of low cost. The board brought it hook, line and sinker. He was also surrounded by sycophants who cheered him. I don’t blame Vijay because he really believed it himself. The stock of Deccan went to dizzying heights before the merger with Kingfisher Airlines (KFA). When it was announced that KFA would be merged with Deccan. The original investors made a killing. The new investors who bought the stock got wiped out. I also gained some good returns. Everyone thought I was the smartest guy in India who had a sense of timing, and knew how to enter and exit a risky business like aviation. Inside I knew I was a big fool. I panicked and should never have succumbed to sell but should never have found a way to keep Air Deccan flying and waited a little longer to get the right partner. Listen to your heart and your intuition that speaks to you when you are at the crossroads and have the courage to follow through and never listen to consultants and investors who are usually blinkered and short sighted. As Churchgill said if you’re going through hell keep going.
All it took was Mallya’s ego, Gopinath’s Avarice, Cupidity and Greed to ruin a perfectly good company.

Empower your followers- Panj Piare
On 30 March 1699, Sikhs had gathered at Anandpur for the festival of BaisakhI. Guru Gobind Singh appeared before the assembly dramatically on that day with a naked sword in hand and spoke: “Is there present a true Sikh who would offer his head to the Guru as a sacrifice?” The words numbed the audience who looked on in awed silence. The Guru repeated the call. At the third call Daya Ram, a Sobti Khatri of Lahore, arose and humbly walked behind the Guru to a tent nearby. The Guru returned with his sword dripping blood, and asked for another head. At this Dharam Das, a Jat from Hastinapur, came forward and was taken inside the enclosure. Guru, Gobind Singh made three more calls. Muhkam Chand, a washerman from Dvarka, Himmat, a water-carrier from Jagannathpuri, and Sahib Chand, a barber from Bidar (Karnataka) responded one after another and advanced to offer their heads. All the five were led back from the tent dressed alike in saffron-coloured raiment topped over with neatly tied turbans similarly dyed, with swords dangling by their sides. Guru Gobind Singh then introduced khande de pahul i.e. initiation by sweetened water churned with a double-edged broadsword (khanda). Those five Sikhs were the first to be initiated. Guru Gobind Singh called them Panj Piare, the five devoted spirits beloved of the Guru. These five, three of them from the so-called low-castes, a kshatriya and a Jat, formed the nucleus of the self-abnegating, martial and casteless fellowship of the Khalsa. All of them surnamed Singh, meaning lion, were required to wear in future the five symbols of the Khalsa, all beginning with the letter K – the kesh or long hair and beard, kangha, a comb in the kesh to keep it tidy, kara, a steel bracelet, kachch, short breeches, and kirpan, a sword. They were enjoined to succour the helpless and fight the oppressor, to have faith in one God and to consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and creed. Guru Gobind Singh then himself received initiatory rites at the hands of his five disciples, now invested with authority as Khalsa, and had his name changed from Gobind Rai to Gobind Singh. So he became master as well as disciple.
See in the corporate world you need to bring all stakeholders and bring them together to fight for a common cause. Also you need to give them an inspirational cause and a sense of togetherness. Equality can be a great motivator. Especially, when the odds are against you. Guru Gobind Singh provides an example of ideal and moral leadership.

The Economic Times
The Encyclopedia of Sikhism Volume 2 by Harbans Singh


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