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October 4, 2008

First published October 3, 2008

 in Economic Times

Five bosses of Draupadi

First Published in Corporate Dossier, Economic Times on 13 Sept, 2008.

Draupadi, the great heroine of the Mahabharat, never really chose her husband. Her father, king of Panchal, had organized an archery contest and she was the prize. She thought she was marrying a Rishi with archery skills (the Pandavas were in disguise) and so it came as a pleasant surprise when the man who she married turned out to be a prince called Arjuna.

Just as Draupadi did not choose her husband, most of us do not choose our bosses. What is presented during the interview may not be what emerges post induction. Things may either be a pleasant surprise or a rude shock! Whatever be the case, one has to find a way to work with the boss. Failure to get along with bosses remains one of the main reason for attrition. But while divorce is an option in the corporate world, it reeks of poor management skills, on the part of both, the `husband’ and the `wife’.

We might resent the equation of boss with husband – it is sexist for it assumes a power play with the husband in a dominant position. But political correctness aside, `husband’ and `wife’ are functional role assignments that makes understanding easier. Besides it is better to assume that the world is patriarchal and feudal, and navigate successfully through it, rather than wish the world was otherwise, and end up sinking in frustration.

In deference to his mother’s wishes, Arjuna agreed to share his wife with his four brothers. And so, Draupadi became the wife of the five Pandavas. The excuse given for this is that Arjuna obeyed his mother who, thinking her son had brought home a `fruit’, asked him to share `it’ with the brothers. But an implied reason for this is that the mother did not want a beautiful woman like Draupadi to spawn jealousy and rupture the bond between her five sons. A talented individual in the corporate world, whether he likes it or not, does become a shared resource between many teams and many departments and it bodes him well to recognize he is a Draupadi with many `husbands’ – there is the reporting boss, then there is the super-boss, the dotted-line boss, the de jure boss and the de facto boss. He has to manage all the `husbands’ as Draupadi managed her five.

In the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata, Satyabhama, wife of Krishna, asks Draupadi, Most women can barely manage to get control of one husband; you have managed to secure the affections of all five. What is your secret? Is it magic? Is it a spell?

Draupadi replied, It is not magic. It is not spell. It is hard work. I wake up before them and sleep after them, and spend every waking hour taking care of them, serving them, solving their problem, meeting all their needs, making sure they want for nothing. It is I who manage their affairs. It is I who manage their cows, their servants, their fields, their forests, their treasury and their wealth. It is I who take care of their mother, their guests, their friends and their sons. I do everything they ask me to do. I do things for them even before they ask for it. With me around, they need worry about nothing. I never nag or complain. That is how I have managed to earn their devotion and their affection.

Draupadi made her husbands dependent on her. She was the reliable one, consistently trustworthy. With her around, they had to worry about nothing. With her by their side, the Pandavas gathered the courage to ask the Kauravas for their half of the family property. In exchange Draupadi got what she wanted: absolute control over the Pandava household; no other woman (each Pandava had many wives) was allowed to live in their palace or enter her kitchen. A successful subordinate is like a Draupadi, who ensures that the boss does exactly as he wishes – all the while making the boss feel it is his decision.

Each of Draupadi’s husband had a different personality: Yudhishtira was self-righteous, Bhima was volatile, Arjuna was insecure, Nakula was narcissistic and Sahadeva, intellectual. That each one was devoted to her indicates she was successful in being what each one of them wanted her to be. She could not have done this if she behaved the same way with each one. She clearly flexed her style repeatedly, behaving in five different ways for the five very different brothers. But how she did what she did is never revealed, for Draupadi never let anyone, not even the storyteller, into her bedchambers when she was with one husband. What transpired between her and each of her husbands was not meant for public consumption. Secrecy in boss-subordinate relationship is critical; no one else, least of all other bosses, must know how the others are being managed. One can only assume that Draupadi adored her husbands for what they were, as a good subordinate is supposed to adore even the most insufferable of his bosses.

The Virata Parva is the chapter describing the final year of the forest exile, when the Pandavas and their common wife had to live disguised as servants in the palace of king Virata. In it, one discovers how Draupadi used the different personalities of her husbands to her advantage. Virata’s lout of a brother-in-law, Kichaka, publicly abused Draupadi but Yudhishtira, witness to his wife’s humiliation, refused to help. Be prudent, he said, We cannot risk discovery till the year is over. Draupadi was not angry with her first husband; he had behaved predictably. She went to another husband who would avenge her humiliation. Not her favorite, Arjuna, who would never disobey the elder brother, but to the powerful Bhima. Bhima would, when goaded enough, do whatever Draupadi asked him to do, even kill Kichaka, or drink the blood of the Kauravas, paying little heed to Yudhishtira, or other such rules of social propriety.

Is Draupadi the ideal subordinate? Every boss will say, No! Who would want an intelligent and manipulative and powerful subordinate? People always prefer a subordinate like Sita – the faithful and submissive wife of Ramayan’s Ram, who endures all silently and never speaks against her husband. A contrast from Draupadi who screams when abused, who demands vengeance, who publicly humiliates her husbands when they do not come to her aid and who does not shy away from telling her five husbands they have failed to satisfy her, individually or collectively.  So if you feel, at the end of this article, you want to manage your boss or your bosses, as Draupadi managed her husbands, there is one golden rule you must keep in mind – be like Draupadi, but always behave like Sita.

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