GRK Murty | Leadership: The Shakespearean Way | IUP Publications 2009 | Pages 318 | Price Rs 675
[GRK Murty, author of Leadership: The Shakespearean Way, is the Managing Editor, IUP Publications. A former officer with Bank of India, he has authored five more books: Currency Market Derivatives; Reflections on Free Market; Banking and the Law: A User’s Manual; Soft Skills for Success; and HRM in Knowledge Economy.]
The very title of the book Leadership: The Shakespearean Way is irresistibly striking and sounds amazingly novel. It is perplexing and pleasant at the same time. I really wonder how it has struck the author GRK Murty to so ingeniously go back all the way to the great literary genius of the sixteenth century to cull brilliant ideas from his characters’ sensitive and intellectualist responses to life situations which are sometimes simple and sometimes complex and relate them to leadership and management strategies that have been developed over the years through serious scientific studies and painstaking researches.
To write a book like this one must have made an in-depth study of Shakespeare with a perceptive and insightful judgment and with an all absorbing passion for his writings, and also for the enormous scholarship that has grown over it. Added to this, one must have systematically followed tremendous researches on the progressive evolution of management mechanics which have been a great resource for development potential. The book is without doubt very innovative in its conception and systematic in its organization. The whole book has been written in fluent English, and it is pleasantly thought provoking and surprises us by its ingenious correlative insights.
It compels an unwavering attention all the time.
The book proves that geniuses are never dated, and no changes wrought by time render them stale. Their relevance is not just limited to their specialized field, but their achievement enriches our understanding of life in all its aspects and brings out its manifold glory. The very idea to seek the essential substance for solutions for the present day problems of leadership and management in the ancient wisdom treasured in the writings of geniuses like Shakespeare is a laudable one, and it shows the author’s open mindedness and respect for tradition and his awareness of the concealed continuity of the nature of our challenges and solutions.
Ultimately, it is only a good man or a woman who can be a great leader and find a satisfactory solution for a problem. The author rightly refers to Portia. Love, courage and self-confidence are the essential prerequisites for successful leadership. On a larger scale the inestimable importance of these qualities can be seen in the life and achievement of Mahatma Gandhi, acclaimed all over the world as the Man of the Millennium. Ego will be there in every person, but that will be sublimated into a noble passion for service in some form to mankind in great men or women, and it is only by service can one become a great leader.
But it is to be remembered that we find a harmonious blend of idealism and pragmatism in a great leader. It is said that politics is the art of the possible and this applies to industry and to every human endeavour as well. It implies that an attempt made with even the best of intentions to attain the impossible or the unattainable in the given situation proves infructuous. Brutus is a best example: he is one of the noblest of Romans, but he lacks shrewdness and the practical mindedness to understand people around him and those in general. Mere sacrifices and moral fineness will not take us to the desired goals. GRK Murty rightly stresses the importance of a need for change in accordance with the new developments and challenges. So, a good leader should always keep his mind open to welcome, initiate and introduce change without doggedly sticking to any “everlasting transformation formula” because such a formula does not exist. Murty refers to Bolingbroke’s “fine stroke of moves as time demands” in Shakespeare’s Richard II. It is appropriate on the part of the author to give the storyline of every Shakespearean play he refers to, and this he does ably. He aptly quotes Charles Handy who observes that a great leader must have passion for what he does. We can find this amply proved in Henry IV. It is also interesting how a total change comes about Prince Hall who is to be crowned king as Henry V when he has to assume kingship. One who dissipates one’s energies in the company of good-for-nothing vagabonds, becomes and acts like a mature statesman.
Effective communication - or we had better say an inspiring communication – is what a great leader should be capable of. “Optimum level of excitement is maintained among the followers” by a leader. Antony in Julius Caesar is such a leader. In modern management practice the author refers to Jack Welch’s capacity to transmit awesome inspiration to his employees through his messages, circulars and speeches. Where others have usually failed, he has invariably succeeded.
Charisma is a superb asset for a successful leader. It speaks for itself, and rouses followers virtually to a mad frenzy of adoration. Henry V has such charisma. Most of the people—not the intellectuals, of course—are swept off their feet by the charisma of their leader. Charisma works much better than the leader’s real admirable endowments. We have had many such instances in modern history.
It is to be once again stressed that we find a pleasing blend of Shakespearean wisdom and the enlightenment of modern management approaches. “Transformational leadership is a praiseworthy ideal. It aims at raising the moral fineness of the followers.” Murty refers to observations of researchers like Boal and Brysan, Kets and Shaskin that “transformational leaders are differentiated from the rest by their vision and values, their rhetorical skills, their ability to win a place in the hearts of the followers by displaying a certain unique image of themselves and their personalized leadership style in the minds of followers.” Murty refers to Prospero in Tempest as such a transformational leader. Murty’s range of knowledge can be seen from the breadth of his reference to specialist writings by eminent writers. He quotes WCH Prentice: “A successful leader is one who understands his fellow workers and relationship of their individual goals to the group goal that he must carry out.” Brutus in Julius Caesar unfortunately fails to accomplish this.
Above all, it is to be admitted that ultimately it is the integrity of the leader that matters, just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the leader doesn’t have integrity, the followers lose faith in him. The next great quality of a leader is emotional intelligence, as noted by Daniel Goelman, and it enables one, “not to be too critical or unrealistically too hopeful.” Sometimes it happens that great leaders have great advisors, an advisor like Kent in King Lear who, in the words of Coleridge, “is the nearest to perfect goodness in all Shakespeare’s characters, and yet the most individualized.” Lear is lucky in having him by his side for wise counsel.
A good leader must be able to think on feet and take a perfect decision without wasting any time. In spite of his wonderful qualities—“what a piece of work is man” type—Hamlet has the tragic flaw of not being able to decide quickly and rightly. The whole future course of events and results follows the decision taken at the right time and executed in the right way. No use of “vacillating from sensibility and procrastinating from thought.” It very well applies to political leadership as well as to business management.
Sometimes, if not always, leaders emerge from most adverse experiences. Those experiences actually strengthen their will to succeed, and make them wiser. Murty quotes Warren G Bennis and Robert J Thomas who remark that “everyone is tested by life, but only a few extract strength and wisdom from their most trying circumstances.” These adverse experiences will have a positive influence on them. They develop a greater fortitude of mind, a better strength to meet the challenges of life, a better capacity to pull people to them and enlighten them and organize them into a formidable force by rightly and patiently channelizing their energies to surmount a problem. We have some such leader in Volumnia, the mother of Coriolanus. She shapes her son in the great Roman heroic tradition.
It is to be remembered that a leader should never give himself up to pomp and revelry and sexual overindulgence. Antony is a great hero and a great leader, but when it comes to Cleopatra he falls from his dizzy heights and becomes a “strumpet’s fool.” A leader must have a great emotional restraint and thoughtful balance.
That “jealousy is the jaundice of the soul” (Dryden) is so true that it irrupts even in the hearts of noble-minded people like Othello, and there are always people like Iago who waits for an opportunity to poison the minds of even the virtuous people with their notorious “motiveless malignity.” Leaders in politics and industry and those holding high positions in administration should be careful in checking such destructive impulses like jealousy.
Murty refers with anguish to the scams and scandals in Siemens in Germany, but it has become a disgraceful world phenomenon vitiating the functioning of industry and governments. We find quite often people wielding power only to abuse it. It is to be admitted without any hesitation that this is not an administrative problem, but a moral problem. There has been a steady decline in the moral values which had been long cherished and so great men like Gandhi tried to spiritualize the affairs of men including politicians. Good men make good laws, but good laws don’t make good men. This may also mean that bad men may also make good laws, but don’t follow them. There are people who go to any extent and are prepared to do any heinous deed to promote their own interests. We have a very disgraceful example in Macbeth who kills his King who likes him and trusts him and that too, when he is his guest and in sleep. Murty warns us of people with such vaulting ambition in them. I had an occasion to comment on Macbeth’s character in a classroom context: “Ambition, the tragic flaw in Macbeth, becomes an all absorbing passion which sets at naught many a virtue any one of which may have ensured an honoured place in the annals of human glory.” An unscrupulous ambition will be disastrous in the extreme and can cause untold misery to mankind. History is replete with such instances. There must be a moral transformation in our thinking, being and acting. There is no other way than
making a collective and determined effort to spiritualize all our ways to ensure our redemption and survival.
Murty appropriately quotes a saying: “Leadership is a providential combination of factors such as character, talent and timing.” This is really very true, and it applies to both men and women. The recently emerging enfranchisement and enlightenment among women surely proves that they also can be as great leaders as men. We have such great lady leaders in a good
number in industry, professions and politics. And so Murty is right when he says that it is wrong to infer that women can’t be great leaders in view of the instance of Lady Macbeth. But I think it is difficult to say that women are better equipped to be level-5 leaders. The example of an Irish housemaid, Murty refers to, shows only her innate common sense coupled with her general tenderness of heart, and that of Cordelia shows her integrity, honesty, and courage of conviction. But these are the qualities of theirs as individuals, not as women. I am afraid whether it is possible to read into their appreciable qualities and achievements a gender differentiation. Cordelia’s sisters are also women as Cordelia is, but the difference lies in the qualities that make them up as individuals. Murty’s thesis can be accepted with a very minor modification that women can be as good level-5 managers as men. I very much appreciate
Murty’s refined appreciation of women and his unreserved admiration for their talents which can definitely be as good and great as men’s.
The book Leadership: The Shakespearean Way is innovative in conception, informative in content and captivating by its correlative beauty. It shows as much of Murty’s scholarship and originality of approach as his passion for reflecting with conviction and communicating with clarity. My warm congratulations to GRK Murty and I hope that one can reasonably expect a few more such contributions from him in near future.
(This is a slightly revised reproduction of the review originally published in ICFAI University Journal of English Studies, Oct 2014)