Implied Needs

Business 28 Comments

Published in Corporate Dossier, ET, 4 June 2010

Krishna had a childhood friend called Sudama. While Krishna grew up to be a great warrior and lord of the city of Dwaraka, Sudama remained a poor priest. Desperate for some wealth, Sudama paid Krishna a visit in Dwaraka. But on reaching there he felt too embarrassed to ask for anything. He simply gave his friend a packet of puffed rice, which was all he could afford, and claimed he just wanted to see his old friend. Krishna sensed his friend’s need and very silently ensured that when Sudama returned home he found his house overflowing with wealth, much to his delight and surprise

The same Krishna had another friend called Arjuna, who had to fight a great war against his cousins. Just before the fight, he lost his nerves. The thought of killing his own relatives, however justified, horrified him. He did not know what to do. It was here that Krishna sang the song now known as the Bhagavad Gita. The words of the song addressed Arjuna’s core issues, cleared his mind, clarified his doubts, enabled him to raise his bow and fight the enemy with conviction.

Neither Sudama nor Arjuna were explicit about what they wanted. But Krishna sensed what they needed. This sensitivity is something leaders must possess. A retired army Colonel joined a cosmetics companyas their admin manager. All his life he lived a cushioned life in the army, not realizing the expense of some of the perks he received; so when he joined civilian life he was quite satisfied with the salary he was offered by the company until he had to pay for some of the things he took for granted in the army. He realized his salary was not enough to support his lifestyle. He also realized that had he been aware of these expenses he could have negotiated a more appropriate salary. But he had missed the boat. Too proud to ask for more, he kept quiet. The owner of the cosmetics company, however, sensed something was amiss. He noticed that Colonel took the company bus instead of his car several times a week. A few inquiries and he figured out what was happening. Very discreetly, the Finance Department was told to make changes in the Colonel’s salary structure. A smile returned on the Colonel’s face. Just like Sudama’s.

More importantly, Krishna knew what to give to whom – wealth to Sudama and wisdom to Arjuna. Imagine what would have happened if he sang the Bhagavad Gita to Sudama! Or gave wealth to Arjuna! When people enter a leader’s room, they come expecting to receive something. And leaders have to be sensitive enough to figure out what exactly they are seeking and respond accordingly. It is not always what they are asking!

When Mukul entered his CEO’s room to check if the presentation to be made before the board was in order, the CEO, Rajnikant, went through the presentation and said, it was okay. Mukul left the room unsatisfied. He knew it was in order, but he wanted something else from his boss, a few words of validation and even, praise, to soothe his nerves. He was terrified of the presentation. He feared that if things went wrong his reputation would be ruined. He wanted Rajnikant to comfort him, but was too embarrassed to state it. He wanted to know if Rajnikant would support him if things went wrong. He wanted the feeling of support, not a curt ‘it is ok’.

Sensitivity to what people want is not something that can be taught in business schools. It has to be developed. It is an implicit expectation from leaders. Rajnikant expects everyone to state their needs in a checklist, preferably an Excel sheet. Modern businesses often talk about transparency and stating what one needs very clearly. But humans are usually not transparent. It is embarrassing for people to openly admit that they have financial issues. It is awkward, even beneath one’s dignity, for a senior director to admit that he is nervous. What is apparent is usually not the truth. What a leader’s need to focus on is what lies beneath the apparent.

  • Kalyani Raj

    One would have heard both the stories about Krishna quite a few times in life but first time I have come across its relativity with the leadership role very well emphasized. This is also so pertinent for a parent!

  • Yash Agrawal

    Dear Devduttji,
    Sudama was content in his wealth, thus he was never poor, it was his wife who asked him to go to dwarka, he was intent only to meet krishna. The bhagwat katha very beautifully speaks here of wealth, poverty and being content depends on one’s context, I think popular culture has reduced sudama to a wealth-seeker. Sudama stays only for one-night in dwarka, and asks for simple food, as he is in no way in the pursuit of riches,he is truly jitendriya. Krishna gives him wealth so as to satisfy sudama’s wife and surroundings, as sudama was a grihasta!!!
    Consider and please give some feedback :-)

    Kind Regards,

  • Dora Babu

    Excellent way of telling about leadership.

  • Mrs latha Anand



    You have depicted in a very nice manner


  • D Balasubramaniam

    Highly appreciate your thoughts. A business manager has to realize that he is a leader and not an employee with a managerial designation. Redesigning the business school curriculum to impart this wealth of understanding can be revolutionary.

  • Ramesh

    @YASH, Though it is Sudamas wife who gave him the idea of seeking his friend Krishnas help, had he not had any idea of seeking krishnas help he would have bluntly said NO to her but he had it in his mind that his friend Krishna would definitely help him and so he decides to meet Krishna, though with little hesitance and reluctance, which is obvious.

    Dr. Devdutt, excellent write up again. Keep it up sir.

