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July 22, 2015

Commitment, Loyalty and Sycophancy

Commitment and loyalty are the pillars which strengthen relationships in all spheres – personal, professional, spiritual, business, social etc.

Most organisations may not have them laid out in their evaluation process explicitly but hardly anyone gets promoted or hired unless people involved are confident of their commitment and loyalty. At the same time across organisations great numbers of people believe sycophants are preferred instead of truly loyal people. Yet there are no efforts to help people understand meaning of loyalty and commitment. Let’s have this story from Hindu mythology before we dwell further on the issue at hand.

Sage Narad is an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu (the Preserver- Part of holy trinity in Hindu mythology). He keeps chanting "Narayana! Narayana!” (name of Lord Vishnu) all through  the day.  He believed that he is the greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu and there is no one else who keeps thinking Narayana  as he does. He wanted to get that confirmed from none other than Lord Vishnu himself. So he reached Vaikunth, the abode of Lord Vishnu. When Lord Vishnu asked purpose of his visit, Narad said he needed some clarification. Vishnu asked, "About what Narad?" Narad replied," I want to know, who is your most ardent devotee?" Needless to say he was expecting his name from Lord Vishnu.

Lord Vishnu asked Narad to go to a village and meet a farmer residing there. He told "I consider him as my ardent devotee." Narad was surprised and was eager to see this devotee. He reached the village mentioned by Vishnu.  By the time Narad reached at farmer’ hut, it was almost night. He knocked at the door. The farmer welcomed sage Narad. The farmer offered Narad food to eat and offered bed to sleep. Narad was keenly observing the farmer as to how many times the farmer is mentioning Narayana. The farmer before going to sleep, uttered 'Narayana!, Narayana" and went to sleep.

Next day the farmer got up early in the morning, finished his morning chores, then he looked at the photo of Vishnu and uttered, "Narayana" and started his daily work. Narad watched him the whole day to find the number of times farmer utters Narayana. To Narad’s surprise farmer didn’t pray or utter Narayana even once till later in the night before going to sleep. Narad returned to Vaikunth and told Vishnu, "The farmer prayed only twice in a day  and still he is considered as an ardent devotee by you. I don't understand this".

Vishnu gave Narad a pot filled with oil to the brim and asked Narad to go around Vaikunth, without spilling even a drop of oil. Narad readily took the Pot of oil and with great care walked around Vaikunth. He completed the walk around Vaikunth with the Pot of oil without spilling even a drop and gave back the Pot of oil to Lord Vishnu.

Vishnu asked Narad, "How many times did you utter my name when you were carrying the Pot of oil?" Narad said, "How is it that you expect me to utter your name, when I have to carry on the Pot of oil?" Vishnu explained, "When you have to focus on simple Pot of oil, you never prayed. But the farmer with all his worries, duties and work, never forgot to pray and utter my name twice a day. Is there any devotee greater than him? "

The story has two significant lessons, being able to recognize someone’s performance in wider context (the Farmer’s ability to remember God twice with all the load); secondly Lord Vishnu being the Preserver, a person contributing to making things happen in worldly affairs will be considered more committed and devoted.

It’s important for leaders (like Lord Vishnu in the story) not only to recognize and reward the performance, but also ensure that both contribution and the context are widely understood by the people.Leaders need to know what they value – loyalty and commitment to them (as individual) or to what they represent – organisation, ideas, profession, values etc. These may not be mutually exclusive to some but they are separate. 

Most of the Career advancement text, teaching and counsel put too much stress on internal selling, standing out from the herd and so on. All this creates a false notion among leaders that it is employee’s job to not only perform but also ensure that their performance is noticed by various stakeholders. Smart leaders take this NVA (non value added) activity away from their team’s plate and give them the confidence to excel on the Job. This immediately puts a lid on culture of sycophancy.

Like Sage Narad, so many people think that they are A players and doing what needs to be done. Validate your self assessment with the Manager. It’s important to have clear understanding of what is expected out of you but also very important to map your deliverable to big picture. You need to figure out what you are committed and loyal to – the Individuals, e,g,, managers, team members, or to profession, ideas, values, technology and so on. In real world effective ones need to have a mix of most if not all. Your effectiveness lies in finding the right mix and balance.  

I am reminded of a quote – “If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.” - Abraham Lincoln

Warm regards,

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