Crisis and leadership – Lessons from the Mahatma


Mahatma Gandhi can teach us countless lessons on leadership. His entire ‘tenure’ as a leader was during India’s crisis years, those years when India aspired and worked towards freedom from British occupation.

Gandhi’s entire life story is about action, to bring about positive change. He succeeded and failed in what he sought to do, but always moved forward. Today is an appropriate time to relate to Gandhi’s leadership qualities and style and apply them to the ever-changing environments in the business and corporate world.

One of the things that many leaders fail to recognize is that leadership is contextual. Something that works in one situation may boomerang in another. Gandhi taught us that leaders need to have the ability and the vision to adapt their style to suit a variety of situations and optimize their ways to maximize impact.

Here are the 5 key implications of Gandhi’s traits in management:

Reinvent – Gandhi created his own rules to deal with various unprecedented situations. He invented new ways when he knew that the old will fail. A fast, a march and non-violence were his various weapons. Similarly, leaders in today’s times need not be fixated with the conventional ways of doing business. Changing existing paradigms is the name of the game.

Clarity of goals – Gandhi aimed at a common agenda that translated into a universal motivation for India. His goals united the country in an unparalleled fashion and inspired the ordinary man to take up the agenda as his own. Leaders today need to understand that the organizational agenda has to be single-minded and transparent. Pulling together each employee requires an honest purpose that then translates itself into achievable goals for various levels and functions within the organization.

Transcend adversaries – Gandhi faced his own demons and overcame them from time to time. Speaking in public was one of his main weaknesses but the world knows him as one of the best public speakers of all times. Leaders today need to be ready to accept their weaknesses and build on them. Gandhi showed us that even the best leaders make mistakes and may not anticipate well. The difference between the good and the great is the acceptance of those mistakes and learning from them.

Credibility – Crisis or no crisis, credibility is a non-negotiable trait of a great leader. It includes a legacy built on honesty and trust. In fact during uncertain times a credible leader is able to take his team along rather easily because she already enjoys a well-established foundation of integrity and self-discipline. Gandhi’s intent and actions proved his credibility beyond doubt and rewarded him with a nation full of ardent followers.

Leading through managing – Management and leadership, while used in lieu of each other very often, actually represent two very different initiatives. Gandhi managed India’s freedom movement at one end of the spectrum, while at the other end he was leading and reshaping the average Indian’s mind-set. This in tandem gave way to a novel revolution. Similarly a great leader needs to appreciate the difference between setting a new organizational direction and inspiring people to accept that direction and becoming a reckoning force. It is not just the organizational goal that changes things; it is about how every employee resonates with that goal and contributes towards it as their own.

Business gurus in India have on and off spoken about Mahatma Gandhi being the role model for corporate leaders across generations. The father of the nation is the evergreen master-strategist, an outstanding leader and someone whose ideas corporate India can embrace and emulate. Gandhi’s ideas are particularly relevant at this sensitive juncture India, its businesses and its people are going through.

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