Leaders are usually spurred either by a problem – an inner focus, for example an idea, a special cause – or are motivated by a relationship in their surroundings.
Leaders also come across as being protective of those they consider to be their own by needs. Consequently, political leaders who are closer to particular groups act on improving such bodies’ continued existence and generally create a political world where the groups they are close to are not open to any menace; conversely, political leaders who are less identified to groups view the political arena as offering to them a number of possibilities to work alongside others for their own or mutual benefits.
Therefore, while evaluating a political leader’s motivations, it’s crucial to understand why the leader essentially wanted to accede to power and what his needs were to protect the groups he was associated to; thus, while doing so, the leader’s main aim is to maintain his position while at the same time maintain a watertight hold on his power.
The Mahabharata is a classic reference to understand the duty of a political leader when situations of choosing between facing a problem and the respectful relationships arise. Authored by the sage Vyasa, the entire Mahabharata is made up of almost 100,000 couplets – the longest known epic poem and has been described as ‘the longest poem ever written.’
The teachings are ever timely and distinctive in the parallel that can be drawn with the world of politics. In short, the story of Mahabharata tells the tale of the terrible war between the children of two brothers of the Bharata family. The rival cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas, claim kingship and supremacy. After Kauravas’ several attempts to surreptitiously kill the Pandavas, and later on insult the Pandavas in an assembly of the nobles, a face-to-face war on the battlefield of Kurukshetra brings the Pandavas in view of the Kauravas.
As the battle is about to commence, the focus shifts to the great warrior Arjuna who stands tall as the leader of his Pandava troops. Upon his arrival on the battlefield on the first day of war, Arjuna is filled with an outlandish pity and shame; he sees his own kinfolk – his cousins, teachers, grandfather, and loved ones – standing as enemies in front of him. He has a moment of anguish and puts down his weapon, refusing to fight and kill them.
It is then that his charioteer, none other than warrior-god Krishna pauses to inculcate in him the values of what it means to be a leader and what duties he should follow as a leader, with the conversation which would later become famous as the discourse which gave birth to the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna sees Arjuna’s reluctance to fight as mere weakness of heart and impotence and refutes those feelings, urging Arjuna to combat for justice, for the greater good. Krishna further exhorted in his famous Bhagavad Gita:
“Always perform action, which must be performed, without attachment. For a man, performing action without attachment attains the Supreme. And also in regard to keep people to their duties, you should perform action. Whatever a leader does, other men do that also. People follow whatever the leader receives as authority. He whose mind is deluded by individuality thinks himself as the doer of the actions, which, in every way, are done by the qualities of nature. But he, Arjuna, who knows the truth about the difference between qualities and actions, forms no attachments, believing that qualities deal with objects of the senses. Therefore, Arjuna, first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience. It has been said that senses are great, that mind is greater than the senses, that understanding is greater than the mind. The self is greater than understanding. Thus knowing that which is higher than the understanding, and restraining yourself by your self, Arjuna, destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire.” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3: Karma-yoga)
Therefore, leaders are known for two key qualities that they possess while being in command of a group: that of tackling problems by undertaking a task or project; and building up relationships among team members by endorsing team spirit and buoyancy. This has indeed been the biggest challenge in the practice of leadership, whereby the leader is called upon to make things happen at the cost of group maintenance.
It has been observed that leaders, who emphasise more on solving problems, rather than giving importance to feelings and needs of team members, are only focussed sharply on the principal purpose, which is that of the execution of the task they have to do. On the other hand, the leaders who give more substance to relationships are more likely to be sensitive and emotionally driven, thus prioritising loyalty and high morale in their leadership styles.
Political science defines leaders who fall in the middle of this gamut as charismatic leaders, who are more malleable and adaptable and let themselves be moulded with any given situation ‘focusing on the problem when that is appropriate to the situation at hand and on building relationships when that seems more relevant. The charismatic leader senses when the context calls for each of these functions and focuses on it at that point in time’.