The BP Disaster, Business Ethics, and the Mahabharata

Over at HuffPo, Ramnath Subramanian reflects on business education, ethics, and asks what modern lessons we might learn from ancient Indian epics:

I heard a story in my early childhood that has only grown on me through my experience in corporate America. The story comes from the Mahabharata (literally translated as “The History of Greater India”), one of the classics from India’s ancient religious texts, the Vedas. The setting: the best school of martial arts and military training, headed by a veteran archer and teacher named Dronacharya. The school trained the best kings and princes in military warfare and defense, the most famous of all of them being Arjuna, the main character of the timeless eastern classic, the Bhagavad Gita. Dronacharya’s big lessons at school before he taught any of the various arts of fighting revolved around teaching responsible behavior even in the midst of the most provoking and enticing situations, as well as control over base urges of unconscious exploitation. He had creative and difficult tests that students had to pass, and he taught them the arts of military warfare only in proportion to their sense of responsible behavior. One quality that he consistently tested them on was situational compromise of truth. What is so striking to me in this story is the emphasis on character development and integrity before skills are bestowed. A responsible training system not just focuses on how skilled the students are but goes to great extent to ensure that the skills are grounded in well-developed character and integrity.

Developing character and integrity requires time and investment. As trivial as it may sound, and as negligible as the number of accolades it receives in comparison to training in leadership skills may be, character development forms the basis of any leadership program. It is exactly like laying a strong foundation before a structure is erected. The foundation forms the basis of the entire structure. We can erect a most amazing structure, but if the foundation is weak, it is only a matter of time before a minor tremor can cause the structure to completely collapse, causing severe damage to life and property. A good engineer spends ample time designing the foundation for the worst possible threat. And it is usually the main structure that gets the glories. No one looks at a nice structure and admires the foundation. And yet, the structure cannot exist and be fortified without a strong foundation.

Read the full article here.

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