Kundalini and Visionary Leadership-2: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

The Principles of Leadership in Yoga

There are hundreds of wonderful and ancient texts written by great yogis and sages that have come down to us. These include the Upanishads,  Bhagavad-Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and so many more. If we meditate deeply on the psychology of human truths found in these, the principles of living a successful life and becoming a leader and a benefactor for humanity emerge.

Principles of yoga psychology tell us that human beings, in order to develop their potential, must become fully conscious of their root instinct to survive and channel this phenomenal energy in five areas of life and manage these areas with care.  Our  understanding of  these five fundamental principles and applying them properly determines the extent to which we fulfill our total human potential.

Here are the five principles. These are all tied in some way to our root instinct to survive.  When you read any Upanishads, or a classic yoga text, you will find methods either directly or indirectly referring specifically to these. According to yogis, the secret of worldly and spiritual success and becoming a dynamic leader is a function of how well we manage these five areas of our life.

1. Breath. Proper use and understanding of yoga postures (or other physical exercises) and deep yogic breathing to advance one’s intelligence, intuition, strength, and energize and sharpen one’s leadership vision.

2. Nutrition. Proper use of food, air, water, and the sun to attain abundant energy, to become sensitive to the needs of the body, and to empathize with all living beings in order to embrace them. In this way one gains the humility and compassion and can act as a servant and transformational leader to facilitate the personal growth of others.

3. Sensuality. Understanding the attraction to the root (earth) aspect of life that manifest in the desire for the experience of sensuality and pleasure. Proper engagement in the experience of sensuality is important so that it promote mental balance and health and strengthens one’s leadership. The opposite causes confusion for oneself and others.

4. Sleep. Proper engagement in sleep and understanding of sleep states and different states of consciousness and to eventually attain the transcendental and universal vision that is the basis of appearance and phenomena. Lucid dreaming and super conscious states help a leader gain a feel for the right future goals to pursue that are in harmony with the universe.

5.  Nonviolence. The fifth principle is that of Ahimsa  (nonviolence) and it helps to integrates the other four principles while directly addressing the root instinct to survive.  All other rules of conduct are subordinate to it.  The ideal of Ahimsa should be held firmly in mind and in practice while one pursues to develop one’s potential through the use of other means.

The leaders at the highest level such as  Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, Gandhi, and others are able to overcome even the root survival instinct through the practice and full development of the ideal of Ahimsa. This makes their compassion for humanity so overwhelming that in the face of very difficult, life threatening, and humiliating circumstances, they have the capacity to forgive without reservation.

While the other principles focus on developing energy, power, and dynamism as a leader, the principle of Ahimsa provides a strong framework for functioning so that the leadership abilities which are developed will be used for the benefit of humanity. Ahimsa is the only way to overcome the fundamental and root fears that every human being has.

See the following article on Ahimsa for a better understanding of its role in removing fear.


I will continue with part III of this series later.


Kundalini and Visionary Leadership-1: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

According to yogic texts, Kundalini Shakti is the great power that is latent in all human beings. Nurturing this hidden intelligence allows one to develop insight into the nature of things and use more fully the powers inherent in the brain, the whole nervous system, and the mind.

Kundalini awakening invariably lead to a variety of  evolutionary mental and spiritual experiences in one’s consciousness. When care is taken in understanding this energy and harmonizing it, it makes the individual creative, imaginative, and bestows leadership and visionary qualities.

The main elements of yogic psychology  are found in religious texts of Hindus written thousands of years ago. These include the Upanishads (Vedas), Bhagavad-Gita, and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras among others. Jain, Buddhist, and Taoist works also emerge from the same roots and contain similar systems of thought. That is why many of the meditation and yogic methods as well as offering mantras as prayers tend to be common to these seemingly diverse religious thoughts.

No matter what the spiritual tradition, almost all classic yoga texts emphasize the energizing effect of proper food, yoga, mindful breathing (pranayama), and meditation to create the foundation of success for the awakening and development of the Kundalini. It is this power and mental energy which when used wisely propels one to achieve the goals one undertakes.

In this paper, based primarily on my own experiences, I discuss the factors associated with awakening and developing the Kundalini energy from the perspective of various yogic systems. Further, I explore the enhanced focus and sharp clarity in awareness that comes from the emergence of this power that allows one to exercise visionary leadership. Finally, I conclude with the importance of a moral framework to manage this power for the benefit of humanity.

First, I consider the role of food and drink. In Kundalini Yoga, optimal nutrition is important; especially in the initial stages of awakening and development of this power.

Continued in Part 2.

The Art Of Leadership: By Prof. V. Krishnamurthy

The motivation for writing this article arose from my speech while chairing a session on ‘Wisdom Perspectives on Leadership’ at the First International Conference on ‘Igniting the Genius Within’ at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad in October 2008.

Leaders and teachers have always used stories to capture our interest and attention. So I am going to tell you a few stories and leave you to infer the lessons yourselves. One thing I assure you, all the stories are real.

Inspite of all the books written upon Leadership, it is not something that is learnt from books or by tuition. One recognizes it only by the extent of the change caused by that leadership and by the quality of that change.

Individual contributors like a writer, an artist, painter or designer produce something which bring in appreciation and pave the way for the contributor evolving into a role model for a new pattern or a new style of work. But a leader does not necessarily merit his leadership by any such material productions or contributions. What he or she does is to cause others to think out of the box, to act innovatively and to behave differently. The contribution of leaders is the change they cause among those who are influenced by them.

If this change rollerskates into further changes in future generations, that becomes a unique legacy, the leader’s legacy. From the point of view of such legacy for the longest period of time transmitted to the largest number of people there is none to beat Valmiki and Vyasa of ancient times, or for that matter, Gautama Buddha and Jesus of later times.

Acts of leadership occur surprisingly even from unexpected quarters. When you analyse these they turn out to be the results of internally inspired responses to certain challenges of the context and time. A challenge is not asking whether it is possible or not. It is about whether the mind is capable of freeing itself. To respond to it one must have the quality of intensity and immediacy.

A rare act of such genius, occurs in a narration in the fourth chapter of Chandogya Upanishad. Satyakama was one of the reputed Vedantic teachers mentioned in the Upanishad. But the birth of Satyakama was only of negative repute. His mother Jabali was a serving-girl, a parichArikA, serving for hire at various houses, “resorting to many” and was therefore unable to name her son’s father. Satyakama had therefore no gotra, no caste, no lineage. When he left for the gurukul, wanting to learn all the Shastras, she told him to announce himself as her son and therefore he should call himself Satyakama Jabala. He told his guru that very truth and that declaration earned him the approbation of his guru who concluded that this honest acknowledgement of a truth of such damaging nature could not have come from anyone who did not have the noble qualities usually associated with Brahminhood, and so he initiated the boy and proceeded further with his education. This decision of Jabali to acknowledge this damaging truth, transcending the cultural taboo of the times, must be considered a daring act of leadership.

