Case Study: Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi was a visionary leader from India who made lasting impacts on the lives of many people. Initially, he studied law in England, and then spent over two decades advocating the rights of immigrants in South Africa. He returned to India in 1914 and became the leader of the Indian National Congress. His style of leadership and approach towards conflict resolution was a class of its own. He propagated non-violence and civil disobedience as a means to freedom from the rule of Great Britain, which had colonized the Indian sub-continent. Even these non-violent acts got him imprisoned on various occasions. Ultimately, his efforts, paired with certain contemporaries of that region lead to the creation of India in 1947. In 1948, he was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic.
One of the most characteristic methods adopted by Gandhi to voice his political concerns was the Hunger Strike. He took it as a peaceful political action resorted to force administrators to meet their legitimate demands. Hunger strike is also synonymous in concept to the fast that is practiced in many theological circles, primarily for religious reason and spiritual purification. Mahatma Gandhi was the first South Asian to use the hunger strike as a political weapon in perusal of his principles. His philosophy of ‘Satyagraha’ was the impetus for these actions. This primarily referred to as a passive resistance in the conflict against the forces of evil.
He used fasting as a tool, and considered that it was possible to increase the conscience of evil forces by using this method. This would also help influence that segment of the society into getting up, which would normally stay quite. Gandhi resorted to hunger strike many times to fight what he considered as evils. These included Hindu-Muslim communalism, the rights of the untouchables, and unacceptable laws enforced by the British in South Asia.
Gandhi’s principles for leadership
Gandhi’s ways were unique yet very effective. What was most impressive and unique was the fact that he was not a strong and mighty figure of authority. Gandhi represented the commons, and voiced their concerns as if they were his own. His simplicity, honesty and conviction were the hallmark of the leadership that he envisaged within himself. Modern theories of leadership may find it very difficult to find a parallel to the school of thought that Gandhi advocated. His methods were easily to explain, but difficult to follow. Gandhism was not just a political construct; it was a phenomenon that is very closely associated with the type of personality that he embodied. This in turn implies that even if one wants, becoming a Gandhi is not that easy. A few important features of his management and leadership essentials are mentioned hereunder:
‘Satya’ means truth; something to which Gandhi dedicated his own life. He was of the opinion that there can be nothing more pure than truth itself, and therefore no honest struggle could be possible, let alone successful, without holding onto the principles of truth. His way was rater crude, but he insisted on learning from his own mistakes, and conducting various experiments. So much so, that he titled his autobiography, ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth.’ He discovered that it was not always easy to find out the truth, because people were not ready to experience the process if change, inertia had done people no good, and they were always happy in the way things were.
Truth, however, was very difficult to digest and it would not be easy to handle its repercussions. He however discovered that once the force of truth was triggered, than there was no stopping it. It had become imperative to the cause of truth than someone should take the first step; after that, roads and pathways would automatically emerge. Gandhi was of the opinion that truth was far more powerful than the strongest weapon on earth. All his leadership decisions and policies focused around the strong fundamental footing of truth. Without it, he believed, getting astray from the destiny was not only easy, but inevitable. “Mahatma Gandhi preached…’the world will live in peace only when the individuals composing it make up their mind to do so’” (Pani, 2001).
He noted the solution to problems could normally be found just by looking in the mirror. One of his greatest contributions was when he gave a conceptual understanding of ontology in relation to truth. He explained an idea about existence that was new to the world of philosophy. Gandhi believed that in order to truly exist, one needed to actualize with oneself. And this would only be possible of we could stick to the path of truth. This definition of self is crucial to modern schools of thought of management that attempt to understand what leadership is. For a person like Gandhi, who fails to consider that he is anything unless he is at the line of truth, speaks of a level of self-control that many modern managers could only dream about. Here, we see everyday challenges that would drive us into the domain of distress and we tend to lose control over our daily mundane chores. But for a person like Gandhi, success and satisfaction seem imperative because he ahs entwined himself to the concept of truth.
“His philosophy of life and the deeper meaning of Satyagraha, non-violence, non-cooperation, truth and ahimsa unfold the inner layers of his own self and the shining light of Truth which he personified” (Varma, 2001). Gandhi preached that the greatest fight in the line of truth would not be with any external enemy, but with one’s own self. The reason was not too complex. Of all the people in the world, no one understands and appreciates better us than ourselves. One’s conscience, if alive, will constantly rebuke any deed that will be contrary to the truth. The greatest conflict would hence be to suppress one’s conscious, and presenting forth an image that is an emblem of transparency. He thought blaming people was very easy, and it was much more important to fight one’s own insecurities. His most convenient solution was to look in the mirror. One should be able to highlight one’s own defect before pointing a finger at anybody else.
