10 Leadership Lessons to be learned from Mahatma Gandhi

Few men have ever had as much of an effect on our world as Mohandas Gandhi. He was charismatic, deliberate and analytical. He was a politician, a writer, an intellectual and an orator. Without a doubt he was a complex man, believing in simple things. Gandhi’s leadership role was extremely complex. Knowing that violence only begets violence, he began practicing passive resistance, Satyagraha. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader that brought one of the world’s most powerful nations to its knees by using peace, love, and integrity as his method for change.

Gandhi would teach us countless lessons about life, leadership and much more. He was naturally charismatic. He had a “feel” for his Follower’s needs which was uncannily correct. But he did develop formal tools and methods to become a better Leader over time. He had a rock-solid value system from which all his activities stemmed, he wanted to make major changes at every turn in his life, and he had a totally interdependent relationship with his followers. As a man of action, he used the 4 E’s throughout his life: Envision, Enable, Empower, and Energize. Although there are many traits and behaviors that caused the success of Gandhi, the one most relevant even today are:

1. Leadership by examples
Gandhi’s greatest ability was to walk his talk at every level and in every way. India continues to be a nation of many diverse nationalities but never did they so unanimously identify with another leader as they identified with Gandhi and this was across classes and communities which were even more sharply divided than they are these days. He practiced what he preached at every possible level. Be it how he dressed like the poorest Indian with a hand-woven cotton cloth that barely covered his body and had the simplest of watches and glasses. When it came to personal possessions, unlike today’s leaders he had the barest of the minimum.

2. Treatment to others
His letters and writings to other great leaders in India, the world and even to young children never had a patronizing or “holier-than-thou” element but always looked at everyone as equals. Leaders who have put their interests over the organizations they created have prospered as individuals but always at the cost of the institution they built or worked for. He tried to truly understand his people. He spoke from their point of view…from what motivated them. It has been said that when he spoke publicly to large audiences it was like he was speaking to you individually.

3. Persistence
A critical success for Gandhi was the support he got across the nation and in the international community. A significant part of this was due to his extraordinary persistence once he had articulated his vision and his methods. His determination in following through on what he preached was often at a cost to his own well-being.

4. Constant Growth
Gandhi would understand the importance of continual growth in his life. Despite being an accomplished leader in his community, he continually sought out greater understanding through much study of religious scripture. As a leader, one must also understand the need for constant growth.

5. Strength Is Not Shown Through Muscle Power
Gandhi displayed great strength, not through using his strength to force others to bend to his will, but by using nonviolent means to achieve his goals. As a leader, it is a very simple matter to leverage on your position or your authority to coerce people to bend to your will. However, it is your true strength as a leader that can persuade and convince people to follow you with their hearts. Learn to use respect to win people over, instead of using power to bend people to your will. The force of power never wins against the power of love.

6. An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind
History can attest to the fact that most human conflicts have been as a result of a stubborn approach by our leaders. Our history would turn out for the better if our leaders could just learn that most disputes can be resolved by showing a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and by using diplomacy and compassion. No matter where we live, what religion we practice or what culture we cultivate, at the heart of everything, we are all humans. We all have the same ambitions and aspirations to raise our family and to live life to its fullest. Our cultural, religious and political differences should not provide the backbone to invoke conflicts that can only bring sorrow and destruction to our world.

7. Become The Change, We Want To See
A great leader always leads with an exemplary life that echoes his ideals. Mahatma Gandhi sacrificed his thriving law practice and adopted a simple life to live among the millions who lived in poverty during his freedom struggle. Today, we see modern leaders cajoling the masses with promises that they never intend to keep – let alone practicing what they preach in their own lives. One cannot bring world peace to all unless a leader demonstrates peaceful acts of kindness daily.

8. Reasonable
Even after stating that India would be divided over his dead body, he realized that partition was inevitable as the only solution to the Hindu-Muslim divide, and accepted it. Although Gandhi was a man of faith, he did not create any specific dogma for his followers. Gandhi believed in the unity of all mankind under one God and preached Hindu, Muslim and Christian ethics.

