The Qualities and Duties of a Leader - ZorbaBooks

The Qualities and Duties of a Leader

Indian philosophers have given directions and advice to leaders about their duties and responsibilities. Also, they have indicated the qualities that should be possessed by a leader and particularly the head of a State/Country. Chanakya was the mentor of Chandragupta Mourya, who built the strong Mourya Empire by following his counsel. The study of Chanakya is so relevant even today that with the help of our acquired knowledge, we can easily distinguish an ideal leader and a spurious leader.

Chanakya holds the position of a philosophical guide and political guru of Indian rulers. He has pointed out the qualities of a head of state. This head of state in contemporary India is either the Prime Minister or Chief Minister of a state. Chanakya considers that “The head of the state is the face of the nation.” He is responsible for everything that is happening in the community and hence is the society’s reflection. The leader should work for the attainment of his goal which is the welfare of his people. The leader will lose the loyalty of his subjects if he disheartens them with his unjust actions. A leader shouldn’t propagate adharma (unethical), he should not favor the wicked, should punish the culprit, and should not punish the innocent. The leader of the country and states should not do any wasteful expenditures. An ethical leader should not antagonize the wise and the elders. The wise persons and scholars of the state are the assets of the country. He should hear all the urgent matters of his subjects, and should not postpone them as ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’

The most amazing assertion of Chanakya is that the king (at present Prime Minister for the country, and Chief Ministers for states) should be a good leader first. His ideal king will be like a Rajrishi. The concept of Rajrishi is very similar to that of the Philosopher King by Plato. An ideal leader is a combination of Raja and Rishi. Like a Raja, he should be dynamic and active, and should have prompt and wise decision-making capacity. At the same time, he should be able to connect with the spiritual and higher-level people of the world by being wise and should focus on philosophy. A king should be a promulgator of Dharma. He must practice dharma in his daily life too. He should be a model for the masses. There should have royal idealism in him. He should possess the quality of inviting nature, self-restraint and spirit, intellect and intuition, and enthusiasm. Not only that, he should control his lust, greed and attachment, vanity and pride. Dharma should be considered as a social duty and moral law should be based on truth. Civil law and the performance of rituals should be followed by the king. Satya, Ahimsa, celibacy, and non-stealing should be practiced by him in his daily activities. The king can promulgate new laws, but the basic principles should stick to the idea of Shastras. Finally, he should be an affirmed believer in the moral order of the universe. It is not that only a king will be honest, sincere, and truthful; he must see that his colleagues also follow the same ethics and principles.

A leader has to be a thinker and a doer. Chanakya wanted active leaders to be intelligent and dynamic. Active leaders should also be able to ideate. Many brilliant thinkers are unable to execute their ideas, and some excellent facilitators cannot be bothered with thinking and planning. Radhakrishnan Pillai in his recently published book entitled Thus Spoke Chanakya (2018) wrote, “The ideal combination for a leader is that of a thinker and a doer.” A good leader must not break his promise. There is a popular Doha (couplet) in the Ramacharitamanas by poet Tulsidas,

“Raghukul reet sada chali aayi, pran jaye par vachan na jaye.”

It indicates that the practice in the dynasty of Raghu (in which Lord Rama was born) was never to break a promise, even at the cost of one’s life. A king should be open-minded. He should be creative and innovative. One has to cultivate a mind devoid of preconceived notions and prejudices. The leader must be a man of ideas. And at the same time, he should be ‘firm and not rigid,’ in his decisions. Being firm is a good quality to have for anyone to be successful. Chanakya had a firm personality and was unwavering in his dealing. He had taken an oath to destroy the Nanda dynasty, and so he did. Though he was firm and determined to achieve his goals, he was also flexible about the route he took toward achieving the goal. Thus, he came up with the four-fold alternatives – sama, dana, bheda, and danda. Keep an open mind about the alternative approaches you need to win the game.

A good leader must conquer him to remain unbeatable. Radhakrishnan Pillai in his book Thus Spoke Chanakya cited a moral of Lord Krishna: “Your mind is your best friend and your greatest enemy.” Self-control is not easy to achieve, and you will discover that the most difficult person to control is yourself. It may take years to discipline yourself, but once you have managed to get a grip on your emotions, nothing will be difficult for you. So, “To remain indomitable, we need to conquer ourselves, says Chanakya in the Arthashastra, Book 1, Chapter 6, Indriya Jaya. Finally, the greatest attribute of an ideal leader is the skill of formulating a good strategy. Having the title of a leader without knowing what to do with it is as good as having a house without keys. Chanakya, with his acumen, controlled the whole of united India. He was a great strategist. One great leader must seek advice from the wise persons in his state. And there are many ways to show respect to them. Compensating an adviser poorly is equal to disrespecting his hard work. Hence, every scholar, wise, and positive philosopher of a state must be rewarded properly.

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Keshab Chandra Mandal
West Bengal