May 27, 2023
May 27, 2023
We all still remember Enron and its meteoric rise and fall. But what we have perhaps, forgotten or less noticed is: followers fudging the accounts as ordered by bad leaders with eyes wide open and on free will. That is what we learn from Wesley H. Colwell, former chief accountant of Enron, who admitted to manipulating earnings on two occasions in the court. Similarly, Paula H Rieker, secretary to Enron’s board testifying in court about Skilling’s order to make “last minute changes in earnings results to put them in line with analysts’ expectations”. Narrating this story, Barbara Kellerman, author of the book, ‘Followership’ frames an axiom: “To oppose a leader who is bad — ineffective and/or unethical — is to be a good follower.
This whole episode takes me to Valmiki Ramayana, the oldest epic of India. We all know, at the behest of King Sugriva, Hanuman, Jambavan, and Angada proceed southwards along with the monkey force to search for Sita. Hearing that Sita is taken to Lanka, they wonder how to cross the ocean. Finally, encouraged by Jaambavan, Hanumaan, like a comet spanning the whole sky, takes his flight above the sea and having crossed it, lands on Mount Lamba in Lanka.
Then going on to Mount Trikuta and taking a look at the city of Lanka, he wonders if it could be conquered. He then decides to first search for Sita. His loyalty to the task can be gauged from the fact that he worries that because of him Sita should not be put to any trouble. He, therefore, adopts a crafty means, for there is no better way to outsmart crafty people than through craftiness. So, he assumes a microscopic shape. As the moon spreads coolness across Lanka, he starts the search for Sita assiduously in the abodes of Prahasta, Kumbhakarna and others. There is no trace of Sita. He then enters the interiors of Ravana’s castle. Even there he cannot find Sita.
Then he enters the pleasure resort of Ravana. Later, he enters Ravana’s feasting room. Seeing the wives of others lying down in puris naturalibus, Hanuman wonders: “dharma lopan karisyati” (5-11:37) might ruin his dharma”. Indeed, he questions himself, “Is he, by feasting his eyes upon these ladies, transgressing the moral code?”
He then arrives at an answer: ‘Yes, I have seen these women of Ravana, but not with any foul intention. Nor did any passionate feeling arose in my mind — “na hi me manasaá¸¥ kincid vaiká¹›tyam upajayate (5-11:40).
Another bright thought sprouts in his mind: mano hi hetuá¸¥ sarveá¹£am indriyaá¹‡aá¹… pravartane / subha asubhasv avasthasu tac ca me suvyavasthitam (5-11:41) — it is the mind that propels all the sense organs to do good or bad deeds, and that mind of mine is firmly established in righteousness.
Yet, this argument is likely to rise another doubt: “Is it alright to do a deed that is improper simply because the motive behind it is right?” It appears that even Hanuman faced this doubt, for he wonders: “Nanyatra hi maya sakya vaidehi parimargitum (5-11:42) — it is not possible for me to look for Sita elsewhere, for striyo hi strisu drsyante sada samparimargaá¹‡e — in such searching, one has to per force, look for a woman among women only, but not in the herd of female deer (5-11-:43).
The take away from this introspection of Hanuman is: To be on the right path, one must constantly introspect over the deeds being contemplated/performed. That alone enables one to detect one’s mistakes/follies. Identification of mistakes offer scope for negation: to correct the misdeeds committed. Following it, if one could substitute the negative feelings behind such misdeeds contemplated/committed with Sadbhavana goodwill, it paves the way for one to remain on the path of righteousness. To sum up, introspection is the first step towards the path of good conduct.
Now, let us transpose this discussion to organizational context and reconnoitre its implications for the workforce. A company is after all an aggregation of humans working for accomplishing certain common goals. So, there would be a leader, leading the followers towards the goal. In its pursuit, followers are expected to be loyal to the organization and the leader.
Examining the link between employee loyalty and profitability Benjamin Schneider, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, has shown that the employees’ loyalty-related attitudes precede a firm’s financial and market performance. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania found that spending 10 percent of a company’s revenue on capital improvements increased productivity by 3.9 percent while spending the same amount on developing employee capital simply doubled it — productivity increased by a whopping 8.5 percent.
However, management theorists also point out that ‘loyalty’ here does not mean ‘blind loyalty’—of surrendering one’s values to the cause of organization. It means that as the wise and prudent Hanuman introspected about his searching for Sita in the harem of Ravana and fearing that it might ruin his dharma —“dharma lopan karisyati” — and analysing its righteousness or otherwise critically and only upon satisfying its correctness moving forward, even followers of a leader of an organization should not ignore their ‘moral compass’ while being loyal to its leader. For, according to Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy (2009) — co-authors of the book, Why Loyalty Matters — loyalty, like any virtue, if it goes too far, there is a danger of it becoming toxic, as it has happened in the case of Enron.
More by : Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty