Leadership Lessons from Panchatantra Stories

It is a truth universally acknowledged that ancient Indian texts are replete with a rich plethora of knowledge, wisdom and values. This not only includes the two greatest epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but also the Panchatantra tales, which are often perceived as children’s stories. However, these stories provide incredible lessons in management, leadership and decision making. Written in Sanskrit in the 3rd century BC by Pandit Vishnu Sharma, this collection of animal fables was meant to enlighten three ignorant princes and make them capable of leadership and governance.

The ‘Croc and the Monkey’, wherein the crocodile’s wife yearns for the heart of the monkey (who happens to be the crocodile’s friend) explores the need to be cautious before blindly trusting people. The monkey agrees to visit the crocodile’s home, without suspecting that the crocodile may have ulterior motives in inviting him. However, his trust is betrayed when the crocodile reveals the truth. Learning quickly from his mistake, the monkey displays presence of mind, which is imperative for any leader. Seemingly unruffled and unperturbed, he tells the crocodile that he had left his heart behind on the tree. He therefore manages to escape by remaining calm and composed even in the face of adversity and threat, and using his intelligence and confidence to overcome an obstacle that could have been fatal.

Leadership Lessons from Panchatantra Stories

The importance of quick thinking and immediate action is repeated in the story ‘The Hunter and the Doves’ where a flock of birds is trapped in a hunter’s net. The King Dove asks the birds to pick up the nest and fly off together, and urges his friend mouse to nibble the net and set the doves free. Not only does he encourage teamwork, but also puts his team before himself when he refuses to be the first one to fly off.  He waits until all his team members are safe and free, before he allows himself the flight to safety. Like an effective leader, he is alert and decisive. He wastes no time, thinks out of the box, and takes an immediate decision that is beneficial to his subjects.

The story ‘The Mongoose and the Baby in the Cradle’ emphasizes the need for thorough investigation before arriving at a conclusion or taking a decision. Falsely suspecting the mongoose of having been responsible for the death of her child, based on insubstantial evidence of blood smeared on him, the Brahmin’s wife kills the loyal mongoose who had actually endangered its own life to protect the baby. Having acted impulsively while enraged and in a moment of vulnerability and emotion, the brahmin’s wife later repents for her action. However, by then it is too late.

Each story in the Panchatantra can be read at various levels. A child may enjoy the stories for pure fun, without reading between the lines – and may still be able to understand the subtle messages that may remain in the subconscious. A management student can read the stories to understand the management lessons that the stories embody. A leader can read the stories for a deeper insight into the human mind and its motivations.  No matter what one’s age or profession may be, these charming stories defy age, and are evergreen treasures – they can be meaningful to anyone who reads them, and will certainly leave an indelible mark on the mind, and create a fond place in the heart.

Monica Khanna 1

About the Author

Dr. Monica Khanna (Ph.D., M.Phil., M.A.) works as Associate Professor at Indira Institute of Business Management, and Consultant at Indian School of Management and Entrepreneurship. She has around twenty-five years of experience in the field of academics as well as in journalism and business. She has published ten books, including scholarly books on gender studies, books on grammar and composition, books of short stories and picture books for children. She also writes a weekly column for a Navi Mumbai based newspaper, Newsband. She lives in Navi Mumbai with her family. She may be reached at: [email protected]

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