Arjuna’s Executive Coach

The Bhagavad-Gita is part of a very long and very old narrative poem, from India. It describes an amazing, mind-altering conversation between Prince Arjuna and a Hindu deity, Lord Krishna. How is this possible? The latter has assumed human form, as gods are wont to do. Their conversation takes place on the eve of a colossal battle, between two great armies.

Prince Arjuna is the commander of one of the armies. He is in despair and cannot lead his men in battle. Why? The opposing army is composed of many of his relatives, friends and teachers! He deems it morally wrong to fight them and so becomes immobilized by a kind of weltschmerz, or spiritual world-weariness. So he sits there despondent, unable to lead his army.

Arjuna has a job to do and needs is an executive coach to get him into gear. But not just any executive coach will do. After all, Arjuna doesn’t need to be told: “Arjuna, it’s your inner gremlin that’s causing you to be full of self-doubt. You need self-affirmation exercises.” Other vapid advice might be that Arjuna share the burden of decision-making with his management team or that he hone up on his negotiation skills, so as to forestall the ensuing battle.

What Prince Arjuna needs is real insight into life. Only that can end what is essentially a moral, philosophical, and spiritual dilemma. But what sort of executive coach could be of service, in that regard? The answer, of course, is Lord Krishna. He comes to the rescue and provides Arjuna with the spiritual wisdom that removes the inner obstacles in the way of spiritual and military victory. (Hamlet had his friend Horatio, whom he turned to for advice. But Horatio was a stoic philosopher. Hamlet really needed something beyond Stoicism — mystical wisdom of the type taught by Lord Krishna. There often comes a critical moment, in a person’s life, when he or she also needs such wisdom.)

Executives and Spiritual Crises

What relevance does this story have for the workplace? After all, are corporate executives, business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals really suffering from spiritual crises? They suffer from them a lot more than they realize, even if they don’t recognize it as such. The symptoms are often there — tiredness, frustration, emptiness, boredom and despair. Sometimes, there are physical maladies as well.

But instead of facing the inner darkness, they often imagine that it is just a vacation that they need or a love affair or a career change. And, if things get bad enough, there is always Prozac or liquor. In other words, they treat what they are undergoing in a superficial manner.

When senior executives, from large organizations, see that their entire staff lacks enthusiasm, do they think to themselves that they are suffering from a spiritual crisis? Do they take everyone on a spiritual retreat? Actually, some organizations do exactly that, for there is a trend towards “corporate spirituality.” But the great majority of CEOs simply hire a motivational speaker in an effort to fire up their staff. Alas, the enthusiasm generated by a motivational speaker rarely lasts more than a day or two, before the drudgery and boredom of the workplace returns, as well as the conflicts among employees, managers, and entire departments.

What, then, is the answer? Are executives coaches to become holy men and women? That is not a very practical solution. Then, again, just because something is “practical” does not mean that it is efficacious. I do not have a global answer to this problem. I only have a personal quest to explore the connection between the work one needs to do and the demands of the spirit. Everyone has this question, or perhaps this conflict, whether or not they realize it. As to how they seek to resolve it — whether in a shallow or in a profound manner — is another story.

Just as the despondent Arjuna yearned for an answer, so do each of us, as Monday morning arrives and we trudge off to work. The key is to penetrate, with all ones resolve, into the heart of this dilemma. Then one of the gods of the workplace might make an epiphany. As T.S. Elliot wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration.”

 

If you liked this essay, you might very like my new book, Mysteries in Broad Daylight: A Journey into the Deeper Meaning of Everyday Life.”

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