Is it an organisation’s duty to pander to an employee’s excessive need for attention or dismiss it as irrational?
BY Devdutt Pattanaik
IN THE EPIC MAHABHARATA, DURYODHAN, the eldest Kaurava, is the villain. His envy results in a great war where millions are killed. He cannot bear the success of his cousins, the Pandavas. He wants them to be destroyed. He wants them to suffer and die. He refuses to part with even a needlepoint of land for his cousins for the sake of peace. He destroys his own peace of mind and the wellbeing of his household so as to destroy his enemies. Such hatred! Where does it come from?
What creates a Duryodhan? A man so bitter and angry that he refuses to focus on his own good fortune (good parents, good wife, good friend, good inheritance) and focuses instead on the fortune of his cousins, and gets miserable by constantly comparing. His whole life is spent comparing and feeling inadequate and unhappy.
Vyasa, author of the epic, without being explicit about it, points to the possible origin of his personality. Duryodhan's father, Dhritarashtra, is blind. His mother, Gandhari, is blindfolded. The father cannot see the son. The mother refuses to see her son (whatever her reason). So a son grows up unseen by parents. No one notices the child's growing sense of inadequacy, no one notices the child's growing up full of rage. No one therefore corrects him. The child succumbs to flattery. The child is indulged and the result is disastrous.
Organisations are full of Duryodhanas, employees with a sense of inadequacy and rage, that reflects in their decisionmaking abilities. More than achieving organisational goals, they want to impose their personalities every time a decision is made. For example, they fight more for the larger cabin and a larger team and a larger compensation than for the business. The gaze is more towards themselves than towards the customer. They are constantly screaming for attention. But the one who has to give it to them – the management – is often either blind or blindfolded. They either cannot see them or they don't want to see them.
Ramesh is a Duryodhan. He believes he is the best sales manager in his company. He has brought in more qualitative and quantitative growth than any other sales manager in his company. But he feels, his Managing Director does not see him. The MD treats all sales managers equally, giving them equal bonuses and equal attention. The MD has no favorites. Ramesh wants attention. He wants to be loved and acknowledged. The MD does not even notice this need; he assumes everyone in his team is, or at least, should be professional. Emotional needs are not something that he even notices, or he refuses to notice. As a result of his extreme professionalism, he has become Gandhari. Some would say, he is a Dhritarashtra, he is incapable of being sensitive to his team. The result is that all his sales managers, Ramesh included, feel like children of a blind parent. Their desire for attention manifests in all kinds of behaviours – fights in the boardroom, lack of team work, refusal to cooperate, demands for more time with the MD (which he refuses to give), demand for more perks and rewards and recognition, beyond what is officially allowed (which is not forthcoming).
The organisation is facing the brunt of Ramesh's rage and sense of inadequacy. Everyone is wondering why can Ramesh not be more professional, do his job, and go home. They forget that Ramesh is not a machine. He has emotional needs. He wants to be seen and acknowledged and appreciated. This need of his may be argued as irrational and stupid, but it remains his need, nevertheless. In imagination, humans may be capable of cutting out their emotions every time they enter the office, but it does not happen in reality. Organisations may see humans as cogs in a wheel, but this mechanistic view is theoretical not practical. Every human being has emotional needs that needs pampering, howsoever silly it may seem.
The MD needs to realise this role in the turmoil that is faced by the organisation. Gandhari and Dhritarashtra are as much responsible for the Mahabharata war as Duryodhan.
Source: Publication: The Economic Times Mumbai; Date: Nov 12, 2010; Section: Corporate Dossier; Page: 34