Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leadership and Management: Lessons from the Great Hindu Marriage

Those rooted in the Western management thought would like to believe that the best of the management and leadership principles have their origins in the European and American theories and practices of management. The schools of management in India also reflect the thought that replication of the Western management models establishes management as a robust discipline in the Indian academic and business practice. Indians by themselves have a poor view of their ability to lead and manage complex projects and processes. Progress in governance and education is attributed to the foundations established in the British rule while Progress in industry and business is attributed to the Western principles of management by some commentators. At a gross level, the western-centric observation on management does not necessarily represent the complete truth for any economy or any country.

The growth of civilization, whether in organized urban and rural settings or seemingly unorganized natural and tribal settings, and irrespective of religious leanings, would not have been possible without the principles of leadership and management setting ground rules for evolution from the very early days of the respective civilizations. At a subtle level there exist so many institutional social processes which have endured and supported civilization over the centuries that the principles of leadership and management are just inherent in any civilization or religion for discovery. Great kingdoms, governance mechanisms and education systems existed long before the external rulers came to India. So did commerce and trade prosper in India several centuries ahead of the Western management thought that came to India only a few decades ago. In fact, many institutions of the ancient India offer instructive lessons of management and leadership. The Great Hindu Marriage, discussed in this blog post, is just one of them.

The Great Hindu Marriage

As most understand, the so called arranged marriages dominate the Indian marriage scene. In this system, once a boy or girl reaches an age of marriage, the respective parents search for a suitable alliance utilizing a variety of channels, ranging from word of mouth of relatives and well-wishers to structured search through the classified columns of the media and portals or sites on the Web dedicated to marriages. An elaborate list of prospective brides and bridegrooms is prepared, and matches are astrologically validated through the process. Each of the matches in the short list is physically reviewed through visits and meetings by the elders of both sides, and a final short list is made for the prospective brides and bridegrooms to physically see each other, again often in parents' presence, to arrive at that one final match. A reference check going back to generations is also a part of the process.

Thereafter, a whole new process of preparing for the wedding starts. Information gets disseminated informally to the near and dear. Formal family groups and informal friendly groups get formed on both the girl's side and the boy's side to conceptualize, plan and execute the pre-marriage, marriage and post-marriage activities. In modern times, the boy and girl also enthusiastically participate in the pre-wedding planning processes. An engagement function is first performed as the first public proclamation of the marriage at which certain auspicious items are exchanged and the astrologically matched wedding date and time as well as the marriage venue are finalized. This is followed by the performance of the marriage on the prescribed auspicious date and at the appointed auspicious time, which are finalized by the priest based on the birth stars of the boy and the girl. The marriage itself is governed by the Hindu holy scriptures, mantras and rituals, extending over several hours.

Modernity has expanded the Hindu marriage to three to five days of fun and frolic, supplementing the essential solid core of solemnity and substance. Various functions such as Mehindi (a function of painting hands and feet of ladies with special herbs), Sangeet (a night of music and dance) and “making” of the bride and bridegroom presage the marriage while receptions and gorgeous honeymoons follow the marriage solemnities. Special ”Pujas” (or Prayers) and “Vratams” (or Vows) are organized at homes (Sri Satyanarayana Swami Vari Vratam) and in famous temples such as Tirumala (Sri Venkateswara Swami Vari Kalyanam) as part of the post-marriage celebrations to invoke Divine blessings for the newly married couple. All the activities of the marriage value chain (from start of the search to performance of the marriage) typically occur over a period of two to three years, but in some cases even within just six months, making marriage the most important event in the life of a Hindu Indian.

Marriage and management

The greatest feature of the Hindu marriage is that it is a mass event that calls for high levels of management and leadership, with high energy and passion. It is one of the greatest combinations of spirituality and modernity that one can ever find in human life. Several principles can be culled out from the institutions and processes of the Indian Hindu marriage which demonstrate how the ancient civilization had set forth wise and formidable principles of management and leadership that are applicable for a wide range of social, academic and business events and outcomes. They also imply several principles of human and organizational behavior that strengthen value-based management. Each of these is an object lesson for the students and practitioners of management and leadership in terms of teaching the nuances relevant at both gross and subtle levels. Some of the principles are set out below.

