Mahatma Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement and also the architect of a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would influence the world. His life and teachings inspired activists including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. So, what can we learn from Gandhi’s leadership?

Lead by example

If you want to drive change, you not only need to be able to communicate your ideas, but you actually need to demonstrate them too. Managers and leaders often go to their teams with changes they would like to see in their organisational culture and cannot understand why the change is not taking place. They might have had a company-wide meeting, send out emails and provide KPI targets – but they are always left wondering why change is not happening. You just need to look at the long list of failed digital transformations among businesses for example. The reason for this is simple, it is easy to tell people to change, but to succeed you must show people how to change. As Gandhi said:

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”

If you are looking to instil change in your employees, you have to be the change you want to see. This means taking responsibility for your own actions and understanding their impact on your team. You have to show that it works and will make things better and then people will buy in to the new way of doing things.

Forgiveness is powerful

The knee-jerk reaction of many people in leadership positions when something goes wrong is to look for someone to blame and punish. But there is one trait that sets truly transformational leaders apart from the run-of-the-mill and this is the ability to forgive. Great leaders understand the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. As Gandhi said:

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

It is common in corporate culture for many organisations to be risk averse. The culture is often one where you know that if you make a mistake you’re going to be punished in some way. This creates a culture of fear which stifles productivity. But leaders who can tolerate mistakes and see them as learning opportunities, are those who create a great corporate culture. Forgiveness offers people the chance to take risks, to be creative, to learn and to grow. It is also a great way to build loyalty and trust with your team.

Disagreement can be productive

In the corporate world there seems to be an ever-growing culture where disagreement is seen as bad. There are many leaders and managers who consider it insubordination for their team to question ways of working. This often even extends through to working relationships with peers where disagreement can often be seen as a conversation stopper. But Gandhi would disagree with this approach. He said:

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”

This has been proven to be true. One of the worst beliefs a leader can have is the belief that anyone in their team who disagrees with them is basically committing an act of insubordination. You very rarely see a successful leader who takes this attitude. They usually end up surrounded by yes men, who just agree with everything even when the ideas are terrible, and their team and the business usually end up stagnating and declining. It is important for a leader to assess disagreement on its merit. This is also one of the benefits of diversity, people from different backgrounds view things from different perspectives and may be able to see something that you cannot. Its important there are people who challenge your ideas, as it will often create a better idea.

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