Mahatma Gandhi was a spiritual leader for a political cause. The oppression of people and the aspirations of political self-governance might fall under political movements but it was lead by Gandhi purely on the strength of his spiritual purity and application of ethical tenets to revolution. But in the life and achievements of Gandhi can be found the basic principles of leadership wisdom and ethical orientation that are widely recognized today as the prerequisites of successful corporate governance. As Robin Sharma points out in his famous work “Leadership Wisdom”, the monk who gave up his Ferrari (symbolic of his corporate identity) in pursuit of spiritual wisdom, comes back to apply that wisdom at the workplace. This is almost a description of Mahatma’s life. He gave up his socially exalted status as a Barrister to pursue spiritual quest (to meet God face-to face) and applied the saintly principles of non-violence, satyagraha, penance and forgiveness to successfully lead an Independence struggle.
Gandhi’s leadership wisdom was based on three principles – non-violent non-cooperation, forgiveness to the offender and respect for every human being (his efforts to eradicate untouchability being a prime example). In the business arena, these principles do not seem to hold obvious advantage. But the wisdom lies in adapting these to the current business scenario. Any organization that is formed on the basis of trust, a motive of service, and efficiency ( in other words, maximization of capacity) rather than a focus on profit is destined to succeed. Customer relationship management (CRM) has become the buzzword in all business these days because the customer is spoilt for choice and the ultimate differentiator in terms of business is the quality of service ahead of all other parameters.
Gandhi’s life was dedicated to the pursuit of truth. Any Organization that aims to be truthful to itself, its customers and its competitors becomes a brand that can be trusted. Even major corporations have come to embrace truth as not just a corporate strategy but a branding compulsion. The voluntary advisory of a major Auto manufacturer about the shortcomings of one of its models might be detrimental to its immediate sales and inventory but goes a long way in enhancing the trust quotient in the brand leading to a variety of long-term benefits.
Gandhi believed in being humble in victory and stoic in defeat. Organizations that have been open to accept the mistakes and welcomed the criticism have flourished in the long run. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of most major corporations have helped them build an image of a good corporate citizenship. The age of acquisitions and mergers require the corporate world to adapt this tenet of Gandhi’s philosophy to successfully achieve the amalgamation of synergies that they look for while forging partnerships through M&A.
The most important lesson of Gandhi’s life was his attempt to stay away from evil and temptation. His autobiography “ My experiments with Truth” chronicle his frailties as well as the lessons learnt. A leading IT corporation has adopted this stance as a vision statement for their organization – “Do No Evil”. This stance right from their start-up days has enabled it to garner huge goodwill that translated into unforeseen success without actually investing in marketing their brand. The same company also has as its vision statement that they aim to “organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible” without any mention of their profit making model. This philosophy of focusing on the motive that need not necessarily be balance sheet oriented is a learning that any start up should emulate.
The ethical orientation of Gandhi accords equal respect to all human beings without consideration of their color, creed, race, ethnicity or any other differentiating attribute. It is the recognition of a universal spirit of human being. This is the principle of equal opportunity to be followed by all corporations – not merely for legal or social implications but because the interactions off people from varied backgrounds is the surest form of converging multiple wisdoms to create newer and better products. The multinational Corporations of today reap the fruits of operating from and through different nationalities and sensibilities. Expansion through subjugation (against which Gandhi fought) has been replaced by Expansion by inclusion (as demonstrated in the globalization of world economy)
Gandhi has become the unexpected choice of brand ambassador for a lesson in Customer relationship management that is so vital for all small businesses. His quotation on the customer being the most important person on the premises of the business organization is found in many business organizations that have either sales or service as their essential focus. In fact, this quote has been included in several mission statements of international organizations. This is not based n any business sense but on the ethical world view that Gandhi advocated. For any person to maximize his/her potential in performing a certain task or set of tasks requires patronage and this patronage is a web that enmeshes all of us together. Therefore it is ethically essential to treat any service/product seeker with the same respect and dignity that we might expect from any other establishment whose services we might require. This contagious ethical trait of treating customers with utmost respect has now been identified as a key differentiator in performing and non-performing business organizations – small or big.
The leadership wisdom of leading through example and in pursuit of truth and the ethical compulsion of treating everybody with respect have made start up organizations to grow into huge business conglomerates that provide employment opportunities and also change the lives of people for the better. Google being a prime example of a company devoted to almost altruistic vision and mission statements (mentioned earlier) which has grown up at a pace that cannot be equalled or bettered in the near future. Therefore these are the qualities of leadership wisdom and ethical orientation that small and start up organizations need to include in their organizational DNA to attain success over the long term and retain their leadership in their chosen business environments.