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Mahatma Gandhi was an apostle of peace nonpareil. Truth and non-violence were the two key components of his creed. Innovation and creativity, founded on moral authority flowing from his “inner voice” (his term for ‘conscience'), constituted the bedrock of whatever campaign he embarked upon. No wonder, Albert Einstein exclaimed: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
In this book, Alan Axelrod seeks to add a novel dimension to Gandhiji's personality. He draws a parallel between Gandhiji's qualities and the attributes of a Chief Executive Officer. “There is no doubt that Gandhi was a good man and an intensely spiritual man, but he was also a manager and executive, a supremely practical leader for change [management].”
The fact that the Mahatma hailed from a community of merchants perhaps explains the instinctive qualities of a typical business manager he had in him and which the author has relied upon to provide a brilliant analysis of his personality insofar as it reflected the image of a corporate czar. The book offers a compendium of leadership principles Gandhiji advocated and adopted in his political life and relates them to the corporate context.
Apart from the introductory chapter that gives a brief biographical account of Gandhiji, the book has 14 chapters, each expounding a principle of management — with specific reference to leadership — which, as seen by the author, was practised by the Mahatma during his long and legendary saga of struggle and sacrifice in South Africa as well as in India.
Every chapter contains some “lessons” on leadership, the number varying between three and 12, and in all 100 lessons. Every lesson starts with an appropriate aphorism pronounced by Gandhiji and proceeds to expatiate on it, citing situations from Gandhiji's life and experience. Axelford then goes on to place them in the commercial setting, projecting a mirror view as it were, and draws a comparison between the two ‘images'. Towards the end, a chronology of the major milestones in his life, “reading material” made up of select writings by Gandhiji and by others about him, and an index of the 100 lessons are provided.
As for the “lessons” the author has dished out, the one given in the first chapter is truly a precursor to what follows. At the core of it is the point that every action must be humane and people-oriented, rather than based on any ideology.
Before launching a public campaign or action that will impinge on society, it is vital to bring to your mind “the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him” — this has always been the advice of Gandhiji.
Compare this with what often happens in the business world. The grievances of individuals — whether they are of employees or customers — are called into question and denied redress by citing the “company policy” or by contending that the company's “image” would be adversely affected in the long run.
The doctrine of non-cooperation was the genius of Mahatma Gandhi. He believed that even the most oppressive government derived its authority from the consent, implicit though, of the oppressed. If only the people showed resistance and turned their backs on the government, it would collapse and be pauperised, sooner or later.
For the chief executive of a company, non-cooperation is a stark reminder of the imperative to win the loyalty and goodwill of his employees. A business enterprise cannot be run by coercion and compulsion. Voluntary cooperation by the employees can be secured only by providing adequate opportunities for their self-development and self-management.
Truth and transparency are the hallmark of Gandhian philosophy. This holds good eminently for the business world too. For a management to be effective and enduring, it has to be an open book, subjecting itself to public scrutiny. Ethics and honesty, by which Gandhiji set store, are among the critical elements of a successful business policy.
The book is a must read for people in the business of management and for those influenced by Gandhian thought.