Leadership lessons from an epic story
Dashrath Raja and Shravan

Dashratha was shocked to find that his victim not an animal but a human

What are the characteristics of a good leader? What is good leadership all about? A good leader is one who is inspiring, a decision maker, proactive, and so on. They also possess the requisite foresight which prevents them from making a mistake. And if at all a mistake is made, they quickly rectify and ensure that it is not repeated.

Let’s take Gaddafi for example, a Libyan revolutionary and politician. He was one leader who never learnt from his mistakes arising out of autocratic leadership bordering on terrorism; his behavior was unexpected from any dignified head of state. He was ultimately humiliated and killed by his own people.
A leader making a mistake does not imply lack of intelligence but a lack of foresight. But repeating the mistake indicates a lack of intelligence.
Surprisingly, timeless sagas like Ramayana can reveal a lot of lessons on leadership if one makes the effort to understand them.
As a nonchalant passing comment it is mentioned in the Ramayana that Ayodhya ’s soldiers were skilled in all kinds of weapons and military tactics, including sonic archery; and yet they did not practice it.
If left unscrutinized, this statement would also remain lost like countless other statements in the scripture. But within this statement lies a deep lesson on leadership.

Dasaratha , in his youth, went on hunting expeditions where he loved using the powerful method of sonic archery as often as possible. Sonic archery referred to the art of shooting arrows without seeing the object but rather relying on hearing the objects movements. On one such hunting expedition, he was in fact looking for an opportunity to use this skill when he heard a sound, much like the rumbling of a tiger or like an elephant drinking water from a river. He shot an eager arrow in that direction.
Acting without seeing the reality is a sign of overconfidence.
Little did he realize that the sound was that of a pot being dunked into the river; an eager-toserve son was filling water for his thirsty parents. The expert archer’s arrow hit its mark followed by a blood-curdling, agonizing scream! It was the dying boy’s cry of despair and misery. Almost simultaneously, reverberating through the forest was Dasaratha’s scream, a scream emanating from sheer guilt!
Dasaratha ’s pain was probably more excruciating than the pain the arrow caused the boy. The pain of guilt is the toughest to deal with.
Before him was a young boy writhing in pain, an arrow pierced right through his chest. The boy implored Dasaratha , begging to know what could possibly have been his fault to have been fatally attacked this way.
The boy was the only child of his old, blind and invalid parents. His life was dedicated to serving them, and they lived a life of gratitude, dependent on their only son. Even as he was dying this very moment, further down the banks, the old couple was waiting with parched throats for their son to bring them some water. As the boy began to inch closer to death, his pain became more excruciating at the thought of who would look after his parents after he was no more. No sooner than he told Dasaratha about his concern, he passed away.
A heavy-hearted Dasaratha carried water in that pot to the eagerly waiting ill-fated parents. He had to acknowledge the error in his judgment.
When the old couple heard the rustle of the footsteps of a stranger and not their son’s approach them, inexplicable fear gripped them. When Dasaratha told the couple of his dreadful mistake, their wounded hearts let out a curse: Dasaratha , too, would die of the pain of separation from his son. Dasaratha fell at their feet, begging for forgiveness. Alas, those were the old parents’ last words before they joined their son in his pyre.

One begs forgiveness for a mistake one commits. It is extremely important to think before making that mistake. Passion makes reasoning difficult. Dasaratha ’s passion for hunting made him overconfident; before shooting the arrow, he did not use reason. Now that the consequences of his action were waiting for him, he resorted to reasoning. If we allow our passion to prevail over reasoning, we are in for a curse instead of a blessing.
A despondent Dasaratha returned to Ayodhya . He had learnt a very important lesson: Never to let passion prevail over reason. He vowed that day never to practice sonic archery, lest it bring upon him another painful curse. He banned the practice of sonic archery in Ayodhya .
To lament for one’s mistake is important, but far more important is to learn from that mistake. To make mistakes does not imply lack of intelligence but a lack of foresight. Not repeating mistakes is a sign of intelligence. By admitting a mistake, a leader sends a message of tolerance and accountability that liberates people. It encourages them to take risks, it allows them to move from a defensive crouch to a proactive posture, and it helps them explore and realize their potential.

Checklist: Learning from Dasaratha 's mistakes.

 Accepting responsibility makes learning possible. 

You can’t change mistakes, but you can choose how to respond to them. 

Growth starts when you can see room for improvement.  Work to understand why it happened and what the factors were. 

What information could have avoided the mistake?

Are there alternatives you should have considered but did not? 

What changes are needed to be made in order to avoid repeating this mistake? 

How do you think your behavior should/would change if you were in a similar situation again?

Subha Vilasa Dasa is is a resident monk at ISKCON Chowpatty, Mumbai. He is the author of Ramayana — The Game of Life, a six-volume series that distills lessons from the epic for practical life application. He also gives motivational talks for corporate professionals. Contact him at shubhavilas@gmail.com. Visit: www.tulsibooks.com