A hallmark of Gandhi’s preaching and practices is the concept of nonviolence (ahimsa). Whenever he faced any problems or was down in the pits, he would think of those times in history when the way of love and peace had won their way. Through the history of civilization, there have been tyrants, but they have law has failed. Ultimately, peace has prevailed through the voice of the common man by means of love. He was of the opinion, that ends do not justify means; no poor or destitute could ever justify the cause of violence, whether it being done against him or to protect him thus a hunger strike was the most violent thing that he could ever indulge into, in which the only being that would be harmed would be himself. “Moral man cannot live in an immoral or non-moral international order, without impairing his higher nature. Gandhi believed that every action, whether performed for self, family, group or nation, must produce its own appropriate result” (Kripalani, 2003).
He thought that there could be many reasons for which a person would be willing to give away his life, but there could be no reason in which a person would be asked to take one’s life. Gandhi knew that knew that his beliefs required immense faith and courage, which obviously everyone does not possess. Thus he ironically, at times, advised quite the opposite. He thought that his concept of non-violence was being misinterpreted as cowardice. So he proclaimed that a better choice than cowardice would be violence. In the context of leadership, this shows a very interesting viewpoint. Nonviolence would primarily refer to as acting in peace. However, in management, assertiveness is a key tool. And more often than not, one also has to resort to aggressive methods in proclaiming ones’ viewpoint. This can be taken in direct comparison to what Gandhi has taught.
(d) Vegetarianism and Brahmachrya
One might be surprised to find vegetarianism as a principle of leadership. However, there is much more to than just eating vegetables. As was explained earlier, many things seem powerful simply because they are associated with Gandhi. Similarly, it was the rationale and practice associated with vegetarianism that was a hallmark of his teachings. As a young child, he tried meat-eating. The idea of vegetarianism is deeply rooted in Hindu and Jain traditions; subsequently, most Hindus were and are vegetarian. Before leaving for his studies in London, Gandhi made a promise to his mother that he would abstain from eating meat, taking alcohol, and engaging in promiscuity. Ultimately, he lived up to his promise and developed more than just a diet pattern – he gained a basis for his life-long philosophies.
Further, he practiced the philosophy of Brahmacharya – being celibate. This he started at the age of 36, as a married man, following the principle that one should not only attain verbal purity, but also physical and internal. He wanted to seek love and not lust. As a human being, and more so as a leader, the lesson that we derive from this is not that we should stop eating meat or begin to abstain from sexual intercourse; it is actually an immaculate example of self-control. Many leaders fail in their mission because they are not able to lead from example. But Gandhi was very different. He actually set up such a difficult example that was very hard to follow. Hence, more than followers, he had inspired admirers. His lessons in self-control through personal example can put to any test, and come out victorious. “Gandhi … added dimensionality to our most basic modes of thinking and which often begins at a radically different place than does conventional modern thought. He conveys the vision of a world that is moved by love ; is hospitable to autonomy” (Tercheck, 2000).
This was one of the staunchest beliefs that Gandhi possessed. He thought that anybody who was in the practice of social service should always lead a simple life. He started off with this simplicity when he renounced his western lifestyle while he was living in South Africa. His attire became more and more simple, he used to do his own laundry and he would not accept any gifts from others. He used to spend one day of every week in silence. This was his way of meditation and introspection, whereby he claimed that he felt inner peace through this method. This is the derivative if the Hindu principles of mouna (silence) and shanti (peace).
He changed his clothing and starting wearing something that the poorest man in India could associate with – homespun cloth (khadi). Later on, he continued wearing this all through his life to show simplicity. This again depicts something that is easier said than done. But Gandhi practiced it personally. He had staunch concepts about simplicity, and he would not dwell into any sort of easy or comfortable life. He thought that as a leader, the lowest grade of follower should be able to associate with the leader. As he mentions in his autobiography, “I have all along believed that what is possible for one is possible for all. My experiments have not been conducted in the closet, but in the open…” (Desai and Gandhi, 1948). This level of simplicity today is hard to find, and even harder to replicate.
Though Gandhi was born a Hindu and kept practicing it all his life, he believed all religions to be equal. He was an excellent theologist and used to read about all religions. At many times, he proclaimed that he was supportive of all religions, yet he refused to convert to any other religion. Faith is important to be discussed in the context of Gandhi, because India is culturally and religiously, the most diverse country of the world. To be a leader of such a country, one has to understand what the masses feel and believe in. However, in India, it is not the voice of masses, but of communities. To be able to analyze their behavior, and to muster up a satisfactory response to all of them was a task that only Gandhi could have mastered. “Gandhi’s views were based on the primacy he gave to is ethics in politics and personal freedom. Political change had to be accompanied by social, economic and even spiritual advances to become an effective Total Revolution” (Narayan, 2002).
