Modern Management Lessons by Swami Vivekananda

By Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, Founder & Head, Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan

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Saints vis-a-vis modern-day management- appears to be an oxymoron? Well, it’s actually not! Rather, modern day management can derive fantastic leadership sutras from the words of the saints, which are amalgamated with immense wisdom. As a matter of fact, these saint-leaders are the torch bearers who can help us attain excellence in the present day corporate world. One of the great architects among the saint-leaders is the youth icon Swami Vivekananda. If one reads the letters of Swami Vivekananda with an eye of fetching managerial sutras, one will be astounded to see his profundity in the management principles. You will be surprised after reading the apt scientific management values given by Swami Vivekananda in the times when the corporate world was in its infant stage. Let’s take a look at some of the great, wisdom based Modern Management Principles given by Swami Vivekananda-

  1. On 1st October 1897, Swami Vivekananda wrote a letter from Kashmir to Sister Nivedita. In this letter, this saint-leader gave a radically different management sutra for a leader. The excerpt of the letter is as follows-

‘Not everyone is born to lead. The best leader, however, is one who “leads like a baby.” The baby, though apparently depending on everyone, is the king of the household. At least, to my thinking, that is the secret…’

The Best Leader = The one who ‘leads like a baby’– this is the management principle as per Swami Vivekananda. Have you ever found this leadership principle in your corporate world?

Well, one must have read many books on leadership. However, this sutra is truly deep and insightful, which only a saint-leader can give. The reason is simple: A saint is blessed to live under such a leader, whom the spiritual world hails as the ‘Perfect Master’ aka ‘True Guru’. On living under the divine tutelage of a Perfect Master, a disciple receives the guidance of this management sutra. And, when he becomes a leader, he too acquires the same leadership quality. Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s guidance made Narendra, a common man, turn into a saint-leader, Swami Vivekananda. Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s spiritual leadership style was- ‘Lead like a baby’. Let’s ponder over the depth ingrained in this great leadership principle. 


Imagine you have a one or two year old baby at home. Just ruminate, who will be at your priority- other relationships or that baby? Undoubtedly, you will give utmost priority to the baby. But does the baby demand or seek that priority from you? No, you serve the baby because you wish to! Now, try to draw one to one mapping with this leadership style of ‘Lead like a baby’ for the corporate leaders and you will gain insight into this management sutra. Indeed, the most effective leadership style is to generate a self-propelling ambience, wherein one feels like working, instead of harbouring a feeling of compulsion or burden. A leader’s aura, work, values, innocence, and behaviour should be such that an employee himself feels like offering his services and gives him (or the organisation) the needful priority, without any force or the factor of subjugation. 


‘After a strenuous day at the office, when I come back and see my baby’s face, all my tensions simply vanish!’- Such an expression is often received from a parent. A truly effective leader too is like a baby. His presence makes you feel happy and refreshing, not burdensome and scary. His presence makes you feel stress-free in the sense that he will be there to help you. His presence makes you strong to face the corporate challenges. Well said that ‘Leadership is not about scaring people; rather it’s about building people.’

History always remembers ‘lead like a baby’ leaders. People love to live under the leadership of such leaders. Let us hear straight from an employee whose leader had this trait of leadership-

“By the time I was a teenager, I was a racist. Along with a lot of white Afrikaners, I thought if the country was run by blacks, they would take revenge [on us]: they’d run us into the ocean or kill us because we were white.”

(However, when Nelson Mandela came in power, she was positioned as a senior typist to the president’s personal office. Predictably, she was hesitant about the work.)

“I didn’t expect to have any interactions with him.” (But when she met Mandela for the first time) “He smiled at me and spoke in Afrikaans- my own first language. Then he reached out to shake hands.”

(She then says that this first meet made her burst into tears. And right at that moment, her wrong beliefs about him were under the scanner.) 

“I looked at him, and I thought, ‘What did we do to this great man?’”

This voice is of Zelda la Grange, who worked as Nelson Mandela’s PA for almost two decades. She adds to her experience while working with Mandela- “Having an interaction with him changed people: it had a ripple effect, not only in my life but in the life of my parents as well. It changed them and it changed their friends because [they learned] he was completely the opposite of what they were brought up to believe…” Then she expresses herself, saying- “How does a person like me end up working for him for so long? I just don’t know how to explain it. I suppose, on an emotional level, my childhood played a part.” Verily, this expression was in resonance with the unique leadership style of Nelson Mandela.

