“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
Gandhi had been on the political stage for more than fifty years before three pistol shots put an end to his life at the early beginning of 1948. Two generations of Indian patriots were inspired by him apart from millions of others. He shook the British empire and was at the frontline of a peaceful revolution which he initiated by his vision to change the face of India, but Africa and Asia took his example. To the people of his own, millions, he was the Mahatma the great soul. Despite being ridiculed by many and considered to be suspicious, by the end of 1947 he raised the frontier of revolt against racial imperial domination and racial suppression. His ideas began to resonate in some of the finest minds in the world. “Generations to come, it may be”, Einstein had said of Gandhi in July 1944, “will scarcely believe that such one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon earth.”His life had been ongoing at the centre of drama which did not seem to stop but Gandhi himself was the least dramatic of men. Well balanced in many ways. He had neither the “popular” reputation of a heroic person nor the trappings of political eminence where efforts keeping up a public image not rarely hides a complex private image. He did not try to create an image as he was as he was. A man with steel-rimmed glasses, rough sandals, a toothless smile, a voice which rarely rose above a whisper and dressed in his loin cloth. He had an impressive humility. Gandhi’s, deepest strivings were spiritual. Not in the usual way of retiring in a cave for salvation in his country, but salvation to be achieved both within the context of meditation and expressing himself amidst the challenges of his time. He had not a complicated childhood. Thereafter molding experiences amidst the political struggles of South Africa and the struggle for freedom in India. The last lifting him at the world stage of triumph and tragedy.Gandhi’s leadership was effective in a particular set of circumstances and he moulded the requirements of his leadership to get both independence from England and a future for India. Besides the principle of non-violence never being compromised, a person like Gandhi most likely would have shown different aspects of leadership in different circumstances – dependent on the priorities and actions being required.
Gandhi’s life story was about action and positive change. Whilst he was succesful in some areas he failed in others, however he never gave up his efforts for improvement. We are all allowed to make errors as long as we learn from them. This is what he said on various occasions. This is part of life. This is part of leadership as well. Mistakes or errors from the past are lessons for the present in order to be successful in the future, as long as we approach them with honesty and humility. Life, politics and business are full of dynamic changes and we have to embrace those changes as long as the principles of approaching change are right at the centre of our thoughts and actions, who (if well-selected) find the future of the many who are involved.
“Action expresses priorities.”
We may hear at various times that actions speak louder than words; and Gandhi proved an example of this. More often action is far stronger than words though the power of words and language can be equal strong to create the action being required, the action of non – violence wich in the specific way Gandhi dealt with matters made the British empire decide to give up their aspirations on India. Action is an expression of our desires or intentions and the priorities of our actions is determined by our desires for the future, – in the role of leadership by the strong desire of what we want to achieve as part of our long-term plan’s and/or goals. The biggest challenge facing India was “callousness of intellectuals” as far as Gandhi concerned. He was far more concerned about building a sustainable society and not having independence only. Gandhi was proactive in his actions as well
“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.”
There is neither pride nor gain derived from violence as in the nature of things those manifestations will get back to us in a way which we not always are able to either sustain or endure. The corner-stone of Gandhi’s movement was non – coöperation and the principle was non-violence regardless the violence at times of an oppressive police force. When at some stage villagers in a rural area of his home land responded in a barbaric way too such police violence, Gandhi based on his conscience reflected that the key tune from the non-violence movement was violated in this act and he judged firmly against this. Gandhi once said: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.
Obviously this is true but the strict non violent approach is difficult to apply in any circumstances where a dictator stands up with a large armed following of people applying the same violent principles as the dictator himself. The only way to disarm a dictator is with the approach of non-cooperation by both the whole population and his generals, which is not the usual approach to be followed if we look at reality. Whilst the principle is excellent where leadership is able to enforce this as part of “self-rule”, disciplined as it needs to be, – circumstances may arise where such approach is not effective. In terms of international politics the “doctrine” of not attacking nations unless we are attacked is achievable, whilst accepting mass attacks by repetition of a different country or movement is the same as not protecting own citizens. On the other hand, like Gandhi once said: “The policy of retaliation has never succeeded.”
