We hope the world will act in the spirit of enlightened self-interest – Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Former Prime Minister of India
The Motive of Minos
Greek mythology is replete with heroes and villains and the stories often contain both these, making them even more absorbing. One such villainous character is the Minotaur, who was the son of Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete. Queen Pasiphae gave birth to Minotaur, a creature half man – half bull out of union with a bull, sent by Zeus. King Minos was embarrassed, but decided not to kill the Minotaur, so he hid the monster in the Labyrinth constructed by the ingenious Daedalus, at the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Minos was imprisoning his enemies in the Labyrinth so that the Minotaur could eat them. The labyrinth was such a complicated construction that no one could ever find the way out alive and they would finally perish at the hands of Minotaur. The son of Minos, Androgeus, went to Athens to participate in the Panathenaic Games, but he was killed during the Marathon by the bull that impregnated his mother Pasiphae. Minos was infuriated and to exact his revenge on Athens, he demanded that Aegeus, the king of Athens send seven men and women every year to the Minotaur, to avert the plague, caused by the death of Androgeus.
The Purpose of Theseus
The third year, Theseus, son of Aegeus decided to be one of the seven young men that would go to Crete, in order to kill the Minotaur and put an end to the human sacrifices at the hands of Minotaur. King Aegeus tried to make him change his mind out of concern, but the valiant Theseus was determined to slay the Minotaur. Theseus assured his father that he would return safely, and promised to put up white sails on his ship, coming back from Crete, allowing him to know in advance that he was coming back alive. The boat would return with black sails if Theseus was killed instead. Theseus announced to King Minos that he was going to kill the Monster, but Minos was confident that even if he did manage to kill the Minotaur, Theseus would never be able to exit the Labyrinth.
Theseus happened to meet Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, who fell madly in love with him and became an ally in Theseus’ mission. So, she gave him a thread, telling him to unravel it as he would penetrate deeper and deeper into the Labyrinth, so that he would know his way out when he kills the monster. Theseus followed her suggestion and entered the labyrinth with the thread. The brave Theseus did manage to slay the Minotaur and save the Athenians (and humanity), and with Ariadne’s thread, he retraced his steps out. Taking Princess Ariadne with him, Theseus left Crete and happily started sailing back to Athens. This powerful story of Theseus and the Minotaur has inspired numerous artists throughout the centuries, who have created paintings and sculptures dedicated to the myth and the hero of Athens. The noble purpose of Theseus won over the wily motives of Minos – and thousands of humans would be saved in the future…
The Magical Tree
From the mythical hero set in Greece, we move to a mythical tree, in India. There is a beautiful tree in our garden – Night Jasmine (botanical name: Nyctanthes arbor-tristis), which is popularly called Parijat, in India. This tree features prominently in Indian mythology (but is indeed an existing species) and it is probably considered divine, due to its myriad medical properties. Our tree, which was planted around 2009, grew to its adult height in about 7 years. Till 2019, there were times when it looked quite weak and was subject to termite attacks on few occasions. On one occasion, it looked like it would wither and die. But it has become healthy and beautiful all over again, in the last 1 year or so, especially due to special care by my older daughter. The alluring scented flowers can be seen now, all months of the year and these flowers shower gently, on those under it, in the early morning hours – such is the glory. But that’s not all, there is also some magic which slowly began to unfold! This special tree can be now be seen with four kinds of flowers on it, and they are all blooming in perfect harmony. They are not of the same species, but they share a special bonhomie. They are four different plants actually, but the Parijat tree is acting like a mother to three other climbers/ shrubs – accommodating them, hosting them, even nurturing all of them – they all look delighted in each other’s company. A mini Nandanvan (Divine garden) on a single tree! No wonder this tree is considered to be a magical tree! There are some sublime lessons for us to learn…
Practices of organizations in Covid times
A popular HR monthly, People Matters has been reporting on what employers in India have been doing during the troubled period of the second wave of pandemic. In this time of need, several firms have stepped up to express solidarity and support as employees faced loss and fought for basic resources at an unprecedented pace. To safeguard their employees’ well-being, one of the foremost actions taken was to provide special leaves for those who have already contracted the virus. While companies like Tata Steel, Google, Amazon, Schneider Electric, Deloitte and more provided their employees with special sick leaves for them to recuperate and recover, some companies like ITC, Optum and Phillips provided their employees with unlimited leave policies, with a clear cut mandate of not to resume work until they recover.
