3 Management Lessons from the Mahabharata

Here’s a special guest post, which showcases what we can learn from the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is the world’s longest poem with over 100,000 stanzas and is an integral part of India’s cultural heritage. But the Mahabharata is not just an entertaining story, it has something to offer as an education in life itself. The characters and situations in the epic are so varied and vast in number that almost every situation a human being might face in life are illustrated within the storyline.

For a manager, the epic is a goldmine of information on understanding human reactions and psychology. So let’s take a look at three management lessons we can learn from the Mahabharata.

Honesty Isn’t Always Black and White

The protagonists of the story are the five brothers known as the Pandavas. The eldest of the Pandavas, is Yudishthara, known for his truthfulness. However, in the heat of the climactic battle at Kurukshetra, it is his lie to Drona – one of the chief warriors in the enemy Kaurava camp – that turns the tide in the Pandavas favor.

Without Yudishthara’s “dishonesty” the Pandavas would have been slaughtered by the enemy. Integrity isn’t always black and white and speaking the truth may not always be the best option in every situation.

Bitterness Doesn’t Pay

The antagonists are the Kauravas, a group of 100 brothers and their allies. One of the warriors of the Kaurava camp, Karna, is a tragic hero in the Mahabharata. Though a noble being, he ends up on the wrong side because of his sense of bitterness towards the Pandavas. The son of a charioteer, Karna was looked down upon by the Pandavas, and thus, his hatred was born.

Though he rose from being a charioteer’s son to become a king, his bitterness never left him, and he attempted to revenge himself by participating in the rape of the Pandavas’ wife, Draupadi. Blinded by his bitterness, he was unable to make the right choices, and  though he knew his actions were wrong, his thirst for vengeance spurred him on, ultimately leading to his downfall.

Never Underestimate the Power of One

One person can make all the difference. In the lead up to the Kurukshetra war, Krishna, who represents the divine incarnate in the story, offers both the Pandavas and Kauravas a choice. They can each choose either Krishna or Krishna’s large army to join their side. The leader of the Kauravas, Duryodhana chooses Krishna’s army. The Pandavas choose Krishna.

Duryodhana’s choice costs him the war and his life because it is Krishna’s political acumen, battle tactics and personal capability that finally brings the Pandavas victory.

A Lesson in Humanity

Whether it is love or hate, brotherhood or enmity, peace or war, they all find a place in the Mahabharata’s verses. The characters themselves represent the varied hues of humanity. The most noble and the most evil are present, as are the courageous and the deceitful. The Mahabharata offers an opportunity to learn several lessons in management and life without having to go through all the terrible situations portrayed in the story. It is a microcosm, showcasing human nature in its myriad forms.

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