Leadership turns out to be an art in the hands of the leaders; in fact it is the enabling art of progress. At the same time it is also a scientific process that may not have to be studied as a methodology but should be allowed to evolve over a period of time according to one’s personal traits of leadership. It is one’s nature that gets in the way of the fructification of leadership traits that may be dormant in one’s personality.

Ancient books like the Mahabharata have numerous lessons to teach us these personal traits of leadership. Just to take one example, in the Mahabharata we have the account of the divine sage Sanatsujata teaching the basics of philosophy to King Dhritarashtra, the blind father of the hundred Kauravas, who was blind not only physically but in terms of his stupid and passionate fancy towards his unprincipled sons. Sanatsujata, amidst his technical exposition, also hits the rock bottom of naivety in mentioning six elementary virtues as the most fundamental for any living being, and certainly are the gateways, for leadership. These are truth, straightforwardness, sense of shame in doing wrong, control of senses, purity and education (*satyArjavahrIr-dama-shauca-vidyAH*).

Among these I want to focus on the third, namely, the sense of shame while doing adharma. In Sanskrit, akArya karaNe lajjA. It is also known by the one word ‘hrIh’. The central problem in the morals (both in public and private life) of modern times is the absence of any sense of shame while going against the accepted norms of morality. For the health of the society it may be justified to question certain norms, but in all practice the sense of shame in doing wrong was the one sure insulation the previous generations had against a degeneration of morality. Without the virtue of hrIh, one goes down, by succumbing to temptations to do wrong. In fact in these days of fear of youngsters getting addicted to drugs or extremist fads, the one virtue that should be inculcated in them even as children is hrIh. Even if this means swinging the pendulum back towards a conformist approach our civilisation ought preferably to have this swing.

It was by sensing the all-round moral degradation that in modern times, Sir M. Visveswarayya, a visionary par excellence, before he accepted the prestigious office of Dewan of Mysore, called all his relatives and friends for a grand dinner and announced therein that he would accept the prestigious office only if they assured him that none of them would come to him for any favours! It may appear to be a quick-fix strategy but was indeed a daring act of leadership in the context. Such instances are certainly unique legacies that leaders are remembered for.

In the same Mahabharata, while Sanatsujata listed the six most fundamental virtues that any aspirant to leadership should have, the divine roving sage Narada, while meeting King Yudhishtira who had just been made Crown Prince in Indraprastha, asks the King some rhetorical questions one of which is whether as a king and administrator he has avoided certain six evils. Coming from Narada to Yudhishtira, the paragon of virtue, this list is of great importance. Here is the list of these six evils: sleep, indolence, fear, anger, softness, and procrastination. (*nidrAlasya-bhaya-krodhAH mArdavaM dIrghasUtratA*). No aspirant to greatness can ever afford to fall into any of these habit-forming evils.

Narada’s advice is a warning to all political leaders, scientific workers, project managers and administrators. All these people complain about lack of time to do his or her job. One’s time-organization comes not a little from the proper organization of how much one sleeps and when. Sleep and Procrastination are two of the greatest obstacles to greatness. Particularly the latter one is a too familiar scene in present day politics and beaurocracy.

‘Fear’ is understandably in Narada’s list. Ferlessness is a great virtue for a would-be leader. Gandhiji was able to bring to the Indian masses the quality of fearlessness, more than anything else, which alone led them to that great event of attainment of Swaraj. Before his time they were afraid of almost everything, of the Government, of the Police, of the caste system, of the rules of a tradition-bound society, of the westerner, of beaurocracy, of prison, and, most of all, of violence. That you can resist and fight all these non-violently was his teaching and in order to make the whole thing work he implanted into their minds the virtue of fearlessness by his own acts of self-sacrifice.

True leadership does not reside merely in techniques or in the discovery of new technologies. It exhibits itself in the integration of several experiences that carry authenticity, into one voice for the service of others. It is not the head alone or the heart alone. The head does not hear anything until the heart has listened. What the heart knows today will be understood by the head only later. The heart might say: Don’t get lost in resisting and battling against things; but dedicate your energies to fight for something, instead of against something. Make it the most important habit of your life. Gandhiji fought for honesty and straightforwardness even when he appeared to fight against British Imperialism. That was why he, sitting inside the prison, stopped the ongoing civil disobedience movement which he himself had started, because the Champaran incident of violence failed to broadcast his wavelength of honesty and straightforwardness. He wanted every thought, every word and every deed to cherish and nurture the seeds of integrity and non-violence for that future independent India of his dreams. He not only wanted so, but made it a habit of his.

A transactive model of leadership only builds skills and competences. But great leaders like Gandhiji belonged to the transformative model of leaders which creates a fundamental shift in point of view, values and purpose. But it is not only such great leaders who do the transformations. Even an ordinary incident where one goes beyond one’s authority becomes the seed of a significant transformation. Rosa Parks, an elderly black woman went beyond her authority in 1955 when she refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her behaviour distinguished itself as an act of leadership, because it was that spontaneous act of hers that was used by her and other civil rights leaders to focus public attention and responsibility on the issue of civil rights. The public response was to raise the necessary outcry of protest that catalysed the civil rights movemement of the 1960’s.

Here is one more example of something that emanated from a great leader, India’s greatest industrial giant of the early twentieth century, that taught his contemporaries a fundamental shift in purpose and perspective, of the ordinary act, known as charitable benefaction. Jamshedji Tata, in the twilight years of the nineteenth century donated his own house in Bombay to the cause of scientific research and development in India. His friends and relatives from the Parsi community pleaded with him to change his mind and donate it to the cause of the development of the poor in his own community. His reply to them deserves to be printed in gold: “What advances a nation or community is not so much to prop up its weakest and most helpless members as to lift up the best and most gifted so as to make them of the greatest service to the country. I prefer this constructive philanthropy which seeks to educate and develop the faculties of the best of our young men”. It is that farsight of this great visionary leader who gave a magnificent shift of perspective to a traditionally respected act of charity, that finally gave this nation the topmost research organization of science and engineering, the present Indian Institute of Science.