9. Strategist
Ideas travel very fast. Gandhi is a fascinating figure. He was a wonderful strategist, showman, and leader. He had an amazing public relations network and a very good relationship with the press then. For instance, the Dandi march, if Gandhi had gone there quietly, it would just not have made an impact. He knew he had to create an event to make an impact and so he took his followers on a march that stirred the popular imagination of the time. He had a total understanding of the human psychology and used it along with his public relation skills.

10. Discipline
Mahatma believed that challenging his self-discipline heightened his commitment to achieving his goals. He was a focused leader that had a “Do or Die” attitude. He ‘would free India or die in the process. Mahatma would do extraordinary things to improve his discipline and his commitment.

Implication of his traits in management today

Management is best an expertise. Do what others cannot so you gain authority over them. So, to be a good leader you need to be very skillful to construct bridges of empathy with people. Else one will never be in their shoes and they will not follow because you don’t know them and they can feel it. This is also why most people find it easier to be managers. Management can be taught. Leadership must be cultivated. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader who kept working on himself till he became the man worthy of gaining a country’s following. He took 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.” A manager would try to please in order to diffuse a situation. A leader will not worry about creating a situation.

1. Reinvent
Gandhi reinvented the rules of the game to deal with a situation where all the available existing methods had failed. He broke tradition. He understood that you cannot fight the British with force. Resource constraint did not bother him. Have the courage to invent the means. Change the paradigm on how we can run.

2. Clarity of Goals and Definite Purpose
He aimed at a common agenda. That was the motivation. He suggests that India needs to fundamentally change the way it can grow. He unleashed the power of ordinary people in the country to fight under a unifying goal. If one can understand the motive of your opponent’s leadership; one can find ways to tackle it.

3. Adopt Styles To Suit The Culture (Flexibility)
We keep feeling that models of people in the West are the ones we should follow. In a way, we remain subservient to the leadership values and models of the West. But since the last two to three years these models are being doubted even in the West, and so it is time for India to look within itself for leadership examples. The country today stands divided on whether what he did was good or bad. There was neither a leader before him nor one after him who could unite us all and bring us out to the streets to demand what rightfully ours. Gandhi advocated having leadership styles that were dependent on the circumstances. When Gandhi was in South Africa, he launched his protests in a suit and a tie. But when he came back to India, he thought of khadi and launched non-violent protests on a greater scale. At times Gandhi had to be quite a flexible leader. At times he had to change his plans around to counter British rules and tactics.

4. People’s Empowerment
According to him, Gandhi’s style of leadership as applied to corporate India would involve making even the lowest person in the organization believe in it and the significance of his contribution towards it. In business, empowerment is all about making sure everyone is connected to the organization’s goals. Gandhi has a way of doing that: making sure that everyone in the cause is connected to the goal. Gandhi’s example as a manager and leader is extraordinary. There was no one like him who could get people together to embrace his vision as their vision. His belief was probably the most important factor in Mahatma’s success. He not only had self-belief but he had the ability to inspire the Indian people to believe in themselves and their goal of freedom, even through all the hardships that they faced. One of Mahatma’s beliefs was Willpower Overcomes Brut Force.

5. Social Progress
Leadership is a necessary part of the social process. Any group, association, organization or community functions the way its leader leads it. It is true in the collectivistic cultures like India where people follow the path shown by the great people. Leadership is an integral part of work and social life. In fact, in any given situation where a group of people wants to accomplish a common goal, a leader may be required. Leadership behavior occurs in almost all formal and informal social situations. Even in a non-formal situation such as a group of friends, some sort of leadership behavior occurs wherein one individual usually takes a lead in most of the group activities.

