Leaders don’t do different things, they do things differently. And adversity is the biggest teacher of all times. Till now, the COVID-19 crisis has taught many things to the common man, organizations, governments, and undoubtedly, leaders around the world. Initially, the leaders were caught off guard by this pandemic, but steadily they are working towards finding solutions to these new world problems.
Today, on 2nd October, as we celebrate the birth anniversary of two of the most iconic leaders in the history of India, Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri, here are some of the learnings that can teach us to lead amid a crisis. The way they dealt with adversity and encouraged people to stay true to the cause while leading by example, is something that stands true even today!
Mastering the art of effective communication in crisis
One of the most important learnings for leaders and organizations has been the importance of clear, effective, and empathetic communication in a crisis. The reason why Gandhi was effective in mobilizing millions in India and around the world was because he was an effective communicator. Whether it was his speeches that rallied hundreds of thousands to take on Satyagraha (fighting with peace), or his influencing world leaders, scientists, actors, writers and many highly influential persons of repute through his habit of writing letters and holding meetings, he knew how to amplify his message across the world. Mastering the art of effective communication has become one of the most important requisites for leaders when leading in a crisis and Gandhi’s life and works are replete with examples as to how a leader needs to communicate with his people and organizations in order to lead them through tough times.
Keeping up with patience to fight any crisis
If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm. – Mahatma Gandhi
If you remember, during the British rule, the British officials imposed a ridiculous salt tax. This really moved Mahatma Gandhi and he wanted to act on it and wanted a drastic change. In this situation, Mahatma Gandhi chose patience and non-violence. The world was stunned when Mahatma Gandhi, along with thousands of followers initiated a long walk of 390 kms from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi which took 24 days to reach by foot. Famously known as the Dandi March or the Salt March, this literally changed the history for India.
This patient, non-violent way of protest actually ignited souls; it forced the world to watch India, and condemn Britishers. Historians have argued that Salt March acted like a catalyst which ignited a million sparks all across India. More than 80,000 people were arrested and millions of people joined the freedom movement for the first time.
Being patient in most provoking situations, whether it be the huge number of people he met daily, or the alien government he had to deal with, is a great learning leaders can inculcate from Mahatma Gandhi. The life of Mahatma Gandhi indicates that to attain a goal you need a goal and persistence. He believed in hard work, learning from mistakes and above all, being patient.
Walking the talk and leading by example
When we think of Mahatma Gandhi, we immediately have this image of him in a dhoti and shawl. Throughout his life, he had also changed his diet and attachment towards any material possessions. It helped him communicate his message more forcefully. While today’s leaders need not engage in any display of piety, it is useful to practice what you preach. Even as buzzwords like empathy and human connection become critical in a remote working culture, it should really be exemplified and practiced in workplace behavior.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” he once said. At a time when businesses are faced with a tough challenge of navigating an economic crisis, Gandhi’s words of wisdom ring louder than ever before.
Lal Bahadur Shastri
Becoming the unifying force
The former Prime Minister was in the office for a very brief period of time but that didn’t stop him from leaving an impact or leading by example. He showed that just because you’re the head of an organization, you’re not entitled to anything or everything. Shastri believed in this and treated everyone at par in his ministry and got everyone together at the time of crisis. After the sudden death of India’s first prime minister and an attack by the neighboring country, there was a scarcity of food grains in the country. It was him who handled the crisis and got everyone together. He gave the slogan Jai Jawan Jai Kisan to enthuse the soldiers to defend India and simultaneously cheered farmers to do their best to increase the production of food grains to reduce dependence on imports.
Leading from the front & by example
The ‘little dynamo of a man’ was a leader who considered hard work as equal to prayer. He played a crucial role in the governance of the country when the Congress Government was formed in 1946. He worked as Parliamentary Secretary in his home State of Uttar Pradesh and later rose to the position of Home Minister. He held several portfolios in the Union Cabinet – Minister for Railways; Minister for Transport and Communications; Minister for Commerce and Industry; Home Minister. He resigned his post as Minister for Railways following a railway accident in which many lives were lost. The gesture was greatly appreciated by the Parliament and the country.
As Home Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri was assigned several troubleshooting missions, including the controversy simmering in Assam, the crisis in Punjab, dealing with increasing language hostilities in the then Madras state and of course, 'managing the implementation of the Emergency in the period of Chinese aggression in 1962'.
Known to lead from the front in times of crisis, he never ran away from challenges and always faced them with great grit and rigor. When Shastri suggested cutting down on meals when there was a food shortage in India, he skipped two meals while he suggested others skipped one. Similarly, he never promoted the idea of luxuries because he considered himself a ‘government servant’, He bought a car on loan because his family forced him, but apart from that, he lived a simple life, staying true to his words.