Venu Payyanur

We can learn many important lessons on motivation and commitment from the Mahabharata war stories that can easily be applied in our day to day professional life.

Motivation is the driving force which causes us to achieve goals. According to various theories, motivation may be rooted in a basic need to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, or it may include specific needs such as eating and resting, or a desired object, goal, state of being, ideal, or it may be attributed to less-apparent reasons such as altruism, selfishness, morality, or avoiding mortality. There are many modern theories and authors on motivation and some of the most popular theories and their authors are as follows.

  • Need theory – Abraham Maslow
  • Two Factor Theory – Frederick Herzberg
  • ERG Theory – Alderfer
  • Incentive Theory – BF Skinner
  • Cognitive Dissonance Theory – Leon Festinger
  • Self Determination Theory – Edward Deci and Richard Ryan
  • And many more.

Though there are many stories that give ample evidence to prove and disapprove all the existing modern management theories on motivation, we will only analyse few of them.

When approached by Duryodhana to become the Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army, Bhishma put down certain conditions to accept the offer. Bhishma said, ‘O Bharata, as thou sayest. But the Pandavas are as dear to me as ye yourselves. Therefore, O king, I should certainly seek their good as well, although I shall certainly fight for thee, having given thee a pledge (before) to that effect. With the power of my weapons, I can, in a trice, destroy this universe consisting of gods, Asuras, Rakshasas, and human beings. The sons of Pandu, however, O king, are incapable of being exterminated by me. I shall, therefore, slay every day ten thousand warriors. If, indeed, they do not slay me in battle first, I will continue to slaughter their forces thus. There is another understanding on which I may willingly become the commander of thy forces. It behoveth thee to listen to that. O lord of earth, either Karna should fight first, or I will fight first. The Suta’s son always boasts of his prowess in battle, comparing it with mine.’

Duryodhana had no choice but to accept these terms and appoint Bhishma as the Commander in Chief. However in one stroke Bhishma ensured that he does not have to kill the Pandavas and also ensured that the only person among the Kauravas who had the ability and willingness to do the same is kept out of the war!! A war is won only when the king is killed or captured. What Bhishma ensured that the Kauravas will not win the war as long as he is the Commander in Chief!!!

Would you like to appoint a Sales Manager for your company, however good he may be, who says that he will not help close orders as long as the company that he was working currently is in competition. And there are only two companies in that marketing space competing with each other!

But the problem is as long as Bhishma is in the battlefield carrying his weapon; none can defeat him, including his own Guru Parasuram. This essentially means that the war will continue indefinitely with great costs to man and materials. So the Pandavas took the unthinkable step in solving the problem, ask the grandsire itself as to how to kill him! As per the plan the Pandavas went to the tent where the grandsire is resting after a day of fierce battle along with Krishna and asked the question as to how we may be able to kill him.

To this Bhishma said, “When with weapons and my large bow in hand I contend carefully in battle, I am incapable of being defeated by the very gods and the Asuras with Indra at their head. If, however, I lay aside my weapons, even these car-warriors can slay me. Hear also, O king, about my resolve formed before. Beholding any inauspicious omen I would never fight that mighty warrior, who is known by the name of Sikhandin, who is wrathful in battle, brave, and ever victorious, was a female before but subsequently obtained manhood. When that inauspicious omen will be there, especially in the form of one that was a female before, I will never seek, though armed with bow and arrow, to strike him. Obtaining that opportunity, let Dhananjaya the son of Pandu quickly pierce me on every side with his shafts.”

This is like selling the company trade secrets to your competition! If you are Pepsi, how much are you willing to pay for the secret Coke formula?? Here you are getting it free!