He believed that spiritualism was very important for a person. Therefore, he preached and practiced it all along. He thought that the core of every religion was truth and love. By following these core values, he said, one could achieve spiritual satisfaction. He reflected that as soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious in nature. He did not think that religion could over-ride morality. Universal rules of morality were common for all human beings, and they could not be parted away from. As a leader, adhering to these moral values is one of the most important things in the world. Of a follower has belief in his leader that he will not compromise on values and morals, then the respect and loyalty of that person would be available forever.
Heifetz’s principles as applied on Gandhi
In the contemporary world, Thomas Heifetz is considered as a guru of leadership principles. He explains these concepts in easy language, which can help us familiarize with the crucial qualities of an effective leader. He believed that adaptive change was an integral constituent within the armory of a good leader. If any leader is able to handle, manage and manipulate change to his liking. Then he is for sure a very effective leader. Under mentioned are four principles that he considered imperative to the science of adaptive change, in reference to the practices of Gandhi:
(a) Be able to recognize when the challenge requires adaptive work for resolution. Understand the values and issues at stake in the situation.
This principle explains a situation in which a leader would be proactive in nature, and would help in understanding the core value that would be at heart. By being proactive, what one refers to is that there would a preemptive knowledge of events that have to take place. This can only be possible if one has total command over the situation. And Gandhi was no exception to this clause. By all means, he used to study, analyze and evaluate the situation in its correct perspective. When it was the time of non-cooperation, he would join hands with the arch-rival Muslim League in 1930. When there was the need, he would join hands with the British in favor of election in 1935. And towards the end in 1947, he would liberate modern India from its British legacy. All these cannot be termed as any coincidence they are all decision that have been then while adapting to the situation at hand.
(b) Adaptive change causes distress in the people being led. Keep the distress in the tolerable range for doing adaptive work. Too little stress does not motivate people, while too much can defeating as well.
This is a definitive line that needs to be appreciated by any leader. This means that the amount of aggressiveness and adaptation should not be at either extreme. It should be in the right quantity that would yield the required results. Gandhi was an emblem of such traits. It has to be understood that he was not an authority or power figure. He would never drill the masses with show of force or by flashy promises. He always led by example, and because his own way was closer to the heart of the common man, they would never shy away. True, some of his action had brought about extreme consequence for his followers, but they seemed necessary in the given times. He has propagated that the hierarchy is that nonviolence comes before violence, which comes before cowardice. Therefore, some level of assertiveness has always been there in the context of Gandhi and his people. To strike this thin balance is very important for any leader, and Gandhi managed to do this to perfection.
(c) Keep the focus on the real issue. Do not get side-tracked by stress-reducing distractions (such as denial, scapegoating, externalizing the enemy, etc). Such distractions are “work avoidance mechanisms”.
There was no superior leader of his time who could practice and preach self-control more than Gandhi himself. As concerns the facts of not dealing with reality, he actually took out time to contemplate issues and then come out with rationalistic decisions. It was always important for him to face the facts as they came, because truth for him was the essence of existence. He was not the type of person who would shy away in the face of adversity. Therefore, all his followers would also follow suit and would stand by him in all matters. His conviction in words and actions both was what made him an ideal leader for his masses.
(d) Ensure the people who need to make the change take the responsibility of doing the work of change themselves.
Gandhi was never a one-man leader; he would involve his people with him in every decision that he took; because essentially the decision was for others in the first place. Changing the map of the world is not an everyday event. And if a leader can successfully manage that keeping population the size of India behind him, then his ability to manage change with perfection cannot be questioned in the least bit. He would preach his people to make the changes in their own lives before they would ask anybody else to implement them. Always leading by example, and being an emblem of truth, simplicity and self-control, the followers would not find it difficult to seek light in a person who was one of them, and showed them a path that would help them to salvation.
Desai, M. and Gandhi, M. (1948). Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments
With Truth. Public Affairs Press.
Kripalani, J. (2003). The Gandhian approach to World Peace. New Delhi: Gandhi Foundation.
Narayan, J. (2002). Transforming the Polity. New Delhi, Rupa Publishing.
Pani, N. (2001). Inclusive Economics: Gandhian Method and Contemporary Policy. New Delhi:
Tercheck, R. (2000). Gandhi : Struggling For Autonomy. Boston: Rowman and Littlefield
Varma, R. (2001). The Spiritual Basis of Satyagraha. Gujrat: Navjivan Publishing.