Working Styles in the Bhagvad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita doesn’t have leadership classification per se, or for that matter employee classification, the way we have it in the contemporary world. It doesn’t have categories like the democratic leader, the autocratic leader, the productive employee, etc. even though, the Mahabharata and the Ram Charit Manas are full of examples which we could put in these categories.
However, what the Bhagvad Gita does have is an overarching classification of the Trigunas, the three modes of existence and being. In this article, let’s look at leadership, work culture and working styles of employees in the context of the Trigunas and examine if the concept can be used in the contemporary context.
Chapter 2, verse 45 in Bhagvad Gita talks about how the Vedas talk about the three modes of existence – the Sattvik, the Rajasik and the Tamasik and how humans always operate in one of them. It also instructs Arjuna to transcend these three modes and be established in the eternal truth, self-control, without a sense of duality or differentiation and without a desire to acquire and keep.
When we examine this in work context, we see that a leader can be established in the vision of the business with self-control, only when he doesn’t consider himself separate or ‘dual’ from all the stakeholders. When a leader is driven by the desire to put others first, the business would automatically be sustainable, be a source of growth for employees, employers, clients, customers, vendors as well as society alike.
However, this has to begin with identifying with one’s employees or subordinates first. In any work situation, one’s team, their employees are the first people that one interacts with, and most closely on that too. In order to engage with them productively, a good leader doesn’t only need to transcend for himself, but also identify the modes in which his people operate.
A good leader can support his team only when he can fulfil their need for growth and coaching. To be able to do this, he needs to understand how employees operate in the mode of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Understanding the modes and the professional characters of people when they are in these modes, enables the leader to actually help his workforce transcend their barriers and unleash their potential fully.
Working in the mode of Tamas – When an employee is in the mode of Tamas, they are essentially operating in the mode of ignorance. Their inertia is high, they are easily bored, and hence unproductive. As a result, their unhappiness and frustration with their colleagues, their teams, workplace and roles is high. They might start showing tendencies to arrive late for meetings, not contributing actively to discussions, not participating in work efficiently. You will often see them procrastinating their work.
In order to overcome the mode of Tamas, all one needs is concentration. You will often see that the minute you change the focus of these workers slightly and give them a task which is slightly easier for them, or slightly more interesting, they will usually bounce back. Their energy levels, participation, concentration and as a result productivity will improve.
From personal examples I can tell how a very intuitive manager did this with me once, without perhaps knowing this concept as such. I was unable to deliver and instead of making me small, all she did was make my task slightly easy and slightly interesting. From almost a month of unproductivity, it took me just three days to bounce back.
When one moves beyond the mode of Tamas, they usually start operating from the mode of Rajas. In the Rajasik mode, one is in the mode of passion. They are driven, energetic, and productive. However, often people in the mode of passion tend to become dominating. They also tend to become workaholics and as a result, their stress levels start increasing. As a result, their productivity will be high, but inconsistent to semi-consistent. They are prone to slipping back to Tamas if not aware.
To move from Rajas to Sattva or the mode of goodness maybe difficult, but is not impossible. In the mode of goodness, an employee is energetic, calm, organized, process driven and even innovative. As an employee works on their knowledge, their skills, expertise and also on their calmness, compassion, gratitude and forgiveness, they show a significant increase in how they perform at work. They are more determined, not scared of failure, fearless but not reckless, and go-getters without being overly aggressive. They are not easily shaken by failure either.
However, the ideal as portrayed in the text is that one needs to transcend all these 3 Gunas and reach the Shuddha Sattva mode. That is the characteristic of an ideal leader. In this mode, whatever they create is beyond time, space and causality. It goes beyond decades, centuries or more and is about infinity and immortality.
While the Shuddha Sattva may be a lofty ideal, it is easy to see that managing employees in the mode of goodness adds the most value. Also, that all of us have elements of all the 3 modes in us all the time. The more support we have in order to encourage the mode of goodness, the better the work culture becomes.
As we continue to read the ancient texts for contemporary wisdom, we discuss that there is a lot of space for discussion of culture, leadership and many other elements of contemporary management and leadership. For instance, the last time we discovered the essential leadership lessons from the Bhagvad Gita. As we continue to research and bring you more articles, we look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.