After the fall of Bhishma, Duryodhana appointed Guru Dronacharya as the new Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army in consultation with Karna. Drona loved Arjuna more than anyone else in this world, except may be his own son Ashvatthama. He also loved the Pandavas more than the Kauravas, but have to side with them due to his extreme loyalty towards the crown that provided him with power, money and comforts. Having known this truth, Duryodhana requested Drona to capture Yudhishthira rather than kill him. Guru Drona was extremely rejoiced with this request and even commented that who would like to kill “Ajathashatru” “the one who has no born enemies”. However he accepted this with one condition that if Arjuna is around, he can never capture Yudhishthira and therefore it is Duryodhana’s responsibility to ensure that Arjuna is distracted away from the battle zone when Drona is fighting with Yudhishthira. On the day, when Arjuna killed lakhs and lakhs of soldiers and finally Jayadratha, Duryodhana becomes extremely angry and disappointed and accuses Drona of insincerity and dishonesty. He said to Drona “O thou of mighty arms, thy now regard the Pandavas to be preferable to ourselves. You, of sure aim, have ordained our extermination in battle, for thou treat Arjuna leniently, since he is thy disciple. It is for this that all those have been slain who had endeavoured to secure victory to us. It seems that only Karna now wishes us victory”. Duryodhana even expressed his desire to commit suicide at this juncture. Having heard such insulting words, Guru Drona immediately set out for fighting, against the war conventions, at night itself.

It is very clear from the above incidents that The C in C has to be frequently admonished and insulted to bring energy and ferocity to the war. Because Guru Drona had no direct interest in the results of the war and was never keen to kill the Pandavas.

The next Commander in Chief of the Kaurava army was Karna, who time and again displayed his unquestionable loyalty towards Duryodhana and was also his confident and trusted advisor. One would expect Karna to be aggressive and fearsome in war and would target particularly the Pandavas. However the truth is far from it. There were many occasions, where he could have captured or killed Yudhishthira, the war would have been won by the Kauravas by the very act, but Karna choose to let him go unharmed. Karna could also have killed all the other brothers of Arjuna including Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva, yet he chooses not to do so. Because he gave a word to his mother that he will only kill Arjuna and none else in the war. What happened to Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana? In fact Karna had only one objective, to prove at least once in his life time that he is better than Arjuna. That was an insult that Karna suffered from the first day of his interaction with Kauravas and Pandavas till his death.

The next person to be appointed as Commander in Chief of Kaurava army was King Salya. Being the uncle of Nakula and Sahadeva, Salya was tricked by Duryodhana to join his force to fight against the Pandavas. However before joining the enemy force, the King went and met Yudhishthira and made a commitment as explained below. “Yudhishthira, the son of Kunti, spoke to the king of the Madras the following words, ‘There is no doubt that thou wilt act as the charioteer of Karna. Thou must damp the spirits of Karna then by recounting the praises of Arjuna. “Salya said, ‘Let it be so. I shall do just as thou tellest me. And I shall do for thee anything else that I may be able to do.’ During the war, that is exactly what Salya did which dispirited and disturbed Karna so much that he was finally killed by Arjuna.

From the above stories, one thing is very clear. Your devotion to your organization and your motivation to be successful is not based on your age, title, length of service, qualification, salary, etc. There would highly motivated youngsters who joined very recently and highly de-motivated and dispirited General Managers and Vice Presidents in any organization. However motivation and inter personal relationship, ethics and values have some connection.

1 reply
  1. vv
    vv says:

    Very apt, it is so interesting that a saga that highlights human flaws, tendencies to deceive and lust for power manages to keep its focus on ethics all through. At every juncture one is made to realise the consequences of having done versus what ‘ought to have been done’. Values, Ethics, Relationships and Motivation, are not just related, one leads to the other. It is our value system that defines our code of conduct and the practices we follow, people around us based on their understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior help us create a realm of comfortable or stressed relationships, which then leads to a motivated or disappointed spirit. The situation before Duryodhana (even if self inflicted- to err is human) is so dynamic that I really wonder if he had much choice but to pick Bheeshma as his Commander in Chief. Ask any GM in any company why they hired a particular non performing senior manager for the job, and they will tell you, how difficult it is to get the right set of people, at the right place and at the right time.


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