6. Transcend Adversaries
The first time Mahatma got up to speak in court when he was working as a lawyer, he could not speak one word out loud due to fear. This caused him great humiliation. Even though he failed miserably, those failures eventually lead to him becoming one of the best public speakers of all time. There were quite a number of times Gandhi failed; each time he used the failure to improve his leadership skills and to improve himself and the task at hand. Mahatma shows us that the even the best leaders still fail and make mistakes. He also shows that the difference between good leaders and great leaders is that the great leaders acknowledge and learn from their mistakes.

7. Inspire and Motivate
A leader must have the ability to move the masses; it’s not just true for political leaders, but also organizational leaders. Simply lead with your heart and show that you actually believe in the purpose of what you stand for. Emotions are contagious, both that of optimism & pessimism and must be guarded in public. Even in crucial and uncertain times, it’s important to keep positive emotions. While it is important to communicate reality, it’s equally necessary to give a sense of hope. Leaders must encourage a culture of pride in the employees; they should be able to harness the collective creative energies of an organization. A leader must have the ability to bring out the best in others, to enable others to act. When the employees feel that they “only work here”, the leadership has typically failed.

8. Credibility
Credibility is the single most important quality of a good leader; it is the foundation. A foundation that is built on honesty, integrity, and self-discipline. Employees look up the leaders as the role models, or simply the person who brings meaning to their daily job. If the leaders can’t practice the solid values they preach, their ideas will be shrugged off. Every leader must realize that employees are constantly observing and analyzing their actions, evaluating consistency between their work and their deeds, judging their integrity. Leaders must exercise self-discipline by suppressing their own personal egos or emotions.

9. Long lasting relationships
In today’s era of communication, relationships are not only important but crucial. The opinion of every person counts. A leader’s job is not only limited to planning, creating strategies and organizational structure but to make sure that they are establishing the kind of personal relationships that employees wish to seek. Employees must find their leaders accessible, they like to hear from them first hand rather than through their managers. The open-door policy should not be used as a mere buzz word.

10. Lead through managing people
Truly, management is completely different from leadership. Like opposite ends of a coin. While Gandhi might have been ‘managing’ the Indian freedom movement with a troop of comrades on clockwork precision, he was actually leading a change of mindset that effected change in everyone who participated with him. Leaders need to understand the importance of getting on board the people whom they are managing and driving them to bring the change. A leader alone can not bring the desired effect, it is the mass which brings the on ground effect. Like Bapu, today’s leaders also need to manage their organization and lead the change.

Gandhi’s entire life story is about action, to bring about positive change. He both succeeded and failed in what he sought to do, but he always moved forward and he never gave up the quest for improvement, both social and spiritual, and both for individuals and for the Nation as a whole. Today, Gandhi is remembered not only as a political leader but as a moralist who appealed to the universal conscience of mankind. He changed the world.

Gandhi’s effect on the world was and still is immense. He also gave to the world a way of thinking about and acting upon value systems that profoundly influenced such important figures as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. From a practical viewpoint, his focus on “Swadeshi” formed the core of India’s industrial policy. Gandhi’s success and continued reputation make him a leader worthy to learn from. All of us who aspire to lead ethically may never “be like him”.

Gandhi’s relevance is more so today as much more are educated, articulate and ambitious. In such times, leaders can lead only if they not only have their content right but are also better people with a vision for themselves and others. He led by example and never preached what he himself was not willing to do. He was charismatic, but he was also deliberate and analytical. He was a transformational and transactional leader too.

Mahatma Gandhi taught us that we can bring harmony to our world by becoming champions of love and peace for all. If all of us do our bit, to be like him in every relationship we forge at work and elsewhere, we have no doubt that our successors will inherit a better world.

You can manage people but that will only be because you have the authority to do so bestowed upon you. But you can lead from anywhere so that your influence infects others and regardless of your position or authority, they follow what you say. The leadership skills that he showed stemmed from his focus on a definite purpose, discipline, and his belief systems. Business gurus in India are talking about a new role model: Mahatma Gandhi. The Father of the Nation is now being held up as the master strategist, an exemplary leader, and someone whose ideas and tactics corporate India can emulate. Gandhi’s ideas are of particular relevance to India at this juncture to become an economic superpower.