Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai

Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai is the author of Corporate Chanakya, Chanakya’s 7 secrets of leadership, and Chanakya in You. He is also a leadership coach, teacher and trainer.

Leadership – The Chanakya way

Dr Radhakrishnan Pillai

Chanakya As the Leader

King as a leader

 Raja is the most common word given for a king in ancient Indian literature like Mahabharata and Manu Smriti. However Kautilya (Chanakya) in the Arthashastra along with the term Raja uses Swami to denote a king or a leader.
 The Swami is the leader of the masses and his attitude is to make sure the subjects are happy and prosperous, Prajasukhe Sukham Rajnah, Prajanam cha hitehitam, In the happiness of the subjects lies the benefit of the king, and in what is beneficial to the subjects is his own benefit.
 The king, as a leader, aims to bring complete welfare to his people. Throughout the Arthashastra, Kautilya is striving to make the king an ideal king, giving him the shape of a Raja-Rishi, a philosopher king and also one who aims to be a Vijigishu, a world conqueror.
 The concept of Vijigishu is seen in various other works and there is nothing wrong if one aims for it. There is a prayer of a Vijigishu as given in the Krishna Yajurveda,
 “Verily with the kingdom he wins the kingdom, he becomes the richest of his equals. They should be offered for one who desires a village; the Rashtrabhrits are the kingdom, (his fellows are the kingdom); he becomes possessed of a village. He offers on the dicing place; verily on the dicing place he wins his fellows for him; being won they wait upon him. They should be offered on the mouth of the chariot for him who desires force; the Rashtrabhrits are the force; verily by force he wins force for him; he becomes possessed of the force,” (Krishna Yaj.,III,4.8)
 Many other works also refer to using the concept of Vijigishu. Controlling of the senses, which is motivated by training by the sastras, should be acquired by a Vijigishu. Such people overcome the force of anger and get their desired objects.
 A prominent motive behind the matrimonial relations of the various valours and Vijigishu kings was to increase a circle of alliances, which could supply them a strong backing against the enemies. A Vijigishu should decide a strategy with discretion and with minute attention to detail, otherwise it may result in a clash with the rear enemy.
 Thus, the king as the leader, according to Kautilya, aims at various aspects right from being a philosopher king (RajaRishi) and aiming to be a world conqueror (Vijigishu), keeping the welfare of the people (Prajasukhe) in mind.

Qualities of a king

The various qualities of a king are reflected throughout the Arthashastra. But, specifically while mentioning about the Circle of Kings (Rajamandala), in the section regarding the excellences of the constituent elements (Prakritis) of the state, Kautilya mentions in detail the qualities of each of the elements viz. Swami (king), Amatya (minister), Janapada (country), Durg (fortified city), Kosha (treasury), Danda (Army) and Mitra (Ally).