Character traits like humility, persistence, assertiveness and self-awareness are likewise important as a mindset willing to learn and to change through experience in the perceptions of Gandhi. In the discipline of this with the above notations incorporated people are ready for “self-rule”, as far as Gandhi concerned.
Value systems being properly assessed on their implementation were important in Gandhi’s way of thinking. For Gandhi, truth and morality was crucial. It was in and on its own linked with the concept of non-violence and spiritual renewal and it did determine his conduct in events to be absolutely right before proceeding. If he considered the conduct of certain events not to be right he would rather not act. Often as a result of this he called off protests or other actions.
The importance of vision:
“There’s nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can’t clearly articulate why we’re doing what we’re doing.” –James Kouzes and Barry Posner
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.” –Theodore Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame
Gandhi’s vision of the future was both spiritual, moral and practical, and it was through his consistent application of his vision that he led. He and his vision were one, as he lived it with clear articulation. When people have no self-respect others are able to rule them and so felt Gandhi about the Indians and he felt that they should approach their place towards British rule in a proactive way. What Gandhi emphasised was not only political independence from the British empire, but also spiritual renewal for the people of India and the means he emphasised this was of an absolute non-violent nature.His ideas were rooted both in the beliefs of the Gita’s with a Christian influence and in this he reached the hearts of millions. He not only tried to bring justice to the people of South Africa, but his endeavours in the direction of Indian Independence were based on justice as well. What he was unable to meet was his own deeply felt vision for a just society in his own country.
Based on the experience in both South Africa and with British rule, Gandhi felt that “the violence of all Governments” meant that the people should move to a situation in which they control their own destiny in small-scale groups and sort their issues out at this level. A concept which proved at a larger scale not to work far earlier in history when the Greek had their experiments with democracy. Gandhi did not argue for a plural democratic India. There is a plural society, when different sections of the community (eg the Indian, the Chinese, the European) do live side by side, within the same political unit. They do mix but do not necessarily combine. It was Nehru who was the driver of mass democracy in India.
The importance of Unity
If a leader and his followers pursue a shared goal with similar motivation to go ahead in positive action, to try with the similar positive energy and strategy to meet what they so dearly want to do, – they have the potential to make history as they will leave a legacy. This requires great team work and coaching, support and empowerment when people have been rallied to buy into the principle direction by own choice, to follow a common goal with diversity of talent and qualifications. Gandhi did understand the importance of unity, like Martin Luther King,jr, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama did understand the importance of unity. Regardless direction, we find the principle of keeping unity back in both the leaders with conscience and integrity, besides the leaders who are lacking those virtues.
The importance of integrity and respect for human rights.
Hitler was neither the only leader who understood the principle of unity nor was he last leader who was lacking integrity and respect for human life. This virtue does not come from physical capacity but from an indomitable will to show strength in this direction, being the most cohesive and enduring force of our unity in diversity, the most cohesive force and a test for civilization.
Gandhi expressed this differently in terms of respect for life. He said: “Power based on love is thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” Gandhi is correct in his assessment that if the arms race continues all over the world, with today more countries having access to weapons of mass destruction, the last resort is a slaughter such as has never happened in history and if there is a victory for a nation this victory will be a living death for the nation being able to claim victory, – if there is one. The approach of Gandhi which is based on respect for human life calls for unconditional action to refrain from violence. The concept is not the easiest, but the background is clear.
With all respect there is violence right at the heart of nature but humans have the ability to apply respect for life and restrict violence by noncooperation with evil. Whilst violent noncooperation has the potential to multiply evil, sometimes evil needs to be eradicated to prevent a “cancer” which could abolish life and respect for human rights & life.
Evil violence can’t be tolerated as this type of evil could multiply itself if the forces of noncooperation with such evil are not strong enough. History teaches us that leaders can stand up with both the worst intentions and followers and if evil does manifest as a result of this at a larger scale it needs to be resisted with right and proportionate means to stop it. Absolute non violence might be highly regarded in terms of values and whilst ignoring provocations can be helpful, non – violence regardless the circumstances at times could be the same as being indifferent to evil, – the last which is wrong.
Whilst Gandhi claims that the law of love governs the world, this is not the reality of day-to-day life. Respect for human life however is able to conquer hate, but the same respect for human life means as well the willingness to protect human life.
