Management Lessons from Indian Freedom Struggle- Part II

On October 2, the world celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. United Nations as a tribute to his principles has declared it as an International day of Non-violence. The world definitely misses his leadership and wishes in the present environment there were more leaders of his caliber and principles.

I wrote an article to celebrate India’s Independence Day on 15 August, titled “Management Lessons from Indian Freedom Struggle”. The post had covered the leadership style of Mahatma Gandhi and the lessons which the present day corporate world can learn from it. The article got a lot of positive response and quite a few readers wanted to know more. As a mark of my respect to Gandhi’s leadership, I am writing here about some of the other lessons which we can learn.

1.      Non-violent Behavior

Mahatma Gandhi practiced the principle of non-violence.  His viewpoint was that non-violence should be practiced in thought, speech and behavior. His was against verbal abuse and physical harm. His statement was “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” Wrong words spoken or harmful actions done to others definitely causes a lot of damage to self and others.

In the present world, violent speech and action is being perceived as a sign of strength. The corporate world is dealing with workplace bullying, abuse and harassment. Nearly 50% of the employees in various countries are reporting to some kind of harassment, and in 10% cases the victims need medical help. I would like people to remember Gandhi ji’s statement “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

To make this world a better place to live for all, we need to learn to refrain from all violent behavior. As he said Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

2.      Ethical Leadership Matters

When I view Gandhi ji’s principles of fighting on grounds of non-violence in light of the world events unfolding at that time, my respect for him grows. From 1920’s to 1940’s the western world was reeling under the damages caused by World War I & II. On one side the world saw Hitler as a leader whose leadership style was based on hatred, fear and violence. On the other the world saw Gandhi who preached love, non-violence and tolerance. The difference could not be starker. I think the world leaders sympathies and support was with India after World War II, as most of them had seen enough damage.

The world after over 60 years of their deaths, regards Gandhi as a positive leader of the world, and Hitler is considered a negative leader. This shows that a leader leaves his/her footprints for a long time for others to follow.

Ethical leadership matters in the present world. Stakeholders, customers, employees and public at large expect the CXO’s to preach and practice ethical and honest behavior.  As Gandhi said – “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth”.

3.      Culture is Within You

Respect for Gandhi’s principles in the world indicates that a leader’s skin color or religion does not matter. Leadership traits and values are respected by the following generations.

In the present world we see a lot of intolerance and fights for supremacy based on race, color, religion and language. Sometimes learning another’s language and mannerisms also can cause a loss of self-esteem and significant disputes. For example, when Indian call center industry started, the call center agents were butt of all jokes. People were saying they were aping westerners to earn money. There was a cry from some Indian political parties and religious outfits that youngsters are giving up their own culture and adopting western culture.        

Gandhi ji had said – “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” One would not perceive Gandhi ji less of an Indian because he had an excellent command on English language. Learning a language or accent does not change the heart or soul of people. People should be proud that they retain their culture and identity while understanding the international community. That is the true perspective of being a global citizen and provides a competitive edge to the country as a whole.

4.      Be Committed & Humble

Gandhi ji showed the world how to be committed to principles while facing a daunting task. In his life he faced despair and heartache very many times, but even in time of great difficulty he retained his wacky sense of humor. He was once asked by a journalist what he thought of the western civilization. Gandhi ji responded –“That is a good idea”. He took the task of fighting for India’s independence seriously but not himself.  

We take ourselves very seriously and are affronted when someone criticizes our efforts. However, in the face of criticism we are disheartened and discontinue our efforts. In the corporate world we need leaders and employees who are committed to principles and strategies without being egoistic.  As Gandhi had said- “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” Instead of fighting for credit, stay committed to the task at hand.

5.      Management & Execution

Mahatma Gandhi always stated- treat your enemy with respect and courtesy. Fight in respect to the issue and not the person. Therefore, a tribute to his memory cannot be completed without acknowledging the positives of the British Empire.

The British Empire, at its peak was the largest empire of the world. It controlled a quarter of land on Earth and a quarter of the world population. The most known phrase was- “The sun never sets on British Empire”, as it spanned the globe.

England was and is a small country and it could control India, a country multiple times larger in size for over two centuries. It clearly reflected the management, administration and execution capability of the British Empire.

I would say the East India Company was one of the first global multinationals which played a dominant role in history.  The company ran a global setup without telecommunication and technology facilities available to the present day managers.  There are a number of lessons which the present day managers can learn from history. British management and execution capacity was faultless.

My heartfelt respect to the man, who won the biggest battle against the mightiest empire without throwing a single stone, be it verbal or physical. A final salute to Mahatma Gandhi, the man who showed the world how to lead from the heart, with generosity of spirit, and an indomitable will.

Please join me in Gandhi ji’s prayer for peace.

Wishing you all a Happy Gandhi Jayanti and International Non-Violence Day.