Talking of transformative model of leadership I cannot but recall the phenomenal transformation that my own institution, BITS Pilani, went through in the period 1970 to 1988, during which I was one of the two Deputy Directors, in addition to my duties as Professor of Mathematics. In that capacity we were responsible along with a few others for the entire innovative restructuring and developmental process of BITS, from its earlier run-of-the mill type of traditional Indian university to its modern style of a technological university.

We were pioneers in this total change. The epoch-making decision that we took as early as 1970 was to thrust forward all the way across the board instead of tackling one issue after another in isolation. In the growth of an organisation from its primitive state, without violent damage to its men and materials, such a strategy did make the path hard and long but it worked.

The reforms that were thus achieved included: A system of admissions based on an all-India merit index; an integrated four year degree programme in which specialisation follows a common broad spectrum of foundations; Science degrees linked with a professional dual degree so that both attract the top layers of the cream of the country; student involvement in every academic developmental and monitoring activity; intensive teacher training for all teachers through special on-the-job workshops; industry linked internship for every undergraduate for as long as six months which is duly evaluated by professionals; emphasis on mathematical-cum-analytical foundations for every programme; flexible academic regulations which gets continuous work done by students and also continuously evaluated by the concerned teachers; active production of text-books tested by course development and class use; and computerised development of all infrastructure.

All of these were started in the seventies from scratch. Scratch does not mean we started with a clean slate. We actually started with all the failings that all Indian universities shared in the educational milieu of India. It was certainly not an overnight transformation. We worked the hard way 365x24x7 for 18 years before we handed over the first phase of an almost finished product wherein all the educational ideals which had been talked about since 1947 but scarcely implemented in any of the universities, had been introduced, implemented, online corrections made and sustained and finally the legacy of this transformation was handed over to a team consisting of the next generation who were themselves trained by us. Participating in this gigantic process, we ourselves got transformed from ordinary class-room expositors, to leaders of transformation. We happily see already that these transformations are roller-skating into further transformations.

One other major quality of leadership that can be recognised in all leaders is an unwavering conviction and faith in the cause for which one is leading. In the case of Gandhiji this was his faith in Truth and Non-violence; in the case of Nehru it was his faith in the principle of democracy. In the case of Prabhupada, who in the sixties and seventies of the last century revolutionised thousands of the western world into adopting an Asian religion of devotion, totally new to them, it was a never-vacillating faith in divine help. He singlehandedly started, in 1959 or so, to write, print and publish the monumental volumes of his own English translation and commentary of Srimad Bhagavatam, a Purana of 18000 verses in Sanskrit, almost when he was nearing sixty years. This unique decision of his turned out to become, within the next ten years, a fantastic money spinner for the new world-wide organization called Iskcon (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), which he founded. The remarkable challenge that he undertook and successfully accomplished was the transformation of the most materialistic youth of the times, the rebelling anti-conformist westernised youth who were products of the luxury, affluence and license of the West — not just a few, but literally thousands of them — into godly personalities with the loftiest of spiritual and ethical ideals. Till he was seventy he struggled alone to implement his master’s injunction of propagating the glories of Lord Krishna and transmitting the treasures of SrImad bhAgavatam. But even in the land where these had been held, without any doubt, in superlative esteem by one and all, he could not succeed. Till he was seventy, only three books were written by him, only one disciple was initiated and the worldwide society of Krishna devotees was only in his dream. But in the next twelve years, he wrote sixty books, initiated a few thousands and the society of his dreams came to fruition with more than one hundred centres all over the world. All this was a marvel of leadership in just the last twelve years of his 82 years of life, achieved by an unwavering conviction and faith in the presence of divine help.

Appayya Dikshita who lived for 72 years in South India in the 16th century is another monumental example of what a transformative model of leadership could be. He was the guiding spirit of a great movement in which he organised the services of a large band of volunteers trained by him to disseminate among the masses his great life mission of reconciliation of warring religious groups, particularly Shaivism and Vaishnavism. He was born in a very hot age of bigotry and vigorous proselytism. The adherents of the creeds were mostly cantankerous persons who mistook acrimony for devotion. It was in this dark atmosphere that Appayya Dikshita rose to such heights of fame by propagating, through his ambassadors of tolerance, that the religious books of the rival schools of thought did not proclaim mutual exclusiveness or hostility. His massive scholarship and spiritual wisdom provided him the seeds of authenticity – one of the most important requisites of leadership –for this legacy of his.

I shall wind up by mentioning one more name, that of V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, (1863-1911) whose prodigious achievements within a life of 48 years are a bagful. Starting as a lawyer in the Madras Bar, he became a judge of the Madras High Court and later served as a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He played a significant role in supporting the move to send Swami Vivekananda to the Parliament of Religions. He founded the Ayurvedic College of medicine and a free Dispensary in Mylapore. He was pivotal in starting the Madras Law Journal on the lines of critical Law Journals in Europe. In 1906 he started the Madras Sanskrit College and provided for free education to students therein. In the same year when there was the sensational case of the crash due to bankruptcy of Arbuthnot Bank it was he who was responsible as the contending advocate for bringing the culprit to justice. And as a consequential contribution to posterity he played the key role in the founding of the Indian Bank soon after. The 1907 session of the Congress Party was held in Madras mostly due to his efforts and he was instrumental in striking a rapport between the moderates and extremists in the Party, particularly after the Surat split of 1907 in the party. He was responsible for introducing a number of educational reforms in the University of Madras. During the minority of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi he was the foremost to see that the Mutt did not fall into wrong hands. In all these instances the silent unconscious unseen influence of his own spotless character backed up by a spiritual conviction was the one thing that surely contributed to his achievement of leadership.

And, most of all, seizing the opportunity at the right time even if it means taking a risk, is important. I will give you the most ancient example for this. In the Upanishadic times there lived a great towering personality in the field of spirituality, by name Yajnavalkya. That he was not only great, but great as a leader with conviction and confidence, came to light in a much-talked-about seminar in the court of King Janaka. King Janaka himself was a royal householder-philosopher known for his scholarship as well as his adherence to philosophical insights. Janaka arranged this seminar in which he announced an on-the-spot-competition. Having invited all the stalwarts in Vedanta for a yajna, Janaka provokes them into a discussion by announcing that he has earmarked one thousand cows, each with a bag of ten gold coins and all these constitute the prize for the one among them who can declare himself to be the most erudite in vedas and its accessories. The entire assembly is stunned at this announcement, stupefied by the challenge of the occasion and the seriousness it demanded and kept silent. But after a little period of silence, Yajnavalkya rises up and with his assistant makes preparations to take possession of the cows. Then it is that the assembled scholars begin to challenge him one by one. Each one asks him several questions about the subtleties of the Knowledge about the Absolute. Yajnavalkya shoots forth his answers without any hesitation or confusion and with such clarity that every one had to withdraw and sit down. Finally one lady, Vacaknavi Gargi, announces that she is going to ask just two questions of Yajnavalkya and the questions will be of such nature that if he answers them well, there should be no more doubt about who carries the day. And that is how Yajnavalkya carries the day. The technical text of the discussion described elaborately in Brihad-Aranyakopanishad is beyond our subject today. But what is relevant to us in the context of the topic of Leadership is the style of the leader who rose to the occasion irrespective of the august nature of the assembly and the serenity that was demanded.

