By C A Dr. Varsha Ainapure*
Business leaders across the globe have discovered a new Management icon - Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation. While leading the nation in the struggle for independence, Gandhi held a beacon to some management strategies which are critical in present day corporate world. (Pramar, 2008) The Mahatma is now being rediscovered as more than just a political leader who gained independence for the country. He is being looked upon as a master strategists and an exemplary leader whose ideas and strategies have great meaning for the corporate world, particularly in India.
Mahatma Gandhi was an ideal management guru. Truth and Non Violence were the two key components of his creed. (Devrajan, 2010) The Mahatma inspired the common man, an average Indian to follow his principles and led the masses to win the fight for independent India. Innovation and creativity, founded on moral authority flowing from his "inner voice" (his term for 'conscience'), constituted the bedrock of whatever campaign he embarked upon. No wonder, Albert Einstein exclaimed: "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth."
Gandhi's concept of Non-violence and his high moral standards are what today's leaders must emulate in order for organisations to have the advantage in the global market. His concept of a self- ruled society can be compared to a project-orientated organisation, where individual teams are self-governed and highly efficient.
Classical Leadership : Leaders are particular people that others will follow, for whatever reason. They are people who are willing to tell other people what to do but have the respect of other peoples as well, or gain that respect. Leaders are politicians who convince and channel groups into action, and people who take control of a crisis. We are directed to special individuals like Gandhi or Napoleon or Mandela. The stories around such people seem to show that there are moments of crisis or decision where the actions of one person are pivotal. They have a vision of what can, and should be, done and can communicate this to others. Quality of leadership is, arguably, central to the survival and success of groups and organisations.
- Tend to be identified by position. They are part of the hierarchy.
- Become the focus for answers and solutions. We look to them when we don't know that to do, or when we can't be bothered to work things out for ourselves.
- Give direction and have vision.
- Have special qualities setting them apart. There help to create the gap between leaders and followers.
Mahatma Gandhi was a leader in true sense of the word. Leadership is considered to be the most important aspect of management. In this Gandhi excelled. He planned his activities precisely, detailed the targets achievable correctly, and studied the opponent and their strategies accurately. By identifying himself with the masses, dressing like them, living among them and empathizing with them, he won their respect, confidence and allegiance. Millions responded to his call. They spun cotton, burnt foreign cloth and made salt in defiance of the law. They submitted to beatings, imprisonment but did not react with violence. Judging from his remarkable achievements and the excellent and effective manner in which he selected and negotiated his Satyagarha issues, and planned and implemented his campaign, he was undoubtedly a management expert. No wonder, Harvard School of Business Management while taking note of his principles has crowned him the Management Guru of the 20th century. This paper discusses the role of Mahatma as a management guru.
Various books, journal articles, blogs, and posts from the newspapers were studied to develop this paper on ‘The Mahatma as a Management Guru in the New Millennium'. In his book on '14 Principles to Guide and Inspire Modern Leaders' Alan Axelrod seeks to add a novel dimension to Gandhi's personality. He draws a parallel between Gandhi's qualities and the attributes of a Chief Executive Officer. "There is no doubt that Gandhi was a good man and an intensely spiritual man, but he was also a manager and executive, a supremely practical leader for change [management]"; he says, This theme was then further developed by reading more supporting material. Theory for classical leadership was developed by studying various models of leadership developed by Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith, in Encyclopedia of Informal Education (Infed).
- Understand the role played by Mahatma Gandhi as a leader
- Understand the role he played as a manager.
- Study various techniques used by him which had high impact during freedom struggle.
- Co-relate Gandhi's techniques with recent management principles.
Gandhi as a Management Guru: Views and Opinions
Many associate leadership with one person leading. Thus, leaders are people who are able to think and act creatively in non-routine situations - and who set out to influence the actions, beliefs and feelings of others. In this sense being a 'leader' is personal. It flows from an individual's qualities and actions.
