Leading from Behind

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ २-४७
Karmanyevadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani|| 2:47
Thus says Bhagavad Gita in the Chapter 2 (Karma Yoga). It broadly translates to “You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction” As in any of our scriptural texts, the purport goes far beyond the literal translation.
Most of us work for a material result and it is this result that motivates us to work. For instance, if every student study for the sake of marks, they become obsessive and selective in their study. The knowledge or learning thus becomes a lop-sided, short-lived gain. They lose out on long term gains like insight into and understanding of the subject. In fact healthy study habit itself is a casualty. By healthy study habit, I mean that which signify the ability to learn and apply.  What this in effect does is to constrain oneself into boxing their belief that all events in life is defined in terms of Success or Failure, which defeats the larger purpose of life.
Another example: Consider a teacher working in a school, with her Principal watching over her shoulders. More often than not they end up demonstrating their sincerity and diligence to the Principal and not focused on helping the students learn. As the world often does, Principal becomes pleased and will rate them high even if the teacher is not successful in their primary duty of facilitating learning.
As Henry Ford said, “Measure of Quality is what we do when no one is watching” Unfortunately, many work for the approval of the world and not for our own approval
Another purport, though the verse above says, that there should be no attachment to inaction too. Wrong action many times results in disaster. Some time we need to take a call on detaching from work itself. We become obsessed with our own creations at work. Even when we know we had gone wrong, we persist for a bit more to make it a success, many a times knowing well that it wouldn’t work.
Pic Courtesy: Web: Shallow Waterless Well and Not giving up

Take the case of this well digger.  He continues to dig a well deeper and deeper just because he started it, knowing well after a while that it is not going to yield any water. This despite experts with technologically advanced Water table Prospecting tools, sounding out to dig one well at a particular spot. Ego did not permit him to abandon and move towards that spot.

Pic Courtesy: Web: Digging deeper and deeper
It is not too difficult to find such well diggers at work. Lack of an objective feedback system insulate many from determining the pitfalls of a designed intervention. In such cases, detachment from work and looking at it objectively would help us realize the futility of our effort, retrace the steps and pursue more effective path.
In reply to a question “As a person taking up an assignment at the corporate level, how can I be effective as a leader” during one of the Satsangs in the Art of Living Ashram many many years ago, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
Improve your communication skills. This involves a great deal of listening and detachment from the situation (rising above the situation). This is much needed for anyone in corporate as your grown. A good Manager cannot afford to be impulsive, short tempered, incommunicable, unfriendly and lacking in confidence. In the presence of these things one will not be able to do business properly.
Remember one thing, the manager of the Universe is not so obvious. The one who manages this universe does not make it so obvious that he is doing it; or that He is in control.
Similarly, manage from behind. Leading from behind is the best. When you want to lead a project you should not emphasize your leadership too much. You should do it from behind.
There is a saying in Sanskrit, Paroksha Priyahi Vai Devaha, which means that the Gods like to do things indirectly and not so obviously.  A person feels, ‘I am doing it’, but it is the Gods who make them do it. So they give the people the joy of feeling that they are doing it, but in reality, it is the Divine energy that does it in a subtle manner, which is not so obvious.
Satsang in The Art of Living Ashram
By the way, it was “Yours Truly” who posed the question and received the answer.
Good Leadership should be like the string in a garland – invisible to the outside world, but in its absence, the flowers fall apart
Further read: