K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, IAS, Principal Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Govt. of Tamil Nadu on “Management and Insights from Machiavelli and Shakespeare”

KAshokVardhanShetty - 002The speaker opened the session with a humorous quote made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru; slightly paraphrased, Nehru said “Indian Civil Service is neither Indian nor civil and not much of a service either”. Mr. Shetty contented that the management studies of the present times are a mere mirror images of the poets, play writers and philosophers of the past. He noted that the great thinkers of the past have ruminated, conferred and confuted the happenings of the most bizarre and inexplicable traits of human behaviors throughout their lives. History is a manifestation of his contention. He opined that the present management dogmas are clouded and embellished with fashionable jargons, but shredded to core they are but the very principles the great thinkers have proffered on the progeny.

Quoting the Italian Philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, Mr. Shetty observed that the CEOs, leaders and managers of today are but merely the kings and princes of the times of Machiavelli, and hence, he asserted thus ‘the studies of Machiavelli and Shakespeare, in their truest and most accessible parts are not only pleasurable and immensely delightful to study and reflect upon, but also uniquely insightful for management students’.  In a different context, he quoted Machiavelli’s reply to question “Whether it is better for a prince to be loved or feared” and noted that it is important that leaders are both feared and loved, but care has to be taken that leaders are not feared to the extent that fear turns into hatred.

In reference to Machiavelli’s reply to the question “which is preferable: a good commander with a weak army or a weak army with a good commander”, Mr. Shetty remarked that ‘an organization with a good CEO and inferior subordinates is better than inferior CEO with good subordinates’. Extending the Philosopher’s train of thought from 1531 A.D to the present times, he quoted Machiavelli “In times of difficulty men of merit are sought after, but in easy times it is not men of merit, but such as have riches and powerful relations that are most in favor”. The speaker drew startling parallels of the quote with the Indian cricket team’s persistence on Rahul Dravid’s inclusion in the team when the team is in dire straits, but immediately dispensing him after the passage of the tough time.

The speaker’s powerful reflection on the Italian philosopher ended with quoting the lesson for which Machiavelli is thought of as cunning and deceitful-“A prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them”.

Quoting Shakespeare “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”, Mr. Shetty noted that CEOs, leaders and managers all alike have an innate predilection; to show an affinity towards power. He advised us to skillfully avoid becoming a prey to the suffocating brilliance of ‘power’ in manipulating the animal instincts in us. In reference to Hamlet “Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be
one man picked out of ten thousand”, the speaker opined that the world at large is beguiling and seductive of murky and conspiratorial activities. He continued and added that material discomfort can be fashionably articulated and framed into an excuse for not taking decisions. In this context, he quoted from Hamlet “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer”.

Mr. Shetty concluded his investigating discourse of current management dogmas with the weight of philosophers and play writers of yester years in his presentation; he ended with a quote from Chanakya “Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing”.

He advised us to cease from deferring decisions and suggested books for further reading.

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6 Responses to K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, IAS, Principal Secretary, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Govt. of Tamil Nadu on “Management and Insights from Machiavelli and Shakespeare”

  1. Samiran says:


  2. vaikuntneela says:

    I have heard this speaker before. Not surprised at the speaker’s ability to bring in topics & gradually converging them on ideas so that the point is driven home well.
    Heartiest congratulation to GLIM on this initiative.

  3. P.R.Jenin Jose says:

    I have met Mr.Shetty once in his office.He is a very senior IAS officer handling a very powerful portfolio. He looks like a giant CEO with lot insights on human beings and their talent.I submitted a project proposal and he always encourages innovations which are practical.Machiavelli,Shakespeare ,Tiruvalluar and many more literary legends reflected the real life in literature through powerful insights.The subject is excellent and relevant. Students of GLIM are really lucky to attend such an excellent session by Mr.Ashok Vardan Shetty.

    P.R.Jenin Jose
    Managing Director,
    Empower India Projects Pvt.ltd

  4. I am interested in contacting Mr. Shetty and the possibility of collaborating on an article with him an an extension of an article he wrote in the The Hindu Times, “Imagination on the Prowl,” several years ago.

    Best wishes,

    Robert Bartholomew
    Auckland, New ZEaland

  5. P.Gopalan says:

    Mr Ashok Varadhan Shetty did graduation from govt college of Technology coimbatore & is from 1979 batch if I am right.

    I belong to 1978 batch. I took the technology root by doing M.Tech from IIT-M & landed as a Design Engineer in a reputed Private Ltd organization & now Heading R&D as GM & Chief development Engineer.

    I started as a follower & now become a leader.

    Most of his experience are same wherever you happen to be….!!!


  6. jayakumar says:

    sir i am working in RD dept i saw your name in GCT Coimbatore at the time of general assembly election

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