Life and Leadership Lessons from Kautilya’s Arthashaastra. A set of 10 powerful sutras from Kautilya Arthashaastra (KA)- a timeless treasure on Leadership & Governance. Set of 10 sutras curated (along with Reflection questions for the audience to apply it in the contemporary world.

राजानमुत्थितमनुत्तिषठन्ते भृत्याः। प्रमाद्यन्तमनुप्रमाद्यन्ति।। कर्माणि चास्य भक्षयन्ति।।


(Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.19.1)

When the Leader is (energetically) active, the people also become so, following his example. If the Leader is negligent, they too will become slack and eat into the productivity.

Following Sri Krishna’s advice, comes this powerful lesson from the great Acharya – you are a role model; so, what you do sets the standard, says he!

But this ever-practical Guru goes on to explain that every negligence by the Leader is a massive productivity loss to the Nation/ organization/ team. So, each moment is to be utilized energetically!

अर्थस्य मूलमुत्थानं

Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.19.35

Prosperity is rooted in meaningful activity!

What seems like a simple message from Acharya Chanakya, the great Master of Governance – is one of the core principles of Leadership!

What the Acharya calls as meaningful activity is at the heart of Leadership – it begins with the purpose of the Leader viz. The greater good of all the stakeholders on a sustained basis. Next, he/ she has to be ever engaged in developing strategies (and their execution) which realizes this purpose through – 1. Converting the purpose to an inspiring vision 2. Aligning the goals of the team with this vision 3. Creating systems and processes which reflect the same vision and 4. Defining success measures, including financial, which brings clarity right up to the last person employed, says Chanakya! 

Ponder how, you as a Leader, can operationalize the above four steps?

अनुत्थाने ध्रुवो नाशः प्राप्तस्थानागतस्य च।

Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.19.36

In the absence of meaningful activity, destruction is certain – of that which already exists, and also of what’s yet to come!

Such power packed words from Acharya Chanakya, the great master of the science of Prosperity – stating another core principle of Leadership!

          As explained in an earlier Sutra, “meaningful activity” is at the heart of Prosperity – it combines the purpose of the Leader (viz. The greater good of all the stakeholders on a sustained basis) with strategic engagement and determined execution! What if that activity is not performed (as above)? Then, Acharya cautions:  1. The Leader loses sight of the vision in pursuit of self-serving goals 2. The goals of the team go off-track and in turn, 3. This triggers the start of the decline. As a cascading effect, both, the present and future of the organization lands in total disarray, observes Chanakya!

Ponder how you, as a Leader, can avoid the above three calamities – reflect now!

विनयमूलो दण्डः प्राणभृतां योगक्षेमावहः।।

 Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.5.2

Governance, (only) when rooted in self-discipline, brings security and wellbeing – to all living beings!

This piece of advice, about Vinay, is core to Neeti Shastra – the science of Leadership!
If the Leader wants to bring success and growth to the organization, the organization has to have a culture of professionalism, reliability and customer focus. All this has to flow from the Leader; the Leader needs to exemplify discipline in every action of his/ hers, which in turn is the product of a rigorously trained mind!

Can you declare that you are the model of self-discipline for your people – if not, take action Today!

तया स्वपक्षं परपक्षं च वशीकरोति कोशदण्डाभ्याम्।

 Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.4.2

The king brings under his sway, his own people, as well as the adversary, through (the usage of) treasury and army!

The Acharya of Leadership, Chanakya, now moves to assets of influence – finances and people …
Chanakya asserts that Leadership requires to be carried out through 3 key (organizational) elements – infrastructure, funds and team. Two of these are especially critical in the 2nd stage (of consolidation) to make 3rd stage (of expansion) possible. The quality and durability of these determines growth, says Chanakya!

Do you consider your employees to be as precious as your finances? Assess your actions to reveal this to self!

कृत्स्नं हि शास्त्रमिदमिन्द्रियजय:।

 Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.6.3

For, the whole of this science (viz. Arthashaastra), means the conquest of the senses!
The great Acharya of Leadership, Chanakya, brings to us, the core of Leadership…

Chanakya asserts that Leadership always begins with oneself (and not with having followers). That too, begins within one’s own mind. The mind of the Leader has to be conditioned and strengthened to the extent that external stimuli do not disturb him/ her. The ideal Leader is thus, no less than a Yogi, says Chanakya!

What practices are you using to centre your being before the day begins? Assess your first 2 hours of the day to reveal this to self!

अवाप्तार्थः कालं नातिक्रामयेत्

Kautilya Arthashaastra 1.15.45

Having got an (important) matter to deliberate, the Leader should not let (those) moments slip away!
The great Acharya of Governance, Chanakya sounds a valuable word of caution to the Leader, on urgencies…

This Sutra tells us that only the most pressing matters should come to the Leader, all else must be delegated. And when a pressing matter does come up, not a moment must elapse unproductively. Why? Because sometimes, crucial decisions taken in seconds, by the Leader, can make or mar an organization. And yet, he/ she must take the express views of at least 2-3 most valued deputies for taking a call, says Chanakya!

As a Leader, are you available, accessible, and alert enough to take decisions on key matters?

सर्वहितमेकस्य ब्रुवतः कुर्युराज्ञाम्।

 Kautilya Arthashaastra 3.10.39

The populace shall obey the orders of one, who proposes that, which holds the benefit of all
Continuing to dwell on the actions of Leaders, we now have the recommendation of Acharya – on what should guide these actions

The above Sutra is a principle which enunciates that employees are bound to follow only those rules, which are well considered – with great benefit to the majority, as also with lasting impact. The Leader has to always think through the next steps – with this principle in mind!

As a Leader, when formulating the way ahead for the organization, does this get due consideration?

कार्यबहुत्वे बहुफलम आयतिकम कुर्यात।

Chanakya Sutra 12.14

(In the event of) there being multiple assignments (to be executed), the one which will yield maximum returns, is to be accorded priority!

Once again we have Acharya Chanakya, the Guru of Leadership, offering sage advice on determining priority of work.

Chanakya asserts that the Leader is one who understands, when preference should be given to one initiative, over other items. Here are the guidelines – 1. That which has maximum impact over the long term, 2. That which serves the maximum stakeholders and 3. That which is aligned to the organization’s purpose, that carries the greatest weightage, says Chanakya, so make it a priority. Thus “maximum returns” requires the vision of the Leader, and has to be cultivated.
Introspect now – how do you decide which job needs your maximum attention and commitment?

मन्त्रो मन्त्रफलप्राप्तिः कर्मानुष्ठानं आयव्ययकर्म दण्डप्रणयनं। अमित्राटवीप्रतिषेधो राज्यरक्षणं व्यसनप्रतिकारः।।

Kautilya Arthashaastra 8.1.8

Deliberating (with deputies) for counsel; securing the (best) outcomes of the deliberations (through decisions); carrying out actions (based on the decisions); managing income and expenditures, (tightly) for the actions; and taking measures against further setbacks – these are to be done, when facing calamities!

This is the guidance we have probably been seeking, during the present pandemic!
Acharya Chanakya has made it very clear that the Leader needs to be decisive, but not autocratic – he/ she needs capable deputies who provide many useful insights. Also, fiscal discipline and back up plans should be considered at all times – then take action!

If you are an organizational Leader, use this 5-prong approach during challenging times!