Article: Be the change you wish to see: Leadership lessons from Gandhi


Be the change you wish to see: Leadership lessons from Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi, the world icon, continues to inspire us with his life-changing lessons. On the occasion of Gandhi's birthday, we present some of the lessons that business leaders should imbibe.
Be the change you wish to see: Leadership lessons from Gandhi

On October 2, the nation celebrates Gandhi Jayanti on account of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. But we tend to forget the man who shares his birthday with Gandhi and who did contribute to the growth story of India. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of independent India, led the nation successfully through the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965. He brought into vogue the slogan ‘'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan" (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer), and discerned the need for self-sustenance as the mainstay to build a strong nation. Shastri formulated the strategies for the Green Revolution in order to boost agriculture output, which were taken up in Indira Gandhi’s tenure. 

The two great men, apart from sharing their birthdays, had several qualities in common and are among the most revered leaders of the country. Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed his career as a barrister and decided to strive for the freedom of the country, having experienced the sufferings of Indians from close corners. Lal Bahadur Shastri filled the post-Nehru void who was known for his policies such as accountability and ownership of responsibility. 

Gandhi as a CEO!

Would the father of the nation make a great CEO today? How would he run a fast-growing and highly competitive business? Not only was Gandhi a moral and spiritual man, but also a pragmatic manager and an agent for change, argues Alan Axelrod in his book, "Gandhi, CEO: 14 Principles to Guide & Inspire Modern Leaders." Axelrod makes a case for his leadership that he believes would work for a business enterprise today. Business is first and foremost about people, and Gandhi saw every problem as a human problem, much like a great leader who takes care of each employee's needs on the one hand and make decisions impacting millions the next, argues Axelrod. The point Axelrod makes here is that Gandhi didn't actually appeal to the British government but to humanity at large by doing the right thing, and thereby forced the government out of the way.

M.K Gandhi was not only among the greatest leaders of India, but he is also hailed as a world icon. Gandhi officially held no position of authority but succeeded to move a country to free itself from British rule by adopting a strategy of peaceful protest with a slew of masterstroke initiatives.

His style of leadership wasn’t probably uniquely eccentric, but the level of persistence that solidified his action was for sure inimitable.  Similarly, building a successful business is an uphill task which warrants persistence. To become successful, employers and employees must hold true to their dream and keep pursuing it even in the face of adversity. Sticking to a plan to achieve a set goal is the single most important thing for a business to pursue and set on a path to achieving its dreams.

Gandhi’s style was methodical and surely captivating. Beyond being a politician, he was a writer and an intellectual of top-notch caliber. Gandhi was known to be a complex man but he believed in simple things. His style of passive resistance earned him laurels from across the world.  He knew that violence only begets violence and that's why he began practising passive resistance.

Gandhi imbibed a firm value system from which all his activities deflected. He was known for taking a stand on issues.

He said, “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”  In business, saying No is a desired thing on several occasions especially in the era of initiative overloads.

The Lessons

In the context of a business enterprise, Gandhi’s style of leadership would involve making people of the lower stratum in the organization to realize the worth of his contribution towards achieving the larger organizational goal. He would connect everyone to the organization’s goals by empowering them. He not only had self-belief but he had the ability to inspire the people to believe in themselves despite all the hardships. Gandhi practiced what he preached at every possible level --be it his scantily-clad dress with a hand-woven cotton cloth or his simplicity of a common man.  India is a country of diverse nationalities but never ever the people of the nation did live so cooperatively with a high regard for Gandhi from people across classes and communities.

Any corporation with the Gandhi at the helm would have stood for trust and transparent to both its customers and employees. As the head of the organization, Gandhi would have focused a lot on training and continuous learning. His corporation would logically have been an innovative company driven by research and development, which would always look to do things differently keeping a focus on the future. These are the values organizations across the world vie to uphold today. Mahatma Gandhi, irrespective of whether he succeeded or failed in what he sought to do, he always marched ahead and he never gave up the quest for improvement for the nation.

Gandhi is followed not only as a politician but as a moralist who appealed to the universal conscience of mankind. He changed the world.

Gandhi resigned to his law practice and adopted a simple life to live among the millions who lived in poverty during the independence struggle. In a business environment where change is the only constant, Gandhi would been the change that his business would have wished to see.

He may have preached these ideals in another era, but his legacy remains relevant today in every sphere of life including in corporations that operate in a competitive environment.

To conclude, both Shastri and Gandhi worked to resolve conflict at all times and make the world a better place. Both these leaders present lessons for business leaders and managers to think about.

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Topics: Leadership

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