MONDAY MUSINGS Ep. 8 – Collective Leadership & Bhishma Neethi

Image for Monday Musings 8 - Bheesham Neeti


Collective Leadership & Bheeshma Neethi

Bhishma briefed King Yudhishtra on the traits of a good king in Shanthi Parva of Mahabharath. As part of this, he elaborated on the importance of kingship (read all references to kingship as leadership in modern context).  Bhishma mentioned that there were no kings initially but that system of self-governance did not work well. Lawlessness prevailed and hence Lord Vishnu created a system of governance with rewards and punishment to be administered by kings and this system was compiled as Vishalaksha by Lord Shiva and then Lord Vishnu created an exceptional king to rule the earth.

First Leader of the World

First leader of the world chosen to reign over everyone by Lord Vishnu was King Prithu. Prithu is the first king recorded to earn the title chakravartin. He was fondly known as Rajan by his people.

Mahabharata states that Vishnu crowned Prithu as the king and entered the latter’s body so that everyone bows to the king as they would to god Vishnu. Thus, the king was “endowed with Vishnu’s greatness on earth”. All civilization emerged in Prithu’s reign. Earth accepted Prithu as her father as Prithu gave her protection and acquired the patronymic name ‘Prithvi’.”

Further, Dharma (righteousness), Shri (goddess of wealth, beauty and good fortune) and Artha (purpose, material prosperity) established themselves in Prithu. Thus, Bhishma concluded that a leader should be an embodiment of Dharma (Principles), Wealth (Growth) and Purpose.
Bhishma Neethi suggests that leadership is essential for progress and a good leader can make the difference.

Bhisma further gave lots of advice to Yudhishtra on various leadership qualities. I am giving below some interesting references from Bhishma Neethi on leadership traits applicable to even modern corporate world. There are some which are not applicable to corporate world and we shall ignore them.
Adhyay 56, Sloka 40 – King should not be always mild, neither should always be terrific. He should be like the vernal sun, neither too hot nor too cold.
Sloka 44 – The king should treat his subjects like how a mother would treat her children.
Sloka 48 – King should never cut jokes with the servants. Should not mix freely with the servants as the servants might disregard the king.
Bhishma stipulated rules for the kings as well as the duties of the kingdom and king’s prajas to the king (We can read as responsibilities for a leader as well as the responsibilities for the organization and the team members towards a leader).
“Without management there is no action.  Without leadership there is no life.”
Interestingly, many management theories correlate well with Bhishma Neethi. Let us see some.

There is no change without Leadership

Philip Atkinson and Robert Mackenzie said  ‘Without leadership there can be no strategic thrust, change and improvement’. Ultimately, The degree to which an organisation can succeed or fail is dependent on its leaders ‘actions and behaviours.’ 

People are boss watchers.

Everyone does it. ‘Doing what you say and saying what you do’ is critical in establishing a consistent management style which will spread throughout the organisation. We all devote time to focusing upon ‘what the top people pay most attention to’ because that is what shapes the culture, teamworking and the performance of every single organisation.

Collective Leadership.

“Leadership” often connotes an image of a single heroic leader. Bhishma Neethi is very clear on the heroic rather godly status of a king. Bhishma suggested that strong and heroic kings are essential to protect the country and its citizen. However, ‘collective leadership’ theory seems to contradict this view.  What is ‘Collective Leadership’?
‘Collective Leadership’ is based on the perspective that many individuals within a system may lead, or that groups, structures, and processes may exercise leadership to help networks advance toward a shared goal.
True collective leadership happens when several capable people with complementary strengths and competencies, sharing common high values and character, and centered around a compelling purpose and vision, combine to provide direction among a company of people and contribute to their success. Success of collective leadership requires specific characteristics – trust, shared power, transparent and effective communication, accountability, and shared learning. This means that everyone has a voice and takes full responsibility for the success of the team and the organization, not just for their own jobs.

Leader as a ‘hero’ to Leader as a ‘host’

Where would heroic leadership work and where would ‘collective leadership’ work?

When the solution is certain and the crisis is such that urgency prevails, then the coercive, hard, and heroic leadership will be required. This is sometimes referred to as ‘command and control’.  ‘Collective Leadership’ would be beneficial in many other situations.
“Collective leadership becomes possible when the members of a group, motivated by a common purpose, begin to build relationships with each other that are genuinely respectful enough to allow them to co-construct their shared purpose and work”
Is Bhishma Neethi contradicts with the principles of collective leadership? Yes and No. Bhishma Neethi suggests authoritative leadership but not autocratic. Bhishma warned Yudhistra about the perils of autocratic leadership and also the need for consulting wise ministers.
PS: Collective Leadership is defined in author’s book Grandma In The BoardRoom and the book is available in all the online book stores and author’s

Management and Leadership Topics covered in the previous posts

  1. The right attitude — Ch 1Ch 2  Ch6
  2. Governance — Ch 3  Ch4  Ch7
  3. Leadership — Ch 5  Ch 8
  4. Management — Ch 7 
  5. Intelligence & Wisdom — Ch 9 


Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.



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