According to Shahbir Merchant, Vice President, Consulting Services, Grow Talent India Co. Ltd, simple corporate strategies like vision (freedom for India) and core values (honesty and Non Violence) are well illustrated in Gandhi's life.
Author of 'Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch' Arindam Chaudhuri calls Gandhi a great marketing guru. As a great marketing brain, Gandhi had done a SWOT analysis. He knew his opponents and competition - the British - well. He knew that the British were cultured and believed in being fair and had a court that they were answerable to. So he knew that it would be almost impossible for the British to kill him if all he did was to walk and talk of peace. He used their weakness to be ruthless to his advantage. Not to forget, he used fasting as a great tool to drive home the message - that he was not scared of losing his life when it came to the cause.
According to Dr. Gita Piramal, managing editor, The Smart Manager, Gandhi was a wonderful strategist, showman and leader. According to B.D.Agarwal, Chairman, Surya Roshini, Gandhi and his charkha were not against new technology but symbols of self-reliance.' (CRBiZ March 2007). Says Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth: "Gandhi represents the essence of what we need in our business leaders today. There is a general negativity and cynicism all around. Remember Enron, Tyco, WorldCom and Hewlett-Packard? It's time corporate leaders restored their moral authority."
Gandhi's Techniques Linked to Management Principles Trusteeship
Pranay B. Gupte (2000) quotes Gandhi as saying, "The world we must strive to build needs to be based on the concept of genuine social equality in it, the prince and the peasant, the wealthy and the less well-off, the employer and the employee are on the same level. Economic progress cannot mean that few people charge ahead and more and more people are left behind." Gandhi understood that an industrialised society created two classes, the haves and the have-nots.
Gandhi offered his Theory of Trusteeship which required capitalists to consider the wealth they had as being held in Trust for the benefit of the poor. The concept of Trusteeship is a mid-path between pure capitalism and pure communism. Gandhi said the rich were the Custodians or Trustees of the wealth they earn and that this was to be used for the welfare of their less fortunate beings. "My theory of trusteeship has the sanction of philosophy and religion behind it...No other theory is compatible with Non Violence/' Gandhi had said. For Gandhi, a Trustee is one who self-consciously assumes responsibility for upholding, protecting and putting to good use whatever he possesses, acquires or earns. In the last few years, there is a thinking that capitalism is not just about creating wealth, but you have to take care of the shareholders and stakeholders, too. This is the essence of Corporate Social Responsibility as propounded by western writers. So,Gandhi's ideas and the lessons learned from him are not totally different from what corporate India would like to do." (CRBiZ, March 2007)
Gandhi believed that people could not be masters or owners but instead they should be caretakers and trustees. A sound social system discourages all forms of exploitation, domination and inequality; and promotes the values of love, truthfulness, cooperation, and solidarity (Prabhu, 2001). You can correlate this idea with organisations of today. In a project-enriched environment, where managers are replaced with leaders, the worker is expected to learn and expand his/her knowledge base. Workers are empowered with more responsibility and accountability for their actions. This provides them with a sense of community and higher feeling of pride for their work.
Satyagraha is the force, which is born of Truth, love and Non Violence. Truth implies love and firmness and therefore serves as a synonym for force (Prabhu, 2001). People respond better to kindness than by brute force. Using the principles of Satyagraha, leaders of today can incorporate change and empower people without forcing them into compliance as happened in traditional hierarchical organisations. Gandhi's vision of the future was a combination of spiritual, moral and the practical, and it was through his consistent application of his vision that he led (Yates, 2001)
Satyagraha as a tool begins with reasoning with one's opponent or adversary in an attempt to arrive at a just solution. Neither person has a monopoly on the truth nor is either side wholly correct. The purpose is to work out a rational compromise that is agreeable to both sides (Prabhu, 2001). A leader must have the ability to communicate and diffuse disagreeable situations. Conflicts naturally occur between individuals who are passionate about something. Often a leader must stand the neutral ground and help facilitate a win-win situation when dealing with conflicts.
Shared Vision and Core Values
As a master strategist the Mahatma knew how to create a vision which would be widely shared by the people. Gandhi's greatest achievement was that he could easily relate to the people. Gandhi travelled throughout the country to make the vision of independence a shared vision among the people living in different parts of the country. He made efforts to relate to the masses through his "walk the talk' method of rallies, dharnas, padyatras and non-violent protests.
At its core is the point that every action must be humane and people- oriented, rather than based on any ideology. For today's corporate leadership the lessons Gandhi provides is that when they conceive a transformation plan for their organisation they need to think for the future and define values that will help achieve this vision. They should share their vision like Gandhi did other stakeholders. Corporate managers should invest time and effort to create a shared vision and should define values while initiating the change. Most corporate plans are conceived and finalised within the four walls of the Board Room. No effort is made to communicate these plans/ decisions to the masses who are the real engines of change. Says Shahbir Merchant * CEOs should not talk about cutting costs and cost optimisation to the rank and file, and then fly business class or stay in 5 star luxury. Living the values is the key for CEOs marching on the change management path."
Gandhi focused on making the villages of India largely self- contained. He felt that Indian independence must begin at the bottom and that each .village should be a republic having complete and full power (Ishii, 2001). These villages would share information or commodities with other villages where they are not locally producible (Andrews, 1949). Teams in today's organisations must often share information with other teams in order to work more efficiently.
Gandhi recognised the mutual dependence between self and society. As Alexander (1984) states, 'decentralisation of authority accords best with the dignity of man1. Gandhi felt that the individual remained important because he was the most active component of society. Roy (1985) quotes Gandhi as saying, "...the one discovery I have made is that there is no distinction whatever between individual growth and corporate growth, the corporate growth is therefore entirely dependent upon individual growth and hence that beautiful proverb in the English language that a chain is no stronger than the weakest link in it".
Within a project organisation, teams are largely self-contained entities or units that provide a product or service to their customers. However, these teams sometimes have to rely on other teams for ideas and information; therefore enforcing the need for mutual cooperation.
Gandhi believed that national self-reliance needed to be supported and sustained by moral practice in order to prevent its deterioration into a dysfunctional state of nationalism. (Dallmayr, 2001) Leaders in today's volatile environment must also possess these characteristics in which Gandhi believed. A leader today must be honest, forward- looking, inspiring, and competent. Kouzes and Posner (1996) state that the first law of leadership is, “If you don't believe in the messenger, you won't believe the message". A leader must be truthful and honest in order for people to follow. As many have said, a leader must walk the talk. But without followers there would be no leaders, therefore the first milestone toward earning leadership credibility is clarity in personal values. (Kouzes and Posner, 1996)
Reinvent the Means
Indian born Management Guru C.K.Prahalad has said that corporate India needs to apply the lessons learned from Gandhi's ideas to their leadership styles. Speaking at the Pravasi Bharatiya Day held in New Delhi in 2003, Prahalad had said "the Mahatma's ideas have particular relevance for India as it struggles to find ways to inch closer to the 8-10 percent gross domestic product growth. Today I do not know how to grow at 10 percent or more or how to create 10- 15 million new jobs every year. But that is not the option before us. We have to reinvent new ways and that is what Gandhi taught us: clarity of goals. Let us have the courage to re-invent the means."
Gandhi reinvented the rules of the game to deal with a situation where all the available, existing methods had failed. "He broke tradition. He understood that you cannot fight the British with force. So he decided to change the game in a fundamentally different way. He unleashed the power of ordinary people, inspired women and men in the country to fight under a unifying goal. Resource constraint did not bother him. He aimed at a common agenda: Poorna Swaraj. That was the motivation," says Prahalad.
Doctrine of Non-Cooperation
The doctrine of non-cooperation was the genius of Mahatma Gandhi. He believed that even the most oppressive government derived its authority from the consent, implicit though, of the oppressed. If only the people showed resistance and turned their backs on the government, it would collapse and be pauperised, sooner or later.