Integrity is a different entity, however whilst integrity and honesty based on conscious are part of strong leadership, integrity in the avenue of respect for human life embraces the quest for truth “to nourish the soul and life itself, as untruth tends to corrode it”.
Leaders are different
Even with some failings Gandhi is still considered as one of the most positive and effective leaders of our past century. He made a major step forward and broke with all existing perceptions by solving the problem India faced with a different level of thinking, – escaping from a war with the British empire and gaining independence by applying the principle of non violence and noncooperation. He considered the use of violence an obsolete paradime and proved to be effective in the way he approached the subject, – both with integrity and leadership. He was able to mobilise most of the Indian people at all levels of society and despite the many dilemma’s he achieved a quality movement of non- violence with a legacy all over the world, – last but not least affecting the movement for social justice in the US where Martin Luther King,jr was the leader in the early 1960ties. Gandhi had despite failures and despite the concept of non-violence not being applicable in all circumstances both at least great courage and vision, – both great compassion and integrity. He made a choice to be used for a purpose larger than his own self and he did this with both joy and balance of mind. He inspired people to follow his steps based on a foundation of trust and influence which had a long lasting impact in the last century. But even today!
If more people would buy into his principles we would indeed end up with a better world, however by free choice people do opt to create more arms and use more violence and at international level the principle of non-violence is only practical if all stakeholders buy into this principle. This does not happen as yet and is not likely to happen in the future as many countries live by the application of achievable politics, – and non-violence is still a dream. A dream however with great value as it asks from us to act with wisdom and restraint in a world potentially more dangerous than ever before. The measure of the man (his leadership) is what he achieved with this and tried to do without seeing “the promised land”. He did add value to life and we can’t say this from every leader.
The last principle of good leadership with all above ingredients included is perhaps indeed > to add value to life <.
Together with creating the margins to keep the mission going and to make “the dream” come true.
Paul Alexander Wolf
- The Art of Leadership and Lessons from the Past – Gandhi. (asgoped.wordpress.com)
- Mohanlal or Mohandas? Modi bungles up Mahatma Gandhi’s name! (rediff.com)
- Yet another slip up by Narendra Modi; refers to Mahatma Gandhi as ‘Mohanlal’ Karamchand Gandhi (dnaindia.com)
- Rahul is greater than Gandhi (enagar.com)
- Ramachandra Guha on why Gandhi remains globally relevant (bbc.co.uk)
- Another Gaffe: Modi Calls Mahatma Gandhi Mohanlal Instead of Mohandas (indiatimes.com)
- Advice From Gandhi More People Should Follow (arizonaatheist.blogspot.com)
- Yet another slip up by Modi (thehindu.com)
- Sri Sri & Indira Gandhi (artoflivingsblog.com)
- Kumar Vishwas challenges Narendra Modi to contest against him (dnaindia.com)
2 thoughts on “The Art of Leadership and Lessons from the Past – Gandhi.”
Gandhiji was a true ‘Management-Guru’.There was no difference in his precepts and practices.Before embarking on the full fledged mission of the independence struggle, he travelled miles on foot to establish a communication with the common man and also to have an insight as regards their problems and expectations.He was of a strong view that positive results can be accomplished only by being a part of people whom to lead. His sensitivity for the poor turned him into a ‘sage’ who adopted a very simple attire and made him an epitome of simplicity, integrity ,truth,non-violence, compassion, honesty and purity. He emphasised not only for purity of the Object/Aim but also for the purity of the means to achieve them. His great philosophy and deeds can not be confined in a paragraph. In fact, Gandhian Philosophy is like a great ocean…..the deeper we go….the more we find…..
Trilok Chandra Srivastava
Human-Rights and Gandhian Scholar
Greetings from Atlanta: City of Peace.
Hello Dr. Wolf.
This is an excellent essay on Gandhi’s life, work and perspectives. I really admire your depth of thinking and I thank you for your example in the peace community. I look forward to referring to this many more times in the future as I enjoy growing in the areas of a peacemaker too. Thanks for your articles!
John R. Naugle
Founder, President & CEO
Atlanta: City of Peace, Inc. (ACP)
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