The last quality that I shall emphasize is a confidence in oneself. It expresses itself in several ways. I shall only give three examples from three different perspective. A filial assurance of perspective came from the mother of the astrophysicist Dr. S. Chandrasekhar when she alone decided, against the recommendations of all the rest of the family, that her son, inspite of her own serious illness, should accept the offer to go abroad for his higher studies, when he was around twenty.

A perspective from a logical reasoning was shown by Prof. G.H. Hardy who took a bold risky decision after several deliberations with Prof. Littlewood, on the matter of what appeared to be a cranky freak technical letter from an unknown unheard-of clerk in distant Madras Port Trust.

A third perspective of confidence in one’s own out-of-the-box thinking was shown around 1920 by the budding music maestro Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar who adopted and persisted with the then-unusual style of slapping the palm on one’s thigh to keep the Tala. The orthodox brahmin elite of Madras did not particularly like this because according to them this kind of slapping is what is prescribed as a cremation ritual that a son does when he circumambulates his father’s dead body at the cremation ground. So they protested with one voice. And there was also a second kind of protest from another quarter of the public because according to them this slapping is against stage manners and constitutes an insult to the long Tamil tradition of musical genius which should sense the rhythm purely orally. These protests from two complementary quarters did not shake the resolve or the wisdom of the budding maestro but they however posed such a challenge to his closest friends and well-wishers that they finally sought the opinion and verdict of the Kanchi Mutt. The then new head of the Kanchi Mutt, the young Chandra-sekharendra Saraswati, was being given scriptural education by the Pundits of the Mutt and they gave the verdict that the slapping of the thigh while in the sitting posture did not constitute a sacrilege. There ended the matter, Ariyakudy’s star was rising and a new era started in the history of Carnatic music.

Before I wind up I should tell you the story of how in my own life I was once sucked into a certain leadership position that unexpectedly turned out to be not so enviable at the time, though at this distance in time I can talk about it with pride.

Ninety of us Indians travelled to the United States in August 1962 as Fulbright Travel Grantees. Our sponsors for the entire trip was USEFI, Delhi. We had a four-day orientation in Mumbai (then called Bombay), at the end of which we were divided into three batches of 30 each, each batch having a different travel itinerary. However, in the first lap of our journey by boat from Bombay to Naples we were all together. At Naples the batches separated and went their different ways. At Bombay itself at the end of the orientation, leaders of the three batches had been elected. I was elected leader of my batch. There were 25 men and five women in my batch. Most of them were headed for a graduate education in the U.S. Five of them including myself were going to take up faculty positions in different universities in the U.S.

At Bombay they gave our tickets upto Naples and further told us that at Naples a representative of the Council of Student Travel (with HQ in Paris) would give us necessary money as well as tickets for the onward journey. Our itinerary was to alight at Naples, travel by train to Rome, and again travel by train from Rome to Rotterdam from where we would take another boat to New York. A student representative received us at Naples but he and the taxis at his disposal were not prepared for our 90 pieces of luggage for the thirty of us. By the time we could find a bus for us to carry our luggage and reach the trainstation, our train had left. We left by a later train and arrived at Rome in the evening.

One Mr. Marconi, also a student, took care of us for the evening and night, gave us just one fourth of the money we expected to get, and the next morning put us in a train to Rotterdam. Only after he put us on the train we came to know that no reservation had been done for us but actually we had been shoved into a compartment which was completely reserved from Milan onwards. So all of us, thirty Indians along with 90 pieces of baggage had to alight in Milan, around 5 PM, completely stranded. When the train was departing from Rome Mr. Marconi had signalled to us that he would send a telegram to Milan station master and set matters right; but obviously this must have goofed up somewhere. We had no idea of when our boat was to depart from Rotterdam the next day. The Station Master at Milan tried to help us by suggesting that we could go by the next train, leaving around 11 PM but it would reach Rotterdam only late evening the next day and even in that train there might not be accommodation enough for so many of us!

In the meantime our group of 30 had several different opinions (some of them as crazy as you can imagine) as to how to meet this crisis situation. I could get constructive help and advice from four or five in our group of whom I cannot forget Dr. A.M. Vaidya, Dr. Gautam and Joseph Edwards. But it was an eye-opener to me that even in such an adult population of well-educated youths, about half a dozen in our batch were so upset at the turn of events as we left Rome, that we had to treat them almost as children lost in a mela. There were another two or three who were so argumentative that they almost threatened to break from the group and run away in Milan.

We needed all our wits to keep them in the group with the rest of us. There were a few others who cared the least, whatever might happen; and so this was the other extreme, namely, total indifference! Well, in about 24 hours I learnt a lot, by the hard way of course, about the hazards of leadership! The five of us who could keep our cool took an unusual decision to immediately contact the US Consul in Milan (whose office we learnt was within half an hour walking distance from the Station). As our good fortune would have it, he had still not left the office and he promised to stay till we arrived at his office. He made the necessary phone calls to Paris and Rotterdam and made some arrangements the exact nature of which was not then clear to us. But he asked us to go back to the Station and be ready to board the 11 PM train.

What actually happened at 11 PM was very Indian! The train was to start from Milan so as it was backing into the platform from the yard, we noticed that thirty towels had been used to ‘reserve’ thirty seats for us in the very familiar way in which we Indians used to appropriate seats in trains in those days when every seat was free for all!. At Rotterdam the next day our boat, the Waterman, had been made to wait five hours for us, and as soon as all of us got on the boat around 7 PM or so, it whistled off. We found our baggages had already arrived for us on the boat, thanks to the excellent logistics that must have been charted out by the Consul at Milan.

The point of this story is the leadership part that was put to the severest test during the fire-fighting and trouble-shooting and I must say this much in fairness to the story – the majority was always positive and helpful. Even the simple problem of loading and unloading the 90 pieces of luggage presented challenging leadership problems of coordination and discipline. Incidentally, the luggages were really very heavy, because we were all scheduled for travel by boat and we had to tranship them six times in two days ourselves, at Naples, Rome and Milan!

