08 Apr 2019 21:09 IST

Leaders should ‘swallow pain’ for the team

A good mentor should never allow negative emotions over a setback to affect team morale

One of the mythological stories about Maha Shivratri relates to the churning of the ocean of milk in the pursuit of Amrit or the nectar of immortality, by the Devas and Asuras. The story goes that the churning of the ocean of milk was done using Mount Mandhara as the churning pole. Vasuki Nagaraj, the serpent who is around Lord Shiva’s neck, was used as the rope to churn this mount. A tremendous quantity of poison got released and versions of mythology attribute the source either to Vasuki, who was being pulled in order to churn the ocean, or to the ocean of milk itself.

Regardless of the source, this poison was so terrible that it could have heralded the end of all living beings. When everyone prayed and asked Lord Shiva for help, he is supposed to have scooped up the poison and drunk the same. In fact, the poison turned Shiva’s throat blue, earning him the name Neelkanth.

You must be wondering about the link between this story and leadership. Before explaining, let me share another recent story from my life.

We were getting ready for a start-up project and the date of launch was not far off. Preparations were done, and the last set of activities were being reviewed and implemented. It was at this juncture that we got news about an unexpected development that would possibly delay the launch. The start-up team had no control over the development. Immediately on receiving the news, the functional heads had to review the situation.

Disheartened, I went into the meeting room lacking my usual enthusiasm. My team members immediately noticed and asked if everything was alright. I reassured them, with little success, and the review meeting was soon over. Then, my boss and mentor literally dragged me out of the office to a nearby tea stall.

After ensuring that we were not overheard, he gave me a piece of his mind in no uncertain terms. He was livid that I had shown that I was upset, and that this had affected the team’s morale. He said , “As the head and leader of your team, it is your duty to manage problems and issues. You cannot pass on your negative feelings to your team. You will face situations and, in most cases, unexpected as also unpleasant ones. Learn to compartmentalise it, put it away and deal with it. It cannot and should not be displayed on your face, especially in front of your team”.

I have never forgotten that advice and have always tried to follow it. I have also seen that true leaders are like Lord Shiva; they swallow the poison and the toxicity that gets released in the environment to enable their team to work. On the other hand, those who are unable to do that can never aspire to become good bosses, leave alone becoming leaders.

So, next time you face a difficult situation, don’t let it show on your face or affect your enthusiasm, especially in front of your team.