Published in Corporate Dossier ET, March 04, 2011

As the Hebrews made their way out of Egypt, their leader, the prophet Moses showed them the Ten Commandments. These were laws that had to be followed as one moved towards the Promised Land. The Hebrews followed them diligently. It was not easy; often people broke the rules but they struggled hard to be compliant. The reason they struggled so hard to follow the rules is because they knew the rules came from God, who was the caring father, who wanted his prodigal children to return home.

Biblical tales are very different from Greek tales. Invariably, when the Greek hero is born, the oracle prophesizes that the child will kill the father and so the father orders the child be abandoned to the wolves in the forest. A shepherd takes pity on the child and rescues him and raises him in secret. The child grows up to be a strong handsome man who has an altercation with his father and, without realizing his identity, kills him. Thus the father in Greek mythology is not the caring father. He is the cruel father. He is Cronus who eats his children, the Titans. The Greek hero defies his cruel father and in defiance he finds his glory.

The willingness to comply indicates that behind the rules is a caring father. The desire to be defiant indicates behind the rule is a cruel father. Both these fathers exist in Hindu epics. In the Ramayana, Ram is celebrated as the one who follows all the rules; his father, Dashrath, is the caring father. In the Bhagavata, Krishna is the one who breaks the rule; his uncle (father figure), Kamsa, is the cruel father. Ram submits to Dashrath’s will; Krishna defies Kamsa. Compliance makes Ram worthy of worship. Defiance makes Krishna worthy of worship.

Rahul was part of the consultancy team that was hired to transform a mid-sized medical equipment company. There were workshops for vision and mission. New processes and systems were defined. A new organizational structure was prepared. The consultant team was very enthusiastic. But the people of the organization were sluggish and bored. Rahul wondered what was wrong. Why were people so disinterested? The transformation would benefit the company and indirectly everyone who worked in the organization. Getting people to comply with the new processes involved painful negotiations. “It is as if they are doing the management a favor by being compliant,” Rahul told his boss. When Rahul raised this thought at one of the management committee meetings, one of the directors said, “They lack integrity.” Somehow, Rahul doubted this diagnosis. He decided to investigate.

He spent more time with a group of junior managers and over a drink they said something that made sense, “The transformation exercise is being done by the company to increase its evaluation so that a promoter will invest in it. The management is more interested in selling the company. They don’t care for our futures. Why should we care for them?”

For the people in the company, the people behind the rules were cruel fathers to be defied, not caring fathers to be obeyed. When people feel abandoned by their leaders, compliance is never voluntary.