Management lessons from the Mahatma

“Simple corporate strategies like vision (freedom for India) and core values (honesty and non-violence) are well-illustrated in his life.” 

CREATE a vision, define values, walk the talk, encourage collaborative effort…Pearls of wisdom from a management guru? Perhaps, yes. But also some homegrown truths by Mahatma Gandhi.

At a recent leadership workshop in the US, managers were made to realise that M.K. Gandhi, while leading India through its most tumultuous time, also held a beacon to some management strategies that may be critical in today’s corporate world.

Says Mr Shabbir Merchant, Vice-President, Consulting Services, Grow Talent India Co Ltd, one of the participants at the workshop, “Simple corporate strategies like vision (freedom for India) and core values (honesty and non-violence) are wellillustrated in his life.”

The Mahatma travelled across the country to make India’s independence a shared vision. And the learning for CEOs? When they conceive a transformation plan for their organisation, they need to think of a vision for the future and define values that will help achieve the vision. And they need to build a shared vision like the Mahatma.

Too often the vision is made only in the boardroom and known to only the CEO’s 11, with no effort made to communicate this to the masses who will really be the engine for change. Investing time and effort in creating a shared vision and defining values is the starting point of any change effort, according to Mr Merchant.

`Walk the talk’— one of Gandhi’s pet philosophies made him the greatest leaders ever. And the lesson for CEOs? Don’t talk about cost cutting and cost optimisation to the rank and file, and then fly business class or stay in 5-star hotels. “Living the values is the key for CEOs marching on the change management path,” Mr Merchant says.

Gandhi said only persistence and courage can make change happen. Does this sound familiar? CEOs who have taken a leaf out of this philosophy have realised that it requires courage to set realistic expectations with the board, or investors, or employees.

Some decisions that will benefit the organisation in the long term will need sacrificing gains in the short term.

The Dandi March incident illustrates the Mahatma’s expertise in getting people to collaborate in critical projects.

CEOs have to appreciate that when they drive a change agenda, they will have teams and team members with different viewpoints, says Mr Merchant. 

Shabbir Merchant