  • arzu

    but krishna had magical powers to read people’s mind, as he is a God, how can humans behave like him and sense everything, unless we are doctorates in psychology.

  • dhiraj

    there cannot be another dr devdutt pattnaik you are simply terrific how can you relate things when everyone else misses them ? hats off to your talent it makes us realize that our ancestors were people of great wisdom its our fault if we do not understand the scriptures

  • Harini Dave

    I just dont have words to actually express,but can say one thing that you have touched the right issue and in a right way.

  • K Rohidas Sharma

    One request to ALL Devdutt fans and followers. Devdutt uses mythology only as a reference point to bring home a message for all humans, of life’s fallacies, weaknesses, strengths,emotions, and many other traits. Hence please DO NOT find faults with the details of the mythologicl episodes Devdutt uses to illustrate his message. Devdutt is NOT conducting “Harikathas”, such that one should find faults with his examples and the actual texts of revered scriptures. If you do that you will be “shooting the messanger” instead of receiving the message.

    This is my humble suggestion to all of us who follow Devdutt. God Bless us.

  • Vinod

    I totally agree and admire to the analysed leadership concept. But I think this concept would apply rather more to Indian Corporate Culture than to Anglo-Saxon model of doing business where everything needs to be specified appropriately.

  • G vineetkumar

    Dear Sir,
    It is Really a great work from your end,
    first i came to know about your mythological expertise from your book ” hanuman” I feel ur story of comparision about past story with current corporate management is the best.

    I personally feel that u should start special weekly magazine on this kind of wisdom based story.

  • i would like to state the importance of Devdutt’s views to the comments. It’s just not enough to write an article and express one sided view. If the readers have some other view expressed through comments, Devdutt must come forward to answer them, even if one or two. kindly take a stand devdutt. If we cherish your articles and present our views, you must respond to it even if once n a while much to our satisfaction.

    • :-)….silence is sometimes good

      • Mukul

        Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik you have Reply: “silence is sometimes good” Can you explain how to silence is sometimes good. Please Plz Don’t Mind..

        • Mr. Mukul,
          Pl. analyze simple fight between ‘Saas’ & “Bahu” in two houses. At one house either saas or bahu remains silent, in another case they don’t hear any one & simply speak loudly throughout their life. U will get the idea.


  • Rajan

    Great analogy! What an insight Dr.Devdutt! More often than not, most of the ‘bosses’ (not necessarily the CEOs) do not realize the importance of such nuances.

  • :( not always .. we readers look forward to your comments… anyways your articles often refreshes me from daily dose of usual copy writing i do. thanks for the same :)

  • Respected sir,
    I am want to know about Bhagavath Geetha as per Upanishads an Vedas the author is Krishna, but i have read in some books ,they say the author of Bhagavath Geetha is Anonymous, please explain and clear my doubt,but this question may not be relevant to Leadership…………..please explain me

  • R Gnanaprakash

    Dear Sir,

    Simply great sir..

  • vijay

    the articles of ET have not been updated in your site.Can you please let us know where the same can be found

  • I am into business. I totally agree with you.Specially mukeund’s story.

  • Rajiv

    Hi Dev,

    Very beautiful. Thanks for taking out the hallow and putting a human face to Krishna. More often this story is quoted for Krishnas washing Sudamas feet, Rukmini stopping Krishna with 2 handful and the wealth Krishna bestows. Here there is such a human touch to the decision of Krishna compared to the sensitivity of our behaviour in our daily lives.

    Reading your articles I feel that I have given too much importance to the Divinity because of the hallow and forgotten to see parallels of invoking the divine in our current circumstances.

    Thanks for the article and look forward to your work

  • Siddharth Behera

    Great Man!,I became a fan of yours when I fast read your article “Heroes with Foresight”
    keep up your good work n enlighten us :))))))

  • Although what you said is justified by how you said it, but what actually sometimes happens to a sensitive Manager (Not owner) is the awareness of the actual situation from the point of view of his subordinate and the owners (seniors).

    The case holds ground especially in times of a downturn, when an employee, might be working hard enough to deserve a raise, which is obviously sensed by the manager, what he also knows is the fact that the business is witnessing a downturn, and might not be in a position to recommending a raise, even for a deserving employee.

    Now his decision and indecision will be hurtful to the organization, if he gives him a raise, others will also expect it marring bottomlines, and if he doesn’t he risks attrition.

    There are sometimes no straight answers in the view… what would you have done as a sensitive (& intellectually sound) manager here…

  • Sundara Raman K

    Dear Dev,

    Thanks for an excellent anectode to highlight a subtle quality every leader should possess.

    Hallmark of a true leader is he/she should be a good friend, philosopher and guide especially to people who lookup to him for help. I mean doing the right thing to right people at the right time in a way which would delight them.

  • jasmine suri

    This is an excellent example for Leaders to nuture and cherish.

  • shampa

    An excellent piece.It is relevant for everyone who is in the top position,like a parent,a guru, a teacher. One should have compassion to feel for others.