Nirav Modi and how he defrauded Punjab National Bank of close to ₹11,000 crore — that’s the latest business scandal in India. Another company — Rotomac Pens — is also in the news for a similar reason. These aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. They raise a pertinent question for us aspiring leaders. Does the end justify the means? What used to be a school-debating topic takes on truly real-life dimensions when we begin our lives as corporate leaders.
Why should we focus as much on the means as we do on the ends?
To develop ourselves and others. Sometimes, mere results can fool us into ‘delusions of adequacy’ and we end up under-prepared for the bigger tests and challenges that follow; that’s why the means matter.
Rahul Dravid celebrated the Under-19 (U-19) team’s victory at the recent U-19 Cricket World Cup. His insights after the win were very revealing and edifying. “I’ve always maintained that this level is not about results,” he said. “The real satisfaction, in my opinion, is the process that was followed over the last 14-16 months.” Rahul also points to an interesting outcome from the 2012 U-19 final, at which India beat Australia: “It is interesting…the result of the final is India beat Australia, but six years down the line only one of those boys has played for India while five or six of them (players from the then Australian U-19 team) went on to play for Australia.”
Learning from the journey
Clearly, the process is what builds muscle. Leaders and teams that chase a result without regard for the right means and process ignore the growth and development that come from the journey itself. Success too easily grasped is a poor teacher. For real leaders, growth should be a bigger goal than success alone. The very act of going through the struggle of the journey forms us, hones our skills, reinforces our values, tests our convictions, and helps us emerge stronger.
In leading teams, I’ve often seen a leader, frustrated that the team has not achieved the desired result, charge in and perform the task themselves. But the mature leaders hold back. They realise that their goal is not just the outcome for today; their goal is to also build their team. So they nudge their team, encourage them; sometimes even watch them fail and defend the team’s effort, they give positive feedback and see them emerge stronger from the challenge. They have let means achieve a bigger end.
Money cannot be an end
Some destinations can break the compass. Sometimes we can get so obsessed in the pursuit of a goal that we end up losing who we are and what we believe in. Many young people starting off their careers, set a money target as an ambition. “Become a dollar millionaire, before I’m 30”. But sometimes blindly pursuing such a goal can lead to compromises along the way, a bending of rules, a surrendering of convictions. When you reach such a goal, you feel hollow rather than fulfilled.
India’s ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala puts it well: “It (money) is a means to an end, but it cannot be an end in itself.” He goes on to say, “the joy of the hunt is better than the kill.”
I remember a former colleague. I admired his ethical approach to work. Given the role he was playing — which involved dealing with vendors and negotiating contracts — it was one of the main reasons I hired him. I could count on his integrity. He often spoke of eventually going into politics. He wanted to use the power that would come with it to make the difference he desired in society. Eventually though, I found out that he crossed the line on integrity and started raking in the cash unethically. His justification was that he needed it to achieve the political position he coveted so that he could then do good. But as I would metaphorically tell him: “You can’t build the Taj Mahal and work in the coal mines at the same time – the white marble would be covered with the soot from your hands.”
This is the danger we face when we tell ourselves that the end justifies the means and we find that eventually the end itself has been compromised.
Detachment from the outcome
Detachment leads to real fulfilment. Often, an attachment to the outcome can create a stifling tension. Leaders find that instead of their energy doubling, it is halved. They are filled with tension and worry about whether they will achieve the goal. This sabotages the very quest for the goal. In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to perform his duty without any attachment to the results of his action:
tasmād asaktaḥ satataḿ;kāryaḿ karma samācara asakto hy ācaran karma;param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ
Therefore, only those who act without being attached to the fruits of their actions, but as a matter of performing their duty, can attain the Supreme. (Gita 3.19)].
In the Christian tradition, the early Church Fathers speak of apatheia — best translated as equanimity. This equidistance from all possible outcomes helps us focus on the ‘now’ of the task — to do it excellently and with conviction. This does not mean that we don’t set ambitious goals, that we don’t pursue them with intention and purpose. It just means that we are not attached to the outcome. This gives a liberating energy to our everyday work towards that goal. Our efforts are driven not by the rewards attached to the goal but from our own personal code.
“The journey is the destination” becomes more than just a clever line. It becomes a powerful new way of leading.