Mahatma Gandhi was a unique individual. If you read up some of Gandhi’s famous quotes what will strike you is an amazing and unnatural depth in leadership styles in management of a nation’s mindset. The best demonstration of Gandhi’s leadership is his worldwide influence. American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Belo of East Timor, and countless other leaders have been deeply influenced by Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence. For example, in 1994, in a Gandhian spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela reached out to his adversaries the same ones who had tortured and imprisoned him to bring an end to apartheid rule.
Gandhi’s greatest legacy is the notoriety he achieved for advocating non-violence as a means of overcoming oppression. It is this belief that guides the actions of millions of average citizens who participate in civil society movements today across the globe. And therefore he is known as leader of leaders. Some of the leadership principles Gandhi used which influenced many people are as follows –
1) Leaders Should Be Examples for Others
“A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Gandhi demonstrated the power of his thoughts and actions. His physical actions were a true expression of his values and principles. He ate vegetarian food and went on long fasts to purify his body and his mind, as well as a form of social protest. He practiced the Indian idea of Ahimsa, which means “to do no harm.” He believed that all living being are connected, including all races of human beings as well as animals. That’s one of the primary reasons why he practiced both vegetarianism and non-violence. For me, self discipline is about controlling your actions and your habits to align them with your thoughts and your values. “Thinking about doing good” is not good enough. You must also take action to do well.
Whenever something appealed to Gandhi, even as a boy, his first impulse had always been to try it out for himself. When he went to England, after the first few months he decided to become an English gentleman. He engaged tutors in French and proper speaking, bought expensive tailored clothes, invested in violin lessons and tried to learn the Foxtrot. But the role of the gentleman failed to meet his needs. The gap, he sensed, between his inner and outward self was widening into a chasm. After about three months Gandhi awoke abruptly from this dream of grandeur. How could changing the way he dressed, make him anything more than what he already was? To change his life he had to change his way of thinking, and that was something that went deeper than any differences in custom or culture. Better to be true to one’s self than to try and act like someone else, “If my character made a gentleman of me,” he wrote, “so much the better. Otherwise I should forgo the ambition.”
When once an obviously well off missionary came to Gandhi to get his advice on how to help the outcast people of Indian villages. Gandhi’s answer challenged the very basis of his life. “We must step down from our pedestals and live with them“ not as outsiders but as one of them in every way sharing their burdens and sorrows. ”This is the heart of Gandhi’s approach. He taught, above all, by personal example. He went and lived with the Harijans: and to encourage them to improve their health and sanitation, he himself became their servant. Hundreds of his followers made their homes in poor villages throughout India, living with the people, teaching and encouraging them by their own example to release themselves from the bondage of ignorance, squalor and their own superstitions. In the course of his life he created a number of communities or ashrams so people could learn from his daily example, how to make love and non-violence the daily basis of their life. For the first fifteen years he was at Sabarmati, which he gave over to Harijan service and then chose carefully the site for Sevagram seven miles from civilization in a part of India which is unbearably hot. Most Indians had to live in this climate and that is why he preferred it for his ashram rather than a cool Himalayan hill station or a fertile tract along the Ganges.
He may have hoped for isolation but in a few years there were so many people walking to the ashram that by their feet they made the road. He received so much mail that the government was obliged to open a post office there. So many telegrams came that a telegraph office was set up. Sevagram became a throbbing bee-hive of activity where all the world could see what it means to do even the smallest daily acts in love. “You must watch my life, how I live, eat, sit, talk, behave in general, the sum total of all those in me is my religion.”
During the thirties a woman came with her son to Sevagram wanting Gandhi to tell her son to stop eating sugar. Gandhi told them to come a week later. When they came, he told the boy to stop eating sugar because it was not good for him. He then joked with the boy, gave him a hug and sent him on his way. When the mother asked why he hadn’t said that on their first visit, Gandhi smiled and said, “Last week, I too was eating sugar.”
2) Leaders Should Stand Up for What They Believe In Through Peaceful Means
“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Gandhi showed the world that you didn’t have to have a title, or authority or a military to change the world and make a difference. All you needed to do was believe in yourself, and to act according to your highest values. He demonstrated that oppressed peoples should not put up with their condition. They should stand up for their rights, but they should do it in a peaceful manner. Hate does not overcome hate. War does not overcome war. He was an example that peace can overcome hate. Interestingly, social leaders who read his teachings also implemented his peaceful strategies of protest. He inspired Martin Luther King Jr in the United States, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Benigno Aquino of the Philippines and many other social leaders.
3) Definite of Purpose
One of the main traits that Mahatma possessed was his ‘definite of purpose’. His vision and how he was to achieve this, was the guiding light for the choices that he made. His main goal was to set India free and to fight for the rights of the repressed, through the use of non-violent means. His total commitment to this at times caused great tribulations for him and his people, but his principle that, non-violence was the correct way to accomplish the goal of freeing India was always at the fore front of everything he did.
Christ gave me the message Gandhi gave me the method. – Martin Luther King
4) Related To People
He made an effort 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. He did not put himself on a pedestal and segregate himself from his people. He had great empathy. He did not let his ego come between him and his people. He was approachable to his people, he connected to his masses because he loved and took a stand for them. He opened his heart to them and was able to connect to them because he was authentic and he was able to show them his vision and his belief because when he spoke he spoke from the heart.
5) Able To 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.
6) Stop Blaming & Take Accountability
We live in a blame society. We blame the fast food chains for producing junk food that makes people obese. But we ignored the fact that people willingly subject themselves to eating such food. We blame the Internet for being a source of violence and pornography for the kids but we forget that it’s the responsibility of parents to monitor and teach their children the right values in interpreting such information. We argue that our current predicament is a result of a lack of certain resources, overlooking the fact that those resources are not necessary to improve our situation in the first place! In the midst of this blaming culture, it’s easy to possess a distorted view of the issue and fail to notice the essence of the problem, isn’t it? The problem never gets resolved. It just gets bigger. This is where I think we can learn from Gandhi. Even though he was involved in the blame game earlier part of his life, he subsequently took accountability for it. His enlightenment started from the realization that no matter how his environment changed, if his mentality, attitude and internal mettle were still the same, he would never be able to break through the chain. And when he stopped blaming, the piece of filth clogging his visibility removed itself, allowing him to see the crux of his problem, himself again.
7) “Be quick, be brief, be gone!”
Personal meetings with Gandhi were very short, generally lasting a couple of minutes. However, in those minutes people felt that Gandhi made them feel as if they were the only person in the world that Gandhi would have liked to talk at that time.
I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others. – Mohandas Gandhi
Gandhi was not a very skilled public speaker; generally he was believed to be quite average. On the other hand, he was an exceptional listener of both the articulated and the unsaid. He seemed to be practicing “seeing with your ears.”
It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
8) Leaders should Have a Good Sense of Humour
“If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Leadership does not mean being serious and busy compromising laughter and fun. Serious-at-work does not mean suppressing laughter and fun. Sometimes, when we get too serious, people fail to get our message as well as our objective. If we keep on sticking to rules all the time compromising better relationship with people will exhaust positive energy at work. Mostly, people want to be inspired based on enthusiasm than fear; to be coached than to be drove; to look up to someone who helps to fix the breakdown than to fix the blame for the breakdown; and to have a leader that says “Let’s go!” instead of “Go!”.
A good leader makes his people love to reach their goals by having laughter and fun at work from time to time. Gandhi had this.
Cindrella D’Mello is Assistant Professor at St. Teresa Institute of Education, Mumbai. This article has been taken from MkGandhi.org.)