A spiritual text is the last place you’d seek for leadership advice, right? Wrong. The Bhagavad Gita is arguably one of the earliest examples of a leadership text we can find. In the unlikely guise of a much beloved spiritual text, you can unearth some true gems of leadership wisdom.
The Bhagavad Gita details Lord Krishna’s advice to the warrior, Arjuna. As such, it is an action text, perfectly created for those who need to lead others in any “battle” or mission. (Learn more about Lord Krishna here.)
So, what can you learn from the Bhagavad Gita about leadership?
First of all, the Gita teaches that your example is a powerful thing.
"Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps, and whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues."
In a world where it’s easy to lose sight of your individual power, this reminds you of the simple fact that your influence is extraordinary. When you set an honorable example, you inspire others to follow suit.
The Gita also teaches you to analyze your own motives for leading. Are you leading others to a place of higher good? And if not, why are you a leader at all?
“Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”
Here, Krishna counsels that all action should be taken from a selfless place. The added bonus is that then your endeavours contribute not only to your immediate goals, but to your greater spiritual development. Leading becomes a spiritual practice.
Once you know you are acting with true integrity, the Gita offers heartening encouragement.
“No one who does good work will ever come to a bad end, either here or in the world to come.”
Note that the Gita does not reassure you that you will always achieve what you set out to do, or even what you want, but rather that no bad can come of it. It implies trusting that even if the outcome is not as planned, that the product of good work will never be bad.
Perhaps the most challenging leadership lesson of the Gita is to act without expectation of reward.
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”
Cultivating an attitude of equanimity is the ultimate message of the Gita. The aim is to do the work to the best of your ability while letting go of attachment to the results. This does not mean not having a goal or intention, but rather to set your goal, then take the action for the sake of the action. You act because it is the right thing to do, without concern for praise or reward.