Summing up we may list the qualities all of which, I think, are fundamental characteristics of Leadership. Truth, straightforwardness, sense of shame in doing wrong, control of senses, purity and education – the six fundamental positives of Sanatsujata; Avoidance of six fundamental negatives as advised by Narada, namely of sleep, indolence, fear, anger, softness, and procrastination. To the list of positives should be added: authenticity, a fundamental shift in purpose and perspective where necessary, a spotless character, a mind that can free itself from the shackles of the past and the present, an impeccable confidence in oneself, and most of all, an absolute conviction and faith in the ideal, along with, if I may add, a self-negating humility.


Krishna, A Transformational Servant-Leader: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

“Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows.”

(3.21) Bhagavad Gita

A version of this paper was presented at the 2005 Academy of Management Meetings in Hawaii under the title: Transformational Leadership and Self-Awareness in Hinduism: A Role Model for Creating Adaptive Organizations. It was part of an Academy of Management Symposium entitled Leadership for Adaptive Organizations: Models from the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist Traditions-Spiritual Leadership. Krishna images can be found throughout the Internet, including the site http://www.vishvarupa.com/vishnu-krishna.html and http://www.krishna.com. All images reproduced here in the spirit of fair use. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/.

We have given acknowledgement of photographers and artists to the best of our ability. Please contact us if you feel we have missed an acknowledgement.


Charismatic leadership behavior of Krishna is examined in the Hindu epic Mahabharata just prior to the start of the Mahabharata war. Using modern theories of leadership, it is suggested that Krishna’s leadership style fits both the servant-leader and the transformational models of leadership based on situational contingencies. This approach adds to the stream of literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of various historical religious figures including Jesus of Nazareth, Nehemiah, and Mahatma Gandhi and have analyzed the implications of spiritual leadership for modern life and organizations. The paper initiates an important stream of literature since no one has yet looked at Krishna’s leadership style from the modern perspective of transformational and servant-leader models.

In this paper, I look at one of the major characters in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, namely Krishna, and analyze the leadership behavior of Krishna to see how it fits the modern management thoughts on transformational and servant-leadership models. Taking this approach is consistent with recent literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of Jesus of Nazareth (Sendjyaa and Sarros, 2002), the leadership of Nehemiah (Maciarello, 2003), and in general explored the characteristics of spiritual leadership (Cavanaugh, 1999; Covey, 1996) and its implications for modern life and organizations.

The sociologist Max Weber (1947) conceptualized a leader as a charismatic personality whose exercise of power was rooted in the followers identifying with the leader and their strong belief in him or her as an authority. According to scholars, charismatic leaders have extraordinary characteristics which allow them to inspire their followers and gain their commitment to shared ideals and a common vision (Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Hellriegel, Slocum, and & Woodman, 2001; Smith, Montago, & Kuzmenko, 2004). In suggesting the importance of the charismatic leadership as a root model, Graham (1991) reasoned that charismatic leadership lays the conceptual foundation for understanding transformational (Burns, 1978) and servant-leader models (Greenleaf, 1977) as both of these are inspirational and moral in nature. Similarly, Farling, Stone, and Winston (1999), have concluded that the notion of transformational leadership and servant leadership have a fundamental commonality to them.

This is the first paper looking at Krishna’s charismatic leadership and how it manifested in Krishna’s playing the role of a transformative servant-leader before and during the Mahabharata war. Although the charismatic leadership of many religious leaders and prophets and even Jesus of Nazareth has been examined (Barnes, 1978), Krishna has been left out of this analysis by modern western scholars. The reasons for this are unclear, although it is possible that many traditional western scholars have viewed Krishna as a fictional character and, like Barnes (1978), tend to focus on a contemporary figure like Gandhi as being a more representative leader of Hinduism.


However, hundreds of millions of Hindus view Krishna as being quite real and historical; exactly in the same way that Christians view Jesus to be a real and historical figure. Further, Indian scholars such as Raghavan (1969), a mathematician and an astronomer, have conducted analysis on the large number of detailed astronomical references (the relative positions of planets, the stars, the sun, and the moon in the sky) found in the Mahabharata literature and have argued that the strong internal consistency of these data from the ancient skies establishes the historicity of Mahabharata and places the Mahabharata war as having occurred around 3067 B.C.

B. N. Narahari Achar (2003), a Professor of physics at the University of Memphis, used the astronomical references in Mahabharata and experimented with various simulations employing very sophisticated tools of modern technology. Using a variety of planetarium software programs (such as Skymap Pro and Red Shift) that allow the exact picture of the sky for any given day and time from any part of the earth to be recreated (from 4000 B.C.E to 8000 C.E), Achar came to the same conclusion that Raghavan had arrived at earlier. Based on various streams of evidence, a significant number of Indian scholars believe that Mahabharata war is historical in nature and actually took place around 3000 B.C. (The IGNCA Newsletter 2003 Vol. I (January – February).

Krishna’s place in Hinduism

Hinduism is a broad umbrella for many different schools of philosophy and religious thought. The common bond among Hindus is that they all accept the central truths proclaimed by the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. However, interpretations of these truths diverge depending on the lens of the particular Hindu tradition under which these truths are viewed. It is in the Bhagavad Gita that Krishna speaks to Arjuna about the meaning of life and how to attain the goal of life. The term “Bhagavad Gita” translates literally into English as “The Song of God”. The Bhagavad Gita is sometimes called the fifth Veda, and it is embedded in the epic civil war of Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata war was a battle between two dynasties of princes (Pandavas and Kauravas) who were cousins (Kane,1958; Pusalker, 1996). The father of Pandavas, Pandu, who had been the king, had died when his sons were still young. The kingdom, thereafter was looked after by his brother Dhritrashtra (who had been blind since childhood), until it could be passed on to the rightful inheritors, the Pandavas. However, Dhritrashtra’s sons, the Kauravas, schemed to have the Pandavas killed so that the entire kingdom would fall into their hands. When the many methods and plans employed over the years to destroy the Pandavas failed, the issue came to a head and the dispute between Pandavas and Kauravas became open. With various neighboring Kings choosing either one side or the other, the conflict escalated into a major national battle for the control of Bharata (the old name for India). Krishna played a critical leadership role in attempting to stop the war. Having failed in diplomacy, Krishna took the role of the charioteer for Arjuna in the Mahabharta war.


