Chanakya Thoughts: Think like a leader

Chanakya was a leadership teacher, a Raj-Guru and a legendary mentor who is still well known for his teachings to his iconic disciple Chandragupta, who went on to become the emperor of India.

However, we cannot limit Chanakya’s life to just one student and teacher relationship. He created many leaders in his lifetime and continued to inspire many generations. He was among the best expert on ‘Leadership’ and good governance the world has ever known.

He has also left behind a magnum opus, Kautilya’s Arthashastra for us to read, study, reflect and refer on the various aspect of leadership. Arthashastra has 6,000 sutras or formulas on leadership that can be practiced as a science and art.

The study of the Arthashastra will lead us to think like a leader. The leader needs to develop various types of thinking (which we will see in future articles of this column).

But, first the attitude of a leader:

“In the happiness of his people lies the happiness of the leader, and in what is beneficial to the people is his own benefit” (1.19.34)

First of all, the leader needs to have a positive attitude. But that is not enough, he has to take the people along.

Chanakya would first select the right potential leaders and then give them training in the leadership. Even born leaders need training. The training of a leader starts with the ‘inside-out’ approach. It is the training of the mind of the leader. The attitude has to be correct.

Chanakya is clear that, once these students pass out of his education system, they are bound to get into power positions. As the famous adage goes, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. So to make sure that the leader does not misuse the power, the training on the right attitude is important.

Happiness (Sukha)

The focus of the leader should be on the happiness of his people. If the focus is on the people, the leader will continuously work towards their happiness and wellbeing. Otherwise, the welfare state will become a farewell state.

Today we speak of Happiness index in various countries. Gross National Happiness (GHN) is the philosophy that was started by government of Bhutan. It is an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and wellbeing of its population. It is institutionalised as the goal in the constitution of Bhutan, enacted from 2008 itself. Other countries are now following the model with various happiness indicators.

UAE appointed a minister of state for happiness and launched the national programme for happiness and positivity in 2018. In India too some states have started exclusive ministry of happiness, first being Madhya Pradesh followed by Andra Pradesh.

But Philosophically, it was Chanakya who made it the first mandate for leaders to think about happiness of the people, nearly 2400 years ago.

Beneficial (Hita)

We need to also understand that difference between happiness and benefits. Hita is different from Sukha. Many times what is beneficial may not make the people happy.

For instance, at times the leader has to take some extreme measures to ensure law and order. Certain part of the society also needs to be punished in order to maintain the overall benefit of the society.

So being a humble and kind leader is important. But, the leader also needs to use the whip from time to time, as and when required.

The leader should have the wisdom to differentiate between a happy country and a country that works for benefit of its people. A right balance of the two makes an ideal leader.

Own happiness

What about the leader’s own happiness? The leader finds joy in the happiness of his people. There is no self-interest at all. The leader works towards the larger benefit of the society. No personal agenda.

It is like a parent who is ready to sacrifice everything for the happiness and the benefit of the children. The parent finds a joy in the success of the children. At that time no sacrifice is big enough.

One may wonder if such an ideal leader ever existed or is it just an imaginary concept.

If we go back in history, we can find many such leaders and with Chanakya’s thoughts we can create such leaders today, and for the future too.

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