1. The principle of standardized process

Each standard outcome, in any endeavor, should have a standard process for utmost compliance and quality. Such process is independent of scale of the outcome or investible resources. The Hindu marriage has a great egalitarian, standardized process prescription that ensures compliance with a standardized outcome. Managers who tend to be ad-hoc or flexible in their processes often fail to reach the standardized outcome. The Japanese management, of course, taught the world the benefits of standardization and process capability as a total manufacturing system, from order to delivery through production (for example, the Toyota Production System). However, clearly the Indian marriage processes had institutionalized standardization centuries ago.

2. The principle of inviolable goals

All managers know very well that goal setting is the primary driver of business. Yet, even knowledgeable managers defocus when it comes to goal setting or review of goals by them. Most also ignore the need for specifications, both product and process, as part of goal setting. The institution of marriage integrates goal setting in terms of the type and nature of the marriage, coupled with precise date and time of marriage. There is zero tolerance for slippages of the final goal in the Hindu marriage because of the importance given to the auspicious date and time (“Muhurtham”) which is considered to benefit the couple. Product outcome and launch time have to be accorded equally critical inviolability for businesses and projects to succeed with the first-to-market benefit.

3. The principle of sustainable ownership

Managers and leaders agree that ownership is crucial for any business or industrial activity to succeed. Very often, however, in organizational practice ownership has to be mandatorily assigned or consistently advocated. Many times owners dilute their ownership citing resource constraints or lack of cross-functional collaboration. On the other hand, the success of the Hindu marriages, often with shoestring budgets, is related to the spontaneous ownership that emanates in a family as well as its extended family once an intention to select a partner and perform a marriage is announced. Passion to collaborate and succeed enables the spontaneous ownership to sustain itself all through the long period of marriage value chain.

4. The principle of project management

Indians are, somewhat erroneously, considered to be unaware of the need for, and benefits of, project management. This is reflected possibly in the slow evolution of project management as a specialized domain. This does not mean, however, that the Indian psyche has not internalized the principles of project management. In fact, the highly complex Indian marriage is a great case study in project management involving multiple activities, events, people, personalities, infrastructure needs (like the need to book months in advance of a good marriage hall!), stage gates and the non-negotiable muhurtham for performance of marriage. Anyone who undergoes the rigors of executing an Indian marriage also imbibes the principles of successful project management; and most Indians would have gone through a few exciting marriage events, given the joint family system.

5. The principle of positive integration

As one looks at successful products and firms, integration of new technologies and processes may be seen to be their hallmark. One of the reasons for the Hindu marriage to stay excitingly and refreshingly contemporary is its ability to integrate new technologies and processes around the essential core of traditional fire-purified and scripture-sanctified marriage rituals. These could cover from digital photography to dainty decorations, from ethnic costumes to glitzy honeymoons, and from multi-cultural environment to muti-regional cuisines. The openness of the Indian psyche to absorb the latest technologies is probably also fuelling the growth of market segments demanding state-of-the-art products. The ability to blend tradition with modernity is a typical oriental characteristic, especially of Japan, but India goes a stride ahead with the seamless merger of spirituality with management.

6. The principle of instant ecosystem

Each firm can only be as efficient as the ecosystem in which it operates. The firm’s interests must extend beyond its immediate value chain and focus on strengthening the supportive infrastructure. A hospital, for example, can thrive when it operates in an external ecosystem that takes care of the needs of the caretakers of the patients, from lodging and boarding to conveyance and convenience. The Hindu marriages are successful because of the well honed and high performing ecosystem that provides intermediaries, priests, hall managers, cab operators, stage decorators, performing artistes, florists, beautification experts, photographers, and a host of other service providers – all of them thoroughly trained in the sequences of the events, at short notice. It is amazing how the ecosystem springs to life once the marriage intent is known and leads to its success.

7. The principle of caring and sharing

The Hindu marriage demolishes boundaries that separate families and other circles, and pushes the boundaries of the extended family. Besides the core family, it is not uncommon for the relatives and well wishers to chip in with everything they can provide, from mere suggestions to tangible services, to make the marriage a grand success. The marriage is also an event when people are remembered from the chapters of history and enthusiastically invited. The Hindu marriage tends to be less of a family function and more of a community function, involving the entire neighborhood, and people from the professional and social lives, illustrating the joy of sharing and caring. The families of the bride and the bridegroom make it a point to shower gifts and memorabilia not only to each other but also to their long forgotten kith and kin as well as near term and long term friends. The marriage and reception halls tend to be open houses of caring and sharing as well as celebration with ornate lunches and dinners adding to the glitz. The universality of a Hindu marriage possibly rubs off as a trend of Indian firms celebrating employee days, foundation days and special events as events of caring and sharing.