While the scholarly debate on the historicity of Mahabharata and the date it started is likely to continue, for most Hindus, the reality of Krishna has never been in question. Indeed, stories about Krishna as a mischievous child, a playful boy, a young man, a lover, a friend, and a warrior, who became the ruler of Dwarka in Western India, have captivated the Indian imagination since time immemorial. Krishna could be well described by Max Weber’s notion of ‘charisma.’ Weber defined charisma as a special quality in the personality of the leader by which he, “…is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional qualities.” (1947: 48).

In Hinduism throughout the ages, Krishna has remained as the clearest example of one of the most charismatic and transformational leaders who with his great power of intuition adapted himself to every situation and inspired his followers to do their duty and achieve the goals and objectives that had been set forth. We see Krishna taking a variety of leadership roles both before and during the Mahabharata war. The two most prominent roles Krishna takes are that of a servant-leader and the transformational leader.

Krishna as a Servant-Leader

In the servant-leader model, the goal of leadership is viewed primarily as service. Servant-leaders take into account the interests of those they lead and put the interests of the followers above their own self-interest. Servant-leaders facilitate the growth and development of their followers, promote community, share power and resources, and provide the support needed to help achieve the goals that lead to the common good of individuals and the community as a whole (Greenleaf, 1977; Spears and Lawrence, 2002). In the context of this perspective, we see that Krishna meets the criteria of a servant-leader.

The following background of Krishna helps us to assess this aspect of his leadership style.


Krishna’s reputation was well established by the time of the Mahabharata war and he was revered and adored by the people he ruled along with his older brother Balarama in the city of Dwarka. Krishna and Balarama were known as the protectors of the weak and helpless in society. In particular, Krishna had great reverence for Brahmins and the Rishis (religious monks and spiritual scholars and teachers) and enjoyed helping and serving them in a variety of ways to facilitate their spiritual practices.

Krishna himself had gone through a formal religious training period with his spiritual teacher and understood the importance of maintaining age old traditions. Therefore, he had little tolerance for those who harassed the Rishis and the Brahmins in any way. Many of Krishna’s fights had evolved from attempting to protect the innocent from harm. Both Krishna and his brother Balarama were known to be superb warriors who had been through many battles. Krishna’s enemies, for good reason, had a great fear of him, although Krishna never fought without a just cause and often patiently waited to determine if aggressive action was necessary.

The Mahabharata fight between Pandavas and Kauravas posed a dilemma for Krishna and his brother Balarama as Krishna and Balarama were related to both the Pandava princes and the Kaurava princes. Krishna knew that the leader of Kaurava princes, Duryodhana, was a wicked person who had relentlessly pursued the Pandavas for years to have them killed so that Pandavas would have no claim to the throne.

The Pandavas were still alive and well due to the protection Krishna had secretly extended them through a variety of means. The Pandavas had great love for Krishna and the five Pandavas brothers and their families were dear to Krishna as well. In particular, Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers was Krishna’s best friend since his youth. He was also married to Krishna’s sister Subhadra. Arjuna is a supreme archer and a major character in both the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna and Arjuna are inseparable during the Mahabharat war as Krishna takes the role of his charioteer and counselor.

Krishna Acts as a Diplomat

In order to avert the Mahabharata War, Krishna, although himself the ruler of the kingdom of Dwaraka, took the humble role of a mediator and negotiator to try to bring peace to the community. The Mahabharata epic details Krishna’s activities and the crucial role he played as a diplomat by attempting to achieve a last minute negotiated settlement in the conflict between Pandavas and Kauravas.

Here we see Krishna in his characteristic role of the servant-leader, not exercising his authority and power which he had in abundance, but instead trying to broker a peace by listening to both sides, empathizing with their suffering, attempting to persuade them to peace, offering them consolation and healing for the past wrongs that they may have suffered.

Even though Krishna knew the Kaurava princes to be wicked, he left no stone unturned and made a special visit to the Kaurava kingdom to speak with them and get them to agree to some minimal rights of property and conditions of fairness for the Pandavas.

In the modern management leadership literature, the servant-leader model has been recognized as important by Greenleaf (1977) and many authors have viewed this style of leadership as having a moral and a spiritual dimension (Wicks, 2002). Spears (1998), based on Greenleaf’s writings, identified ten major attributes of servant leadership that included, listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth of people, and building community.

Several writers such as Covey (1996) and others have added more attributes including, vision, integrity, empowerment, teaching, etc., and with minor variations in the terms used, these are generally consistent with Greenleaf’s original conceptualization of the servant-leader. In the Mahabharata epic, we see Krishna engage in most of these activities in his role as a mediator and peace maker in attempting to negotiate a fair settlement between the Pandavas and Kauravas so that a civil war and the resulting bloodshed can be avoided.

Krishna’s choice to serve Arjuna as his Charioteer

When all of Krishna’s diplomacy to avert the war fails, due essentially to the evil intentions of the Kaurava princes and their oldest brother and leader Duryodhana, war becomes unavoidable and is forced upon the Pandavas. The war preparations now start in earnest and within about a month’s time, both sides have built camps and colonies to support their respective armies with weaponry, food, and places of rest and shelter in the Kurukshetra field where the battle takes place.

With the civil war being imminent, Krishna’s older brother, Balarama, decides not participate in a war where there is family on both sides and leaves the area going on a religious pilgrimage. Krishna, however, when asked by his Pandava cousin Arjuna, who is also his best friend, to be by his side in the war, feels duty bound to take the side of righteousness and justice and agrees. But he does so on the condition that he, Krishna, will not take an active part in the war and engage in battle and spill any blood.


Instead, Krishna offers to serve Arjuna and be his charioteer in the battles of the Mahabharata war. Normally, it would not be common for a great King like Krishna to play a support role for another in battle. However, by becoming Arjuna’s charioteer in the war, Krishna actively takes on and embraces the support role and demonstrates that an act of service for a just cause is, in fact, an act of leadership.

The Starting Scene of Bhagavad Gita

Krishna and Arjuna have been through many experiences together and are about the same age at the start of the Mahabharata war, both being in their mid forties (derived from Raghvan, 1969; and Achar, 2003). As the appointed hour of the war gets closer, the two massive armies face each other and conch shells are being blown on both sides. Arjuna asks Krishna, now his charioteer, to take their chariot in the middle of the two armies so that Arjuna can have a good look at the opposing army and its leaders.

Krishna then drives the chariot between the two armies and stops in the middle. Arjuna starts to carefully observe the great warriors on the opposing side, all of whom he knows well.

As Arjuna looks at his foes on the other side, he experiences a deep life crisis and along with it panic, anxiety, and confusion. Arjuna’s body starts trembling and his mouth goes dry.

