Lessons in leadership from Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was not only one of India’s greatest leaders; he is hailed as a world icon. Although he held no position of authority he moved a country to free itself from British rule in 1947 by adopting a novel method – peaceful protest – to make his points to the world with a series of marketing masterstrokes. In the same way, entrepreneurs need to find different ways of telling an appealing story.

Gandhi’s message of peace at a time of turbulence was so effective that, years later, other icons like Martin Luther King cited him as their role models. Even Apple featured him in their 1988 Think Different advertising campaign.

Here are just four lessons that all leaders can learn from Gandhi…

1) Innovation and team building

When Gandhi wanted to send out a message, he needed to do it in a way that would gain world attention. Entrepreneurs need to do this to stand out from the crowd, sell their brand and therefore their product. They need to get creative.

When Britain ruled India, its Salt Act stopped Indians from collecting or selling salt, despite the fact that salt forms an important part of an Indian diet. Indians had to buy it from the British, who not only controlled its manufacture and sale, they also levied a heavy salt tax. The poor suffered most under this tax. 

Gandhi decided to march in an act of civil disobedience against this tax from his religious retreat at Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea coast roughly 240 miles away. Along the way, he and 60,000 people were arrested.

The Salt March grabbed world attention, Gandhi’s Freedom Movement continued and India won its independence in 1947. His message reached the world more effectively than any PR company could have achieved for him; communication, clearly, was something he had mastered. He realised the importance of thinking out of the box.

Gandhi’s sacrifice and dogged determination inspired others to follow him, dedicating their lives to serving him and his cause.

Thus Gandhi built a loyal team around him. How could one man influence all of India’s then 300 million people? Entrepreneurs would love that kind of reach so take a lesson from the man; follow your gut and don’t allow yourself to be swayed from your path to success.

2) Good company

Gandhi believed in lifelong learning and having the right people around you to advise you. So mentors and a positive peer group are important.

It is critical for entrepreneurs, who are often not part of a large structure in an organisation, to have the right people watching and looking out for them. Gandhi knew that thoughts and company influence life to a great extent. Having a source of inspiration, a strong mentor and positive peers hold great importance for those in pursuit of a business dream. 

3) Integrity

A mother came to Gandhi complaining that her son ate too much sugar and asked him to say or do something to inspire the child to give up the substance. She felt the boy would listen to Gandhi as the child idolised him.

The pair waited while Gandhi looked at the mother then simply said, “Come back in two weeks.”

When they returned, Gandhi spoke directly to the child. “Boy, you should not eat sugar. It is bad for your health.”

The mother asked why he had not said that two weeks ago. Gandhi smiled, then said, “Mother, two weeks ago I was still eating sugar myself.”

Gandhi believed so much in integrity that he would not counsel anything he did not do himself. How can entrepreneurs be successful if their values are not kept at the forefront of their minds? Good entrepreneurs are guided by a core belief that becomes their lodestar, the benchmark that gives them a standard they will not allow to be lowered. 

4) Communication

In order to reach the mass of the Indian population, which is divided by state and language, Gandhi made sure that any changes taking place in the country were communicated across the nation, state by state, through regional language newspapers.  This meant that most families could keep in touch with what was happening across the country, since there was always someone; someone in their house, in their street, or in their village, who could read.

Getting the message to the common man- the man or woman who forms the bulk of the Indian population- is what Gandhi mastered.

In business, you may be talented and have a great idea but unless people know about your product it’s hard to progress. Getting your message to your target market requires thought and planning and, like Gandhi, making sure that the message is communicated to the right people in the right way. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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