Making wise decisions: leadership lessons from Mahabharata

Kaipa, P L (2014) Making wise decisions: leadership lessons from Mahabharata. Journal of Management Development, 33 (8/9). pp. 835-846. ISSN 1758-7492

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The purpose of this paper is to help leaders to reflect on how to make difficult decisions by developing practical wisdom based on Indian traditions. In complex scenarios, when leaders are is crisis, they often tend to rush into decisions without proper reflection, rely too heavily on data and analytics, and demonstrate an inability to decide based on subtle, intangible and often very important elements like emotion, intuition and spiritual discernment. In this paper, the author discusses what it means to make wise decisions based on the Hindu concept of discrimination (viveka) – that is, the ability to perceive and make fine distinctions and also to notice and value quality which is very important part of spiritual discernment. Design/methodology/approach – This paper uses four decision-making scenarios from an Indian epic Mahabharata to cast light on dilemmas that seem to trip up so many twenty-first century leaders. The author draws lessons from the four stories and highlight key challenges in decision making – developing spiritual discernment to support logic based and emotion-laden decision making. Findings – Allowing crisis to drive decisions, failing to recognize and account for the biases and attachments, and not developing good role clarity keep leaders from making the decisions they need to, from a place of ethical clarity. The subtle but essential spirit of ethical decision making is discernment and quality of discernment increases when leaders develop “viveka” or discrimination capability and use it regularly. Research limitations/implications – It is important to remember that developing skills in using viveka in discernment suggested in this paper requires “unlearning” some of the beliefs and practices that served leaders in the past. This framework might be thought provoking and rich conceptually but only action and practice using this framework with awareness makes managers wise leaders. Practical implications – This paper proposes a framework for making difficult decisions and has implications for developing managers and leaders who can make decisions with discernment. Especially in these days of complexity and turbulence, we need to develop people to resolve dilemmas wisely and effectively. The framework for developing discernment by using intuition, instinct and emotions along with data effectively can help leader using this framework make wise decisions. The stories of leadership success and failure in the Mahabharata serve to remind us that reactive or unreflective decision making are not the answer to rapid change and uncertainty. Yet, leaders need to be able to make sound decisions rapidly in a complex and changeable context by paying attention to both explicit and tacit factors. Stories open up other paths to cultivating this ability of paying attention to viveka that is at the root of spiritual discernment. With clear engagement with the role of leader; the will to detach from desired outcomes; and a stance of courage, humility and ethical clarity, we have the tools we need to manage accelerating complexity, whatever its source. Originality/value – Decision-making process is examined holistically – by bringing in recent developments in brain research along with stories and lessons from an ancient epic from India to recognize that making decisions is complex and important element that distinguishes wise leaders from smart leaders. This paper could help smart leaders gain ethical clarity by developing discernment integrating fine qualities of discrimination.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Leadership
Business and Management
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2018 09:42
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2023 13:43

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