An important concept from yoga that will be beneficial to you in leadership is dharma. The following is an excerpt from the book, Leadership with a Twist of Yoga.
Dharma loosely means “to do the right thing.” People often ask, “What is my great work?” If you do the work in front of you greatly, it will lead you to your great work.
Dharma is about living the life you were meant to live. It can be as simple as not comparing yourself to the person next to you. One of the most influential treatises in eastern philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita says, “It is better to do your own dharma even imperfectly, than someone else’s dharma perfectly.” For instance, an actor on a stage has to play her own part, not someone else’s part.
Through dharma the weak can overcome the strong, according to the Upanishads which are a collection of philosophical texts written in India about 700 BC. The same point has been made throughout the ages in many traditions. It is illustrated beautifully by the Bible story of David and Goliath. A small boy defeats a larger, stronger, gigantic opponent because he does the right thing. Yogis believe that when you do the right thing, dharma protects. When you don’t, dharma destroys. Even though Goliath had all the brute force he needed, he was not doing the right thing and David, only a small boy with a sling shot, destroyed him.
The motto of the National Law School of India is “Dharma destroys those who destroy it. Dharma protects those who protect it.”
Everyday leaders grapple with issues of values, virtues, and ethics. They are constantly faced with moral dilemmas including grievances, anger, feeling hard and proud, overconfidence about being right, or stepping outside the correct limits. Strong emotions lock us into battle with ourselves and others. When this comes up, ask yourself, “What is my dharma? What is the right thing to do?”
Bradley Horowitz is an Advisor and Vice President of Product Management at Google. He says, “The job of the leader is not to be loved and admired. It is to do what needs to be done. This goes against a natural inclination to want to be liked and popular.” He advises, “Play the long game. Do what needs to be done or you don’t deserve the title of CEO or any title, for that matter.”
When he was running his startup, Bradley had to lay off dozens of people and sometimes he had to fire people. “It is never pleasant,” he says, “Many people got angry and reactive in those meetings. It was hard to hold steady in the wake of their anger or heartbreak.” However, in the ensuing years almost all of them came back and said things like, “Even though it was hard at the time, afterwards I went to the South Pacific and changed my life.” Or, “I got the perfect job, so it was the best thing ever.”
Bradley learned that, “If it isn’t working for the company, then no way is it working for the individual. As a leader, you have the moral obligation to liberate them. Realizing this emboldened me. Now I look for the mutual best interest – what is best for the company, for me and for them.”
From the yoga wisdom point of view, the only way to know if we have done the right thing is by the results. For this reason, when you find yourself in a confusing moment, remember one thing: dharma protects. Do the right thing and then detach from trying to manipulate the results. You’ll be protected.