Brahmaswarup Pramukh Swami Maharaj (1921–2016), the fifth spiritual successor of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in the BAPS, was an epitome of saintliness. During his tenure as the spiritual leader and president of BAPS, he was instrumental in consolidating the fundamental spiritual values, work flow systems and organizational activities of
BAPS on a global level. It was one of his great achievements.
How was Swamishri able to do so much? The answer to this question lies in his exemplary leadership qualities and impeccable timeless managerial skills. On closer inspection, one realizes that the ideas, principles, theories, thoughts and actions which are propagated, practised and taught by current academia and modern management executives were naturally ingrained in Swamishri. Though he had studied only up to sixth grade, his innate managerial skills blossomed under the wings of his gurus Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj. Under their guidance, he organized festivals and celebrations and oversaw the general administrative affairs of all mandirs and activities.
What is Modern Management?
As defined by academia, modern management is a process of getting things done with the aim of achieving goals effectively and efficiently. They also say that the traditional viewpoint of management is considered inappropriate in our present-day environment, where workers have a high level of aspirations. To elaborate, traditional management skills would be rendered ineffective in dealing with the current educated workforce, which is aspirational, growth-oriented, knowledge-driven, exposed to social media and is able to understand and take decisions of their own.
The congruence of modern management and Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s method of management can be partly understood through the following three aspects: People Management, Resource Management and Value Management.
Modern management gurus opine that if you care for your people, your people will care for your work. “People First,” in the words of renowned American management consultant Tom Peters, is the key to success in today’s ever-changing times. The book, Managing the Millennials – Discover the Core Competencies of Managing Today’s Workforce by Chip Espinoza, Queg Rooz and Nick Kukreja, brings before us a very important aspect in relation to managing people and understanding the mindsets of multiple work generations. The book reflects that people belonging to the same work generation, who pass through similar sets of processes, systems and procedures, possess a similar mindset and value system, and similar objectives and aspirations. The authors further classify the work generations over the last century (see box on next page).
Pramukh Swami Maharaj, during his tenure as the organizational president (1950–2016) and spiritual leader (1971–2016) of BAPS, understood, adjusted, managed and positively engaged all the working generations and delivered extraordinary results. Indeed, a rare feat. Swamishri, even at the age of 85 years, would work with sadhus of 30–35 years with the precision and mindfulness of a CEO of a multinational working with his executives.
Another critical aspect to note is the work culture and delivery model in an NGO like BAPS compared to corporates. Corporates work on the principle of ‘Pay and Smile’, wherein the employer likes the work of the employee and compensates him monetarily, whereas the employee likes the monetary compensation paid by his employer and thus works for him. There is less human touch in this relationship and more pay and work. The day when there is a mismatch in this relationship, it is called off and they part ways. However, this is not so in the case of a spiritual NGO. It works on the principle of ‘Serve and Smile’. The work done by volunteers in a spiritual NGO is on a spiritual level: to help people imbibe cultural values, understand the mindset and expectation of people, adjust according the counterpart and consider other humane intangibles. This ability to deliver results and execute world-class projects globally under this setup made Swamishri special and unique. This was possible as Swamishri used to function on the principle of ‘Flexibility to Firmness’, similar to water. Water can be extremely flexible as it can take the shape of any vessel it is filled in, and at the same time can be extremely firm and strong as it can cut an aluminium or iron bar when unleashed from a water jet with immense pressure. This quality of Pramukh Swami Maharaj was witnessed on a number of occasions.
Let us try to understand this through the following incidents.
In 1995, Swamishri was having lunch at the Sankari mandir. As per routine, one of the disciples was reading the Swaminarayan Prakash – the BAPS monthly magazine in Gujarati. He was reading a 1995 report of the London murti-pratishtha mahotsav. The reader could not properly pronounce the letters ‘sh’ that appeared in the word ‘polish’. This was remarked on by the others present there, but still the disciple was unable to correct it. Observing this, Swamishri said, “Once you know the limitation of a person with whom you work and have a long-lasting relationship, you should immediately adjust to his shortcomings.” This highlighted his flexible approach in accepting people’s shortcomings, which made them love Bapa till their last breath.
In 1994, the UK was in the midst of an economic recession and the trustees of the under-construction London BAPS Mandir opined that it would be difficult to complete both the shikharbaddha mandir and the wooden haveli as planned before the summer of 1995. With this opinion, they called Swamishri who was on his vicharan in South India. Swamishri listened to what the trustees said and then replied, “All of us had earlier sat together and decided to complete this project on time as per Yogi Bapa’s wish. Now at this point we cannot and should not go back from our decision. We have Shastriji Maharaj’s and Yogiji Maharaj’s blessings and will complete the London mandir and the haveli on time.” To give momentum to the mandir project, Swamishri went to London and endeavoured tirelessly for four months. Thereafter, in 1995, Swamishri performed the murti-pratishtha of the mandir and opening of the haveli.
Thus, the way in which Swamishri strived and managed people for 65 years in serving society and building landmark spiritual complexes, like Akshardham, across the world are worthy of study in B-schools.
Some of the other dimensions of Swamishri which were reflected over a period of time through his actions were the care, compassion and consistency with which he dealt with people. Whether the person was a sadhu, devotee or a well-wisher, Swamishri never failed to shower his care and compassion on them.
During festivals, Pramukh Swami Maharaj always instructed the local mandir kothari and sadhus to take care of the devotees who had come from their respective cities, towns or villages. He guided them to treat all with equal care and love.
Once, Swamishri was in Limbdi when a satsangi youth named Harikrishna met him. As he was only a commerce graduate, it was extremely difficult for him to find a job and hence make ends meet. He sought Swamishri’s help. Immediately, Swamishri called Harishbhai, a devotee in Mumbai, and asked him to provide the youth a job in his factory. Harikrishna was overwhelmed by Swamishri’s instant care and recommendation. Later, Swamishri took the report of his work and instructed Harishbhai to give Harikrishna a cycle so that he could fulfil his household duties of shopping and other things.
William McKnight (1887–1978), who served as president of the 3M Corporation, said, “People are your greatest asset. How you look after your people should be consistent with your words.” In the case of Pramukh Swami Maharaj the words of McKnight resonated in his life to the hilt. On
21 May 1950, when Swamishri was appointed president of the BAPS by Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj, he pledged to remain faithful to the principles of BAPS and serve the devotees and the organization throughout his life without concern for his body. He fulfilled his oath till his last breath at the age of 95.
McKnight adds, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” Creating unnecessary restrictions around your people would hamper their creativity, subdue their decision-making power and make them less accountable for their work. Instead, identify the talent in people and give them the full freedom to perform within their jurisdiction, and see the wonderful results of their performance. Pramukh Swami Maharaj had this inborn knack of identifying the talents and potential in people and giving them the scope and freedom to perform and deliver.
In 1980, a satsangi youth met Swamishri and showed him his handcrafted bat and ball. Swamishri looked at his art and blessed him to develop his talent. The teenager was greatly affected and inspired by Swamishri’s words that he worked tirelessly to develop his craftsmanship. Later, the teenager took the sadhu diksha at Pramukh Swami’s holy hands. Presently, he contributes his skills in art and craft in designing and creating exhibitions, mandirs and mega-festivals for the BAPS.
These are just a few droplets from the vast ocean of Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s people management skills. In the next article, we will elucidate on Swamishri’s work management skills.