8. The principle of compliance

Compliant organizations are perfect organizations. Compliance does not mean blind conformity to dogma, nor does it imply loss of creativity. Compliance means a deep abiding respect t law and values, and carries with it a fear of the adverse consequences of deviation. The Hindu marriage represents strict compliance to processes and rituals. It is indeed impressive that even in these times of modernity, the young, however sophisticated and modern they are, apply themselves to the processes and rituals of marriage diligently, trying to understand their meaning and relevance. The symbols of marriage including the red bindi, wedding rings, bellam-jeelakarra, the mangala sutra, the anklets and the toe rings continue to reflect compliance to a social contract that is the bedrock of social stability and orderly progress. Compliance gets reinforced in the psychology of an Indian both symbolically and systemically through the institution of marriage.

9. The principle of arranged chemistry

Unlike the marriages of the West which follow dating and/or independent expressions of intent, pre-, or post-marriage, most Indian marriages are arranged by the elders, although the young are taking a notable role in setting up their requirements and making informed choices. Nevertheless, the Hindu marriages are predominantly arranged in which couples develop chemistry over time in the actual course of post-married life. Except in love marriages the phenomenon of instant chemistry tends to be relatively rare. The unique ability to grow the marital relationship through trials and tribulations with mutual understanding and empathy over a lifetime helps the Indians in their overall living as well. Given that organizations are nothing but agglomerations of dissimilar personalities coming together for shared goals, the lessons taught by the institution of marriage also make the Indian employees learn to live together and bond as a family despite their dissimilarities.

10. The principle of cosmic destiny

Indians strongly believe in Destiny and the impact of Cosmic Forces on one’s living. Amongst the various mysteries of life, the marriage is considered the most profound cosmic mystery scripted by the Lord Almighty. The marriage is, therefore, considered to be an event that is truly ordained and due diligence is placed on ensuring an astrological match prior to commitment. The deference to cosmic forces and the invocations ahead of, during and after marriage to the various Gods and Goddesses of the vast Hindu Pantheon are reflective of the Indian psyche to be equally deferential to the events of life. And even if a misalignment occurs, the Indian psychology which believes in “Punarjanma” (or rebirth) prays to the Almighty to reorder the pairing or reform the persona for maximum compatibility in the next birth. The strong belief Indians have in cosmic destiny makes them fulfill their “Karma” (or duty) through the various Divine ordained relationships in one’s life, whether related to marriage or not.

The institution of equanimity

As the above discussion has brought out, the institution of Hindu marriage of India (or “Bharat”) has not only sustained itself amazingly well over the centuries but also grown in richness and depth by integrating new technologies, related cultures, virtual ecosystems, and positive behaviors around the large and strong essential core of traditional marriage involving standardized processes, inviolable goals, compliant spirituality, and cosmic reverence in one amazing ethos of project and life management. Equally importantly, it has enunciated and demonstrated several principles and practices that are verily the trend setters for modern management thought. Surely, each religion would have a similar institutional process of marriage that would be equally relevant and applicable. The entire marriage system is one of holistic equanimity. Though the discussion has focused only on the Hindu marriage, similar and equally relevant lessons can be gleaned from the other religions as well.

It is not that the Indian Hindu marriages do not go off-track or that the partners do not bear a huge burden of exploitation or suffering simply for fear of social criticism. It is also not that the strangeness of movement from single to married state or from one family to the other do not stress the newly wedded couple, especially the bride. That said, the positive high points and beneficial features of the Hindu marriage are far more pervasive and influential than the negative low points. The quest for equanimity stabilizes the distraught couples and families. The success in achieving equanimity in the four phases of life, virtually from the childhood through adolescence and marriage determines whether an individual or a family strives for renunciation sooner than necessary.

The typical Hindu, or even the broader typical Indian, who observes and participates with sincerity in several “journeys of marriage” that take place in his or her family, extended family and the circles of relatives and friends, and also goes through his or her own marriage, imbibes these principles of management and leadership both at gross and subtle levels. Those who take this responsibility casually would be missing out on the lessons of spirituality and management that are integral to the process. Casual observers and participants would do well to take them seriously and absorb the nuances to better equip themselves in life. The result of a perceptive observation and assimilation of the great Hindu marriage as a holistic phenomenon would be a person with exceptional social equanimity and inbuilt familial solidarity which would enable him or her to participate as a healthy member of his or her organization.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 1, 2012

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing with us such a useful information!

Institution Building || Faculty Development Program || Educational Leadership