Harsh Varma commented in my blog a few weeks back asking me if I would be interested in reviewing his book. Although, this is not the first time I have received a request of this nature, this time, I was prompted to read the book because the subject intrigued me.
The premise of ‘Avatar Way of Leadership’ is that Indians require an Indian model to leadership. We are now predominantly influenced by western role models and ideas of management which do not take into account our cultural differences. If leadership is about influencing others isn’t it important to connect to the world view of the followers.
Harsh Varma uses mythological characters like Rama, Krishna and Draupadi as archetypes to arrive at an Indian model of leadership. He examines their leadership styles in terms of their character, relationships and strategies and contrasts them with modern day Indian leaders who adopt these styles.
There are many things which I loved about the book. The ideas presented were original and thought provoking. While Harsh spoke about many well known figures like Tata and Dirubhai, he also talked about less known people. It opened my eyes to a whole lot of inspiring Indians whom I had never heard of before. Here are a few examples for you.
Suhag Khemlani runs a window cleaning firm called Technoclean. Instead of just delegating work she got herself trained on the job. To this day she takes part in the cleaning operations. It is a difficult job which involves being suspended several hundred feet above the ground. The company makes several crores in revenue, today. Konduru Ishwari Reddy built India’s first genetically engineered product, a Hepatitis B vaccine. Ashok Row Kavi who fought for the rights of gay community in India. Rakesh Bahadur and Sandhya Kumar strove to change the opinions about India and Hinduism in school text books of Virginia, US.
The book had interesting insights on the leadership styles of these mythological characters. In the final chapters Harsh does a beautiful comparison between the leadership style of Rama with Ratan Tata, Krishna with Dhirubai. He also highlights the drawbacks of each of these styles. He claims one of the reasons Krishna’s dynasty vanished after him was because he never made any attempt to build institutions like Rama did. He was no doubt a brilliant strategist, but his leadership was so much about himself. I think it is the first time an analysis of this nature has been undertaken.
Now for the things I did not like about the book. Firstly, I do not agree with the premise that an American style of leadership is not suitable to us. While there is no denying that there is a lot we can learn from our leaders, both historical and current day, there is a great deal to imbibe from them too.
Secondly, the switch between the mythological figures and modern day leaders was rather abrupt. I found it hard, in some places to make the connection between the two. Finally, Harsh presents all information as a simple statement of facts. It almost has a feel of a text book. However, all these are more than compensated in the passion and love he seems to have for the subject.
If you are an Indian, do look up the book. It will definitely get you thinking.