Arjuna sees his cousins, uncles, and even his revered teacher Dronacharya and great grandfather Bishma, all on the other side of the war, duty bound to their evil leader Duryodhana and ready to do battle with Arjuna and his Pandava brothers.

While the oldest member of the family, his great grandfather, is on the opposing side, one of the youngest warriors of Mahabharata is on the side of Arjuna, and it is his own son Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu is 16, a talented and brave fighter who has just gotten married and unknown to him, his wife is pregnant.

Abhimanyu, simply by being around his father Arjuna, watching him and listening to him, and practicing with him is on his way to becoming a great warrior himself. Abhimanyu is full of strength and confidence that is natural to youth.

Arjuna, however, is concerned that he has not had time to complete his son’s training in the art of war strategy and the tactics of survival within enemy formations. But now there is no more time left for training and to prepare. The great war is upon them.

All of a sudden, the horrific reality of what is about to happen overwhelms Arjuna and he is thrown into great sorrow at the prospect of death and destruction of families on both sides. He understands that the ground of Kurukshetra will be turning red with the blood of warriors who will leave behind their weeping widows and children.

This is what battles bring and Arjuna has seen it all before. Perhaps the words of his oldest brother Yudhishtara and his reservations regarding this war haunt him. “Even though we are duty bound by our caste as warriors to conduct this battle, everyone should remember that war is evil in any form. To the dead, victory and defeat are the same,” Yudhishtara had said to his brothers with great sadness.

Now the Mahabharata war is about to ensue, and Arjuna, the supreme archer and veteran of many battles, experiences deep uncertainty and questions whether this is the right thing to do.

The following verses from the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita describe Arjuna’s mental state (Translations by Dr. Ramanand Prasad).

Arjuna was overcome with great compassion and sorrowfully said:
O Krishna, seeing my kinsmen standing with a desire to fight (1.28), my limbs fail and my mouth becomes dry. My body quivers and my hairs stand on end (1.29).

The bow, Gaandeeva, slips from my hand and my skin intensely burns. My head turns, I am unable to stand steady and, O Krishna, I see bad omens. I see no use of killing my kinsmen in battle (1.30-31).

I desire neither victory nor pleasure nor kingdom, O Krishna. What is the use of the kingdom, or enjoyment, or even life, O Krishna? (1.32).

Because all those for whom we desire kingdom, enjoyments and pleasures, are standing here for the battle, giving up their lives and wealth (1.33).

Teachers, uncles, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, and other relatives (1.34).

I do not wish to kill them, who are also about to kill, even for the sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone for this earthly kingdom, O Krishna (1.35).

O Lord Krishna, what pleasure shall we find in killing the sons of Dhritaraashtra? Upon killing these felons we shall incur sin only (1.36).

Therefore, we should not kill our brothers, the sons of Dhritaraashtra. How can we be happy after killing our kinsmen, O Krishna? (1.37).

Though they, blinded by greed, do not see evil in the destruction of the family, or sin in being treacherous to friends (1.38).

Why shouldn’t we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family, think about turning away from this sin, O Krishna? (1.39).

With the destruction of the family, the eternal family traditions are destroyed, and immorality prevails due to the destruction of family traditions. (1.40)

Indeed, how does one fight evil without becoming evil? How does one fight a wicked enemy, who is intent on destruction, without becoming wicked? This is the most difficult and an age old question for humanity.

Arjuna puts it bluntly when he asks Krishna, “Though our enemies blinded by greed do not see evil in the destruction of the family, or sin in being treacherous to friends, why shouldn’t we, who clearly see evil in the destruction of the family, think about turning away from this sin, O Krishna?”

Arjuna, whose arrows have always found their mark in the past, now lays down his bow and tells Krishna that he would prefer to be slain not resisting rather than kill his cousins, uncles, and relatives on the other side, many of whom he admires, respects, and loves no matter how wicked and evil their leaders are.

We all understand that this is a natural reaction in the given context. However, in light of current scientific information, Arjuna’s question acquires a modern relevance. Scientists now tell us that all persons alive today had common ancestors. Somewhere in our deep biological evolutionary past, there is a super great grandmother that we all share. So, if we view all human beings, regardless of their nationality, religion, color, race, and ethnicity as part of our larger family, we must also understand that when nations conduct wars against each other, it is essentially distant cousins who have to battle and either kill or be killed.

The dilemma of Arjuna is not new. Arjuna admits to Krishna that he is very confused and asks for his guidance.

Krishna as a Transformational Servant-Leader

image Given the unexpected change in the mood of Arjuna, it falls upon Krishna, acting as his charioteer, to counsel him. Sensing the critical urgency of the situation, with the opposing side getting ready to strike, Krishna with his immensely charismatic personality immediately transforms himself into an authority who speaks with power and conviction to inspire Arjuna to do his just and righteous duty.

Modern leadership literature documents the association between crisis and manifestation of charisma in political leaders (House, Spangler, and Woycke, 1991). Scholars have reasoned that a crisis allows charismatic leaders with the opportunity to display their personality to a fuller extent (Bryman, 1993) and an uncertain situation enhances the leader’s ability to appear charismatic. Seen in this context, acting as a charismatic transformational leader, Krishna inspires Arjuna to have a new vision of life and empowers him to act according to his Dharma (duty) as a warrior.

Krishna does this by focusing on the immediate psychological needs of Arjuna in order to bring him out of his sorrow and confusion and offers himself (Krishna) as a role model whose ideal conduct is worth emulating. Krishna’s approach is consistent with the classic strategy of transformational leadership (Smith et al., 2004), using which, leaders are able to uplift their followers and enable them to share and follow a powerful vision of the future.

We can examine in depth Krishna’s response to Arjuna using the four components of transformational leadership behavior that are mentioned in the modern literature as idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1985, 1996; Bass & Avolio, 1994a, 1994b). Krishna’s goal is to pick up Arjuna’s spirits by explaining to him the nature of life, death, and the immortal spirit, and the way to overcome mental obstacles that stand in the way of doing his duty.

Given below are a few sample verses from the Bhagavad Gita to demonstrate Krishna’s use of the four behaviors commonly accepted as belonging to the realm of transformational leadership.

1. Individualized Consideration: In the following verses, we see Krishna addressing Arjuna’s personal duty as a warrior and advising him what he needs to do to achieve his goals. Specifically, Krishna points out that Arjuna, given his background as a warrior prince, cannot shirk from a battle that is just and righteous. The words used are meant to remind Arjuna that his people are depending on him to protect them from harm, and if Arjuna now retreats, there will be chaos and very serious consequences undermining his past achievements, reputation, and hindering his future potential and growth as a warrior and a person.

Krishna says to Arjuna:

If you will not fight this righteous war, then you will fail in your duty, lose your reputation, and incur sin (2.33)

The great warriors will think that you have retreated from the battle out of fear. Those who have greatly esteemed you will lose respect for you (2.35).

Your enemies will speak many unmentionable words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful than this? (2.36).

Further, as part of his individualized consideration for Arjuna, Krishna later advises Arjuna that he can develop his potentially divine nature and become an evolved soul by doing his duty as a warrior without attachment to whether it will bear fruit or not.

Krishna states:

Treating pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat alike, engage yourself in your duty. By doing your duty this way you will not incur sin (2.38).

You have jurisdiction over your respective duty only, but no control or claim over the results. The fruits of work should not be your motive. You should never be inactive (2.47).

Therefore, always perform your duty efficiently and without attachment to the results, because by doing work without attachment one attains the Supreme. (3.19).

2. Intellectual Stimulation: Another component of transformational leadership is for the leader to open the followers up to new ideas and different ways of understanding so the followers can integrate this new knowledge into their behaviors and actions. Krishna demonstrates this approach in the following selected verses when he explains to Arjuna the nature of life and death of the body and the eternal nature of the Atma (Soul – Self -Spirit).

Krishna states:

You grieve for those who are not worthy of grief, and yet speak the words of wisdom. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead (2.11).

There was never a time when I, you, or these kings did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future (2.12).

The Atma is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atma is not destroyed when the body is destroyed (2.20).

O Arjuna, how can a person who knows that the Atma is indestructible, eternal, unborn, and imperishable, kill anyone or cause anyone to be killed? (2.21).

Just as a person puts on new garments after discarding the old ones, similarly Atma acquires new bodies after casting away the old bodies (2.22).

Weapons do not cut this Atma, fire does not burn it, water does not make it wet, and the wind does not make it dry (2.23).

3. Idealized Influence: In this aspect of transformational leadership, the leader offers himself/herself as the ideal role model whose high ethical and moral conduct is worth emulating. We see Krishna use this approach in the following verses emphasizing that although he, Krishna, needs nothing and has nothing to obtain, yet he still does not give up action and does his duty to set an example to others.

Krishna states:

Because, whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows (3.21).

O Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds (earth, heaven, and the upper regions) that should be done by Me, nor there is anything unattained that I should obtain, yet I engage in action (3.22).

Because, if I do not engage in action relentlessly, O Arjuna, people would follow My path in every way (3.23).

These worlds would perish if I do not work, and I shall be the cause of confusion and destruction of all these people (3.24).

As the ignorant work, O Arjuna, with attachment (to the fruits of work), so the wise should work without attachment, for the welfare of the society (3.25).

Works do not bind Me, because I have no desire for the fruits of work. The one who understands this truth is (also) not bound by Karma. (4.14).

4. Inspirational Motivation: The last essential facet of transformational leadership is the ability to inspire and energize the followers to act on the shared vision of the leader and empower the followers with the ability to carry it out. The next few verses are examples of Krishna’s inspirational motivation and the divine touch that removes Arjuna’s confusion about the right course of action.

Krishna states:

Both you and I have taken many births. I remember them all, O Arjuna, but you do not remember (4.05).

Whenever there is a decline of Dharma and the rise of Adharma, O Arjuna, then I manifest (or incarnate) Myself. I incarnate from time to time for protecting the good, for transforming the wicked, and for establishing Dharma, the world order (4.07-08).

Dedicating all works to Me in a spiritual frame of mind, free from desire, attachment, and mental grief, do your duty (3.30).

Those who always practice this teaching of Mine, with faith and free from cavil, are freed from the bondage of Karma (3.31).

O Arjuna, I am the Atma abiding in the heart of all beings. I am also the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings (10.20).

The Supreme Lord said: O Arjuna, behold My hundreds and thousands of multifarious divine forms of different colors and shapes. (11.05).


Therefore, you get up and attain glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a prosperous kingdom. All these (warriors) have already been destroyed by Me. You are only an instrument, O Arjuna (11.33).

After Krishna had explained many mysteries to Arjuna he asked:
O Arjuna, did you listen to this with single-minded attention? Has your delusion born of ignorance been destroyed? (18.72).

Arjuna answered: By Your grace my delusion is destroyed, I have gained knowledge, my confusion (with regard to body and Atma) is dispelled and I shall obey your command (18.73).

Arjuna then went on to lead his armies into the battle that has become known as the Mahabharata war, with Krishna acting as his charioteer and guide.

A ferocious and a hellish battle followed in which large numbers of armies were destroyed on both sides.

Arjuna’s worst nightmare came true when his son Abhimanyu, trapped behind a cunning enemy formation, lost his life fighting valiantly while Arjuna was preoccupied in a different field of battle and unable to reach him in time.

After experiencing the insanity and destruction that war brings to both sides, Arjuna, along with his Pandava brothers, with the counseling and support of Krishna, were victorious. Yudhishtara, the oldest Pandava prince, with some convincing from his brothers and Krishna, reluctantly took over the reigns of the new kingdom.


In this paper, I examined the charismatic leadership behavior of Krishna just prior to the start of the Mahabharata war to demonstrate that it fits both the servant-leader and the transformational model of leadership. This approach adds to the stream of literature wherein scholars have examined the leadership of various historical religious figures (Barnes, 1978) including Jesus of Nazareth (Sendjyaa and Sarros, 2002) and Nehemiah (Maciarello, 2003). With the growing general trend to explore the characteristics of spiritual leadership (Cavanaugh, 1999; Covey, 1996) and its implications for modern life and organizations, the paper fills a gap in the literature because no one has looked at Krishna’s role in Mahabharata in the context of modern leadership theories.

Many scholars who have analyzed both the servant-leader model and the transformational model have suggested that these models have many common elements as they are both rooted in theories of charismatic leadership and are moral and inspirational in nature (Graham, 1991; Farling et al., 1999; Smith et al., 2004).

An examination of Krishna’s leadership in Mahabharata shows that Krishna as a charismatic leader was able to potentially adapt and shift between the servant-leader and transformational leadership styles based on situational contingencies, and that this led to successful outcomes. The possibility that such adaptability can be developed by charismatic leaders in organizations would have implications for organizational survivability and prosperity and should be explored by scholars in the future.


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Please note that there are numerous translations of The Bhagavad Gita, many of which can be found on the Internet in addition to that of Dr. Prasad cited herein. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita; http://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/