Saturday, June 4, 2011

...from Gandhi

Travelling has become one of our favorite hobbies, and capturing lessons on those trips my newest one.

My most recent vacation was in India, where I saw first-hand its history laid out in temples & forts, the culture through people’s expressions, and Hindu religion as if read from children storybooks.

There’s much to share, but I’ll focus on the most iconic character, Gandhi, and what his story taught me on management.  What began with questions to our tour guide and a timely visit to his museum in Mumbai, ended with me Googleing him and renting the 1982 Oscar-winning movie.

The Ten Things I Learned…from Gandhi

1. Be known for something
Through his movement, Gandhi became an international symbol of nonviolence and understanding. His efforts were first of its kind, inspiring an entire country and subsequently the whole world. In today’s business world, can you truly pinpoint the best innovator? the most memorable coach? or the top strategist? as clearly as you can associate Gandhi to a nonviolent fight for India’s freedom? Consider which one you want to be, and act on it, even if it’s in your smaller circles of influence first.

2. Start small to go onto bigger dreams
There is story to Gandhi before India’s. His movement began in South Africa, where as a London-educated lawyer, he fought for Indian’s civil rights in that country. For us, it mean’s not taking on large projects until we’ve mastered the smaller ones. For Gandhi it was a 20 year battle in South Africa for Indian people, without knowing he’d battle another 30 for his entire country.

3. Get to know your people’s reality
When Gandhi arrived in India, having been in London and South Africa for so long, he felt a need to reconnect with his people and his culture, to better represent them. He travelled the country alongside his wife, ending his trip with the iconic image we have of him: the white clothes that embodied the voice of Indian villagers.  Take the time to become that under-cover boss and get to know the people you represent and their realities. As a CEO (or one-in-the-making) your responsibility is to them, so make sure you understand their situation.

4. Have the nerve to “refuse” when it’s against your beliefs
There’s a courtroom scene in the movie where a judge asks Gandhi to leave the province for disturbing the peace, to which he replies “I refuse to go”. Moments later, he is offered release in exchange for payment, and Gandhi responds “I refuse to pay...” after which the judge grants him release anyways. Would we have the nerve to act similarly in a business meeting? And would we be ready to accept the consequences which are undoubtedly less harsh than prison? I’m not promoting spoiled no’s for the sake of saying no, but rather taking a stand for what you believe.  

5. Take time for personal interests
Touring his Mumbai apartment, our tour guide showed us a unique picture of Gandhi and an older Charlie Chaplin. She claimed Gandhi was a fan of Chaplin’s work (which is different than what I researched online...but let’s move on). Invited to London in 1931, Gandhi took time from discussing Indian independence to meet his idol who also stood for the working people. In your case, don’t immerse yourself in your job and find ways to escape with your own personal interests. In your next business travel, tour the city at your expense, but only if that’s your thing!    

6. Inspire others to speak your message
Gandhi’s was a message of nonviolence. When violence broke out, he would fast against it, and people would stop protesting for his well-being.  In the movie, there’s an unforgettable scene where groups of followers marched toward a salt factory getting beat down over-and-over by soldiers defending the entrance. From his distant prison cell, Gandhi brought the English a message of nonviolent resistance through his loyal people. Inspire your people to preach your message, even in your absence, and your results will probably be less painful than those endured by Gandhi’s followers.    

7. Leave your legacy in unforgettable quotes
Great stories are passed along from generations through text. Nowadays, its quotes that make leaders unforgettable. From Kennedy, to Gandhi, to Einstein, we might not remember their whole life story, but throughout ours, we’ll be exposed to their human impact in famous quotes, like Gandhi’s “We must become the change we want to see.” Not all great quotes come naturally, take time to write and practice your speeches so your message stays behind even after you’re gone.  

8. Incorporate symbolism into your message
From the dress-wear that connected him to humble villagers, to making salt as a means to protest the tax on what he considered an Indian-given right, Gandhi delivered messages through the use of symbols. His ban on European clothing became a spinning wheel that later made it onto India’s independent flag.  Walk-the-talk at work, incorporating your beliefs into your behavior, but also into your verbal and visual messages.  

9. Create a good-hearted movement that dominoes onto other leaders
Gandhi was the inspiration for other notable activists including Martin Luther King in the U.S. and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. His life teachings influenced, and continue to influence, the world’s most important leaders. His message is repeated long after his death. Your job is to create leaders  among your peer set and in generations to come, inspiring them through your acts. In the words of Albert Einstein on Gandhi, become “a role model for the generations to come.”  

10. Remember, no one is free from controversy
Although highly regarded, admired, and loved globally, Gandhi himself isn’t immune to controversy, from his belief that nonviolence should be the approach to all wars, to his more intimate personal practices. No one is perfect, but you should work hard to try to keep your controversies to a minimum. The more delicate subjects might not make it into your life movie, but they’ll always be out there to Google.

Through my writings, I’ll cover all types of people and places, not to generate debate nor to make you think of them differently, but instead to pick and choose those constructive skills that could be transferable to business settings. It's the collection of positive skills that makes us better people.  


  1. I like the time and effort that you put on this. Thinking ability is good for the heart especially if it motivate us to learn who we are not only as a Physical man but MORE IMPORTANTLY as SPIRITUAL man

  2. IT IS said that Mohandas Gandhi devised a list of what he termed the
    “Seven Blunders of the World.”
    They are as follows:
    • Wealth without work
    • Pleasure without conscience
    • Knowledge without character
    • Commerce without morality
    • Science without humanity
    • Worship without sacrifice
    • Politics without principle
    His grandson Arun Gandhi is said to have added an eighth:
    • Rights without responsibilities
    Maybe you could suggest a few more, but this list is certainly thought-provoking.

  3. 2. Start small to go onto bigger dreams

    I like this one, especially when it comes to blogging. So many of us blog because we want to share our learnings, thoughts or wishes with others and have them share back with us.

    You may have just started this blog and it may seem small at first... but you've got a big wide world to share!

    Happy traveling and posting!! I'll be reading!


  4. #4 may be my fave, and one of the hardest for folks to do. And obviously we've seen a whole lotta #10 in the past few weeks...

  5. very niceeeeeeeeeee

  6. presence of mind is awsome.
    I hoppe others will also be inspired by reading this article.

  7. These are great! The lessons should be applied to everyone's daily lives . I was brainstorming on lessons Gandhi has taught and this got me going. Thanks for sharing!