Medical Helpline and resource access for COVID-19 care
With online health consultation steadily gaining acceptance pre-COVID-19, corporates also rushed to put in place a COVID-19 helpline to enable employees with direct access to doctors, as well as vendors that help arrange for medicines, medical equipment, home nursing care. Beyond COVID-19 related queries, companies have also provided helpline access for emotional support as the overwhelming circumstances take a beating on the emotional stability of employees and their loved ones. TCS set up a COVID-19 help desk to provide any assistance required, along with a 24×7 TCS Medical Hotline to reach doctors and TCS Cares services for counselling.
Converting office spaces into COVID-19 isolation centres
Some companies went a step further and converted office spaces into isolation centres and hospitals for employees and their kin. HDFC Bank converted three of its training centres into isolation facilities for its Covid-affected employees – the facilities were equipped with first-line assistance and round the clock nurses and visiting doctors. The facilities included working with the local administration and setting up vaccination camps. In fact, many IT firms set up hospital beds in their campuses, with oxygen and ventilator support to support employees and their families. Further, Amazon, ITC, Capgemini, RPG Group, and Cognizant also set up Covid-care centres either on their own, or through tie-ups with hotels or hospitals at this critical time when the healthcare system was stressed.
Testing camps, vaccinations camps and financial aid
Many organizations stepped out and introduced testing camps/drive-thru and vaccination camps for their employees. IT majors like TCS, HCL Tech, Tech Mahindra, Infosys introduced COVID-19 test centres which will help their employees skip the general exposure by visiting crowded test centres and wait in long queues.. Several companies, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, Grofers, Cars24, Deloitte have announced that they will sponsor the cost of vaccines for their employees and some for their families as well. Financial aid has been a critical issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of companies took steps to protect employees – right from increasing the insurance cover for hospitalization and COVID-19 related expenses, providing financial assistance to employee’s families strained by the pandemic and covering the cost of vaccination. Companies started taking measures to ensure the ongoing financial stability of the employees and their families. Borosil Ltd and Borosil Renewables announced that the family members of employees losing life due to COVID-19 will receive salaries for the next two years, in addition to other benefits. The company also announced that the education of the children of such employees will be borne by the company until graduation level in India. Following them, similar announcements were made by Paytm and Zomato. Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma said the company will continue to pay salaries to the families of deceased employees throughout the financial year and Zomato announced that it would provide 100% of the deceased employee’s income for two years to the family.
These are all positive steps. Are these organizations responding in times of crisis or will the care for employees and their families also continue when business returns to normal? Are there organizations who demonstrate this kind of sensitivity at all times – towards organization and also towards society? Let’s revisit a couple of stories from the past.
Socially Embedded Leadership: Cadbury’s Chocolate Village and Tatanagar
The Measure of a Man is what he does with power – Plato
When the Bridge Street factory became too small, George Cadbury, the third son of the founder John Cadbury had a new vision of the future. ‘Why should an industrial area be squalid and depressing?’ he asked. His vision was shared by his brother Richard, and they began searching for a very special site for their new factory.
Cadburys was reliant on the canals for milk delivery, and on the railways for cocoa deliveries from the ports of London and Southampton. It therefore needed a site which was undeveloped and had easy access to both canal and rail. The location was chosen as it was regarded as cleaner, healthier and more amenable to longer-term expansion plans. The Cadburys named the area ‘Bournville’ after the Bourn Brook (now known as The Bourn); with ‘ville’ being French for ‘town’. The first bricks were laid in January 1879 and 16 houses for foremen and senior employees were built on the site. In 1893, George Cadbury bought 120 acres of land close to the works and planned, at his own expense, a model village which would ‘alleviate the evils of modern more cramped living conditions’. By 1895, 143 cottages were built and it was called a ‘garden village’ as he wanted to keep the rural feel, by ensuring that gardens were not overshadowed. He said that a tenth of the estate should be ‘laid out and used as parks, recreation grounds and open space.’ Then Cadburys began to develop its factory in the new suburb. Loyal and hard-working workers were treated with great respect and relatively high wages and good working conditions. The organization also pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service. The Cadburys were particularly concerned with the health and fitness of their workforce, incorporating park and recreation areas into the Bournville village plans and encouraging swimming, walking and indeed all forms of outdoor sports. These designs became a blueprint for many other model village estates around Britain. But more importantly, the practices conceived and followed by Cadburys became the blueprint for many organizations in the future.