For the chief executive of a company, non-cooperation is a stark reminder of the imperative to win the loyalty and goodwill of his employees. A business enterprise cannot be run by coercion and compulsion. Voluntary cooperation by the employees can be secured only by providing adequate opportunities for their self-development and self-management.
Public Relations Network
According to Dr. Gita Piramal, Gandhi had an amazing public relations network and a very good relationship with the press. "For instance, look at the Dandi March. If Gandhi had gone there quietly, it would just not have made an impact. He knew he had to create an event to make an impact and so he took his followers on a march that stirred popular imagination of the time. He had a total understanding of the human psychology and used it along with his public relation skills.'7 Gandhi faced opposition among his senior colleagues when he decided to march to Dandi to make salt. The British government had decided to ignore the naked fakir, confident that he would fail and make a mockery of himself before his people. The march and the symbolic making of salt galvanised the entire country. It shook the British administration. The effects of the salt march were felt across India. Thousands of people made salt, or bought illegal salt. The march mobilised many new followers from all sections of Indian society and it drew the world's attention.
Truth and transparency are the hallmarks of Gandhian philosophy. This holds good eminently for the business world, too. For a management to be effective and enduring, it has to be an open book, subjecting itself to public scrutiny. Ethics and honesty, by which Gandhi set store, are among the critical elements of a successful business policy. Rahul Bajaj, Chairman, Bajaj Auto and MP, says: "Ethics today are undermined in every sphere. Corporate governance is about accountability and transparency."
Gandhi believed in the ancient caste system, but he entirely, refused to have anything to do with the idea of 'untouchability'. He refused to regard any caste as superior in rank. He regarded men and women equally as his brothers and sisters, treating them in every single act of life as equals (Andrews, 1949). Within an hierarchal organisational structure, managers are thought of as superior to workers. The hierarchal structure represents the caste system in many ways. Placing superiority to management where the workers are considered 'untouchable' or inferior. When you break down the hierarchy and lead the organisation toward a flatter structure, you must regard all workers as equals. The managers and workers must create a unity much like the Hindu-Muslim unity that Gandhi often referred to. This unity explained that all people have a common purpose, a common goal, and common sorrows. It is promoted by co-operating in order to reach the common community goal. This is obtained by sharing one another's sorrows and by mutual toleration (Andrews, 1949).
Social Orientation - Collectivism
For Gandhi, the interests of the group are of high importance. He believed that the needs of the community and the service of the poor should always override every selfish or individual interest (Alexander, 1984).
As mentioned earlier, the purpose of trusteeship was to construct self-contained villages based on self-rule and cooperation. You can compare this to leadership in a team environment. In a purely project based corporation, each team govern themselves. The team leader is responsible and accountable for each team member's work and whether the work is completed on time. Team cooperation is important and essential for a team environment to succeed. Organisations must restructure themselves toward a more equal and fair work place where every worker contributes to the corporate vision.
Though Gandhi lived many years ago, his leadership principles must be considered in order for organisations today to compete in a global market. His high moral standards are what leaders today should strive to achieve. His belief in Non Violence is a principle that must be understood by all project managers in order for them to lead a diverse and culturally mixed community. Hierarchal organisations, where managers rule and the worker is just a commodity, are a thing of the past. This highly uneven structure of leadership has many principles in common with the 'caste' system. Organisations must restructure themselves toward a more equal and fair workplace where every worker contributes to the corporate vision. A common value system must exist among the organisation and a clear sense of honesty and trust must permeate throughout.
Almost five decades since he preached simplicity and Non Violence, the man in the loincloth; today, has more followers than ever before. What's more, even a rash of universities in India and abroad are taking note of the Mahatma and his principles. Harvard School of Business Management has even crowned him the Management Guru of the 20th century.
Management gurus say this newfound faith in Gandhian principles only means good for the country and the business- only if interpreted correctly. Says Anil K Gupte, who teaches Indian Social and Political Environment at IIM-A: "There is a great need for India to find contemporary relevance in Gandhi's thoughts. State regulation is not enough. Self-regulation is the key."