Such is the charm of ‘lead like a baby’ leadership style. Nelson Mandela once said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

True indeed! We still admire Nelson Mandela’s leadership style. We desperately seek for such leaders, especially in today’s era, where the chief leadership approach in many organisations and countries seems to be egocentric, antagonistic, self-centred, and lacking in compassion and empathy for people. We need leaders who as per Swami Vivekananda should ‘lead like a baby.’ But in this regard, Swami Vivekananda also says that along with innocence of a child, a leader should be courageous like a lion. He says, “Brave, bold men and women, these are what we want. What we want is vigour in the blood, strength in the nerves, iron muscles and nerves of steel, not softening namby-pamby ideas.” He narrates an incident for this leadership quality- ‘I had my friend named General Strong, who was in a mutiny. On one of the days in conversations with him, I enquired him that even after having so much of arms, ammunitions, and even after having trained veterans, how could one taste such a defeat? To this he answered and stated that the kind of leaders they had, actually keep on shouting from a safe distance at the back- “Be brave soldiers, keep on fighting,” and so forth. However, only if the commanding executive leads from the front and faces the bullets, the lower rank soldiers would battle with their soul and courage. This kind of attitude of leaders is demanded everywhere. In order to become a leader, one has to lead from the front and be ready to face the worst of the consequences. The problem is that we all want to become leaders and we don’t want to make any sacrifice. Ultimately nobody listens to us and the net result is zero.’ So this management leadership principle of Swami Vivekananda says- ‘Lead like a baby’ with the ‘courage of a lion’.

  1. Another letter that Swami Vivekananda wrote was to Swami Brahmananda from Srinagar on 1st August, 1898, a part of which says-

“Any amount of theoretical knowledge one may have but unless one does the thing actually, nothing is learnt… Secondly, if a man’s interest in a thing is not roused, he will not work whole-heartedly…”

This excerpt reflects upon two main management principles. One is the importance of practical experience. Today, the failure rate of businesses is increasing. As per a study by CB Insights, a platform that analyses millions of data points on venture capital, startups, patents, and partnerships, the number-one reason for the failure of start-ups is ‘the lack of a market need for their product.’ It was found that 42% of start-ups failed due to this reason. This reason is attributed to the lack of practical experience in the market. So, as per Swami Vivekananda, the corporate law says- ‘Practical Experience is vital.’The second principle which Swami Vivekananda mentioned, relates to motivation at work. In modern management, this is popularly known as Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation. 

Herzberg started his research with a number of engineers and accountants, seeking a situation where they felt really bad about the workplace and another situation where they felt highly delighted. For the research part, a team of researchers was trained to understand the responses/experiences of the participants, so that similar statements are categorised under generic terms. After this experiment, Herzberg and his team drew out two sets of factors from the interviews- first, the positive side, related to job satisfaction and second, the negative one, related to job dissatisfaction. 

According to Herzberg, job satisfaction and positive approach comes as a result of the actual work conducted, along with a series of concerns if they are well taken care of, such as growth possibility, recognition, achievement, advancement, and responsibility. Herzberg concluded that these factors not only push/lead to job satisfaction but also have a positive and long term motivation. That’s why they are termed as “motivators”. Dissatisfaction on the other hand was caused by the factors in the job atmosphere that did not directly contribute to the work itself. The positive handling of these factors have a short-time effect on motivation; whereas dissatisfaction with the job can be one of the outcomes if these factors are handled badly. These are termed as “hygiene” factors. Therefore, the principle says that for a successful business two steps are important-

First: Eliminate the de-motivating factors- By accomplishing this, one makes people around neutral. It means that one is eliminating the dissatisfying factors and bringing people to the not-dissatisfied position.

Second: Advance to the satisfying factors- Once the folk is in a neutral state, one must then gaze to insert the areas of happiness to develop motivation and satisfaction. Such things include accomplishment, acknowledgment, work-role, responsibility, advancement, and individual complete growth. 

In the words of Swami Vivekananda, this management principle can be kept as “Don’t look back— (look) forward, (and move with) infinite energy, infinite enthusiasm, infinite courage, and infinite patience—then alone can great deeds be accomplished.”

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