In 1919, when Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the global conglomerate Tata decided to set up India’s first steel factory in the present-day Jharkhand, a state in Eastern India, the site, called Sakchi, was a tiny tribal settlement surrounded by untouched jungles. An abundance of natural resources – iron, coal, and limestone, and water from two rivers, Subarnarekha and Kharkai, made it the perfect place to set up the plant. While setting up the steel plant itself was a colossal task, and needed much planning, funding, and execution, making the dense jungle habitable was even harder. The big challenge they were faced with – how do you convince people to come and work in a tribal area? Having travelled extensively, Jamsetji was clear that he wanted a self-sufficient township. No stone was left unturned to ensure his vision turned into reality, no cost was too high for the Nation’s glory. Soon a world-class town emerged from the wilderness. When Jamsetji Tata commissioned the construction of a township for India’s first steel factory, his brief to the planners was clear. He wanted a town that was on par with the best in the world: Large tree-lined avenues, expansive lawns, and gardens, football and hockey fields; temples, churches, mosques, marketplaces —all were to be provisioned for. “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches.” A hundred years later, it is evident that the town was made perfectly fit to his brief. Tatanagar or Jamshedpur, India’s first planned township, stands inconspicuously among thick vegetation in the East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Corralled by deep forests, adorned by two rivers, dotted with hills and paddy fields, the town is straight out of a storybook—the kind they do not write anymore. Art modelled from steel scraps adorn the streets, wide shady avenues invite you for a stroll; shops with terracotta tiles take you back in time, and large mid-century bungalows make you want to retire there. What was common to George Cadbury and Jamsetji Tata? Like the Parijat tree, they believed in co existence. Through nourishing others, they managed to nourish their own organizations. They built businesses but they also built community.
The credo of K-F-D: Dr Anil Gupta, one of the fathers of organized Grass roots innovation in India, talks about the source of all initiatives being ‘Samvedana’, that is roughly translated as compassionate empathy. Samvedana is the ability to feel the pain of others so that you realize the need for a solution. And hence work towards building a solution. He repeatedly talks about KFD: the relationship between knowing, feeling and doing. Knowledge is not enough, one needs to Feel much more and then, Do the Maximum (for the good of all). Do Leaders today behave in consonance with this?
In 2020, ace industrialist and Chairman Emeritus of the Tata group, Ratan Tata, outraged by the large-scale layoffs of migrant labourers in India due to the Pandemic caused organizational issues, quipped: “These are the people that have worked for you. These are the people who have served you all their careers and you send them out to live in the rain? Is that your definition of ethics when you treat your labour force that way? The way migrant labourers were left to fend for themselves with no work, food, place to stay, speaks volumes on lack of business ethics.” He showed true Samvedana – feeling the pain of the labourers and concern for society, at large. Why?
Awake or Awakened?
What do we call leaders who understand that Societal Well-being equals Organizational Well-being? Proactive? Long-term oriented visionaries? It is much more – They may be called Awakened Leaders. Let us examine ten characteristics of such Leaders:
- They have an “evolved” mindset
- They can draw out wisdom from people
- They are at ease “Being” – their consciousness is evidently higher than their peers
- They are firmly attached to the universal human Values
- They serve people and feel gratitude for the privilege of leading
- They have the virtue of equanimity
- They work hard to earn respect from the people, never demand it
- They constantly work at converting adversaries to allies
- Great self awareness and self conquest are their hallmark
- The Awakened leader, through the above practices, becomes a Magnet for Success, over time. They personify the Pull approach – attracting talent, credibility, goodwill and more.
Their legacies are lasting because they cared not just for their own benefit but for the sustained welfare of mankind. Jamsetji Tata, George Cadbury and their ilk transcended the temptation of temporary and superficial relief for those who worked for them – through the demonstration of the above characteristic, they rise above the organizational emergencies and attend to the needs of society at large. Thus, their actions are consistently in the benefit of all, not limited only to times of adversity. They do not suffer from insecurities. They tend to relinquish tight Control over the lives of their people but always maintain close connect with the hearts of these people.
Today’s business world has both its Minos’ as well as Theseus’. The latter is an awakened Leader, showing us the way to go, in the post pandemic era. The opportunity for organizational leaders to awaken, is tremendous – nature has afforded us this opportunity. Awakened Leadership alone can sustain the adversities looming on the horizon, in a troubled world today. There is no other way!