 We will look into these qualities that have been mentioned here in particular in the case of Swami (leader).
 There are ‘56’ qualities that have been prescribed by Kautilya.
 The qualities of a king entail being born in high family, endowed with good fortune, intelligence and spirit, given to seeing elders, pious, truthful in speech, not breaking promises, grateful,  liberal, of great energy, (not dilatory, with weak neighbouring princes), resolute, not having a mean-minded council of ministers, desirous of training – these are the qualities of one easily approachable. Desire to learn, listening, retention, thorough understanding, reflecting, rejecting (false views) and intentness on truth — these are the qualities of an intellect. Bravery, resentment, quickness and dexterity – these are qualities of energy. Eloquent, bold, endowed with memory, intellect and strength, exalted, easy to manage, trained in arts, free from vices, able to lead the army, able to requite obligations and injury in the prescribed manner, possessed of a sense of shame, able to take suitable action in calamities and in normal conditions, seeing long and far, attaching prominence to undertakings at the proper place and time and with appropriate human endeavour, able to discriminate between peace and fighting, giving and withholding, and observance of conditions and striking at the enemy’s weak points, well guarded, not laughing in an undignified manner, with a glance which is straight and without frown, devoid of passion, anger, greed, stiffness, fickleness, troublesome-ness and slanderous-ness, sweet in speech, speaking with a smile and with dignity, with conduct conforming to the advice of elders – these are personal excellences.
Apart from these, various other qualities and practices have to be developed by the king are written throughout the Arthashastra. For example  the right way of thinking (Aanvikshiki), self study (Svadhyaya), being just by giving the right amount of punishment, association with elders (Vriddhasanyogah) and being disciplined and punctual.
Given to seeing elders (Vriddhadarshi)
 This is without doubt among the most important practice Kautilya has suggested for a king to succeed in any sphere of life. All undertakings should be preceded by consultation; the leader should sit and seek counsel from those who are mature in intellect. There are many advantages of taking advice from elders and experienced people.
 First, one need not reinvent the wheel of learning by making mistakes. The Vriddhas, will guide us through the journey and we can avoid any possible pitfalls. There are two types of Vriddhas, Ayu Vriddha (elders by age) and Gyan Vriddha(elders by wisdom). Both have to be equally respected.
 There are instances where, the teachers have been younger in age to the students, for example Gyaneshwar, and Adi Shankaracharya, however the students learnt from these wise young teachers. When such wise people come to the king for matters concerning their requirements, the king is supposed to treat them with extreme humility and respect. He should look into the affairs of the persons learned in the Vedas and of ascetics after going to the fire sanctuary (and) in company of his chaplain and preceptor, after getting up from his seat and saluting them. Also a continuous association with elders gives the king continuous training. He should have constant association with elders in learning for the sake of improving his training, since training has its root in that.
 Being Duty centric (Dharmic)
 Dharma is the foundations of making of a Rajarishi and principle cantered leader.
 Dharma is the very essence of a being. The Mahabharata says, Dharma is for the stability of society, the maintenance of social order and the general well-being and progress of humankind. Whatever conduces to the fulfillment of these objects is Dharma, which is definite. In the Arthashastra the word Dharma appears more than hundred and fifty times. A dharmic king is able to take decisions in the most difficult situations with equanimity and poise, keeping his mind steady in difficult and conflicting situations.
 (Dhirga-dura-dharshi) – The ability to see long and far
This is the quality of a king that makes him a visionary leader. Vision is the ability to see a situation before hand and foreseeing the things yet to come in the future. This is the ability to think and create a future where long term objectives are achieved.
History is full of stories where leaders created institutions which have survived the test of time. Dr Homi Bhabha, known as the father of Indian nuclear program, created legendary institutions like Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Trombay Atomic Energy Establishment (now named after him, as Bhabha Atomic Research Center, BARC). The quality in him to be a Dhirga Dura Dharshi, has helped India, a third world nation, to feature among the three most powerful nations of the world.
Some more examples of visionary leaders are given in the book ‘Corporate Chanakya’ by this author. Looking into the various aspects of leadership ideas we find that these principles are not just ancient, but eternal. They can be applied by us in every field and in every generation. Steven Covey calls this as principal centered leadership.

 Daily routine of the king

 The king, according to Kautilya, is supposed to live a very active and austere life. He is an ascetic in the true sense. Therefore, the ideal is of a Rajarishi. This life of a sage-like king has been dealt in detail throughout the Arthashastra and the training has been given to him accordingly.
 Not only does Kautilya give the concept of a king, but also defines the daily routine of a king in detail. The brilliance of any teacher comes from the fact that they would look at all dimensions of their knowledge, from concept to application. Theory being made into practice is the best form of knowledge implementation.
 Kautilya also makes sure that while detailing the daily routine of a king, he does not fall to laziness and a continuous active life is outlined. When the king is active, the servants become active following his example.
 The king has to set an example. It is always a top-down approach. One has to walk the talk, lead by example. When he is lethargic, they, in turn will become lethargic. An active leader can make an inactive person active. While active followers can become lethargic if the king demonstrates lethargy. And they consume his works, leading to corrupt practices among the subjects and the government officials. Moreover, he is over-reached by enemies, giving an opportunity to the opponents who wait for a chance to take over the kingdom.
 Therefore, he (the king) should himself be (energetically) active.



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