Many prominent leaders and major media have almost unanimously acknowledged Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948) as one of the 20th Century’s greatest leaders for humankind (Time, 1999). Gandhi is also recognized as a firm believer and practitioner of truth and nonviolence with high integrity. Albert Einstein noted, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon the earth.” His message of truth-based persuasion (Satyagraha) has a time-less and space-less perennial relevance and power to address injustice all around the world (Dear, 2002; Gehani & Spears, 2009).
Over the past twelve decades, Gandhi’s message has inspired and influenced perhaps over a Billion people in India, United States, South Africa, Poland, and many other parts of the world – more than any other human being in the world. This time span includes 21 years of Gandhi’s lifetime since his arrival in South Africa in 1893, another 33 year in India until his violent martyrdom on January 30, 1948, and more than 70 years since then. What type of hero was this soft-speaking, half-naked fakir: a heroic, transactional, transformational, charismatic, or a servant leader? What 20th Century leadership theories (Avolio, Bass & Jung, 1999) can be applied to fully understand this great-soul Mahatma leader?
For 54 years Gandhi successfully helped millions of Indians gain freedom and independence Swaraj from a 90-year old oppressive colonial rule (and another 100 years of control by the East India Company) (Gehani & Spears, 2009). Gandhi’s larger goal and a much bigger purpose was to awaken and uplift 330 Million impoverished Indians towards their greatness and peak performance (Sarvodaya). Why did Gandhi, as an integral leader, fail to achieve this primary purpose? Similarly, why did many other great leaders who followed him, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and others too failed to achieve the similar purpose too?
Roadmap For This Research
The focus of this research study is to explore how Mahatma Gandhi achieved the great goal of gaining freedom and emancipation for 330 million Indians. First, we examine how Gandhi developed and deployed his innovative leadership strategies, such as his experiments with truth Satya (which he equated to his spiritual guide and God), and non-violence Ahimsa that he used to gain self-rule Swaraj and greatness for all Survodaya. Then the traditional 20th Century leadership theories are tested against Gandhi’s leadership strategies, and are found inadequate to capture Gandhi’s complexity, multi-disciplinarity, and dynamism. Next, we discuss how Gandhi’s innovative leadership strategies align with Ken Wilber’s (2000) integral theory model and its four quadrants. Finally, we suggest some lessons and limitations of Gandhi’s innovative integral leadership strategies for other practitioner leaders in the 21st Century.
Gandhi’s Innovative Leadership Strategies
As an authentic leader, Gandhi developed some unique leadership strategies to overcome his major challenge confronting a colonist British Empire that spanned over almost half the world. Given below are some of his major leadership initiatives.
Gandhi saw his entire life primarily as a series of experiments in truth for his own and others’ experiential lifelong learning. He never asked his wife or any of his followers to do something that he would not do himself, as long as it aligned with the truth. In Gandhi’s (1996: ix) Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, he elaborates that, “I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments. It is true that the story will take the shape of an autobiography. But I shall not mind, if every page of it speaks of my experiments.” He did these experiments in a wide variety of areas including nonviolent political actions, clothing, food, and even celibacy, to extract truths, and discard untruths. In 1918 – 1919, Gandhi invited (Rahman, 2011) everyone else to join in his experiments with truths by imploring them that,
The life of us is full of experiments. If we go on making experiments, we shall always stand to gain something or other for them. Weeds are ever mixed with grass as chaff with grains of wheat. In the same way, every effort has two results. Just as we throw away the chaff and use the wheat, so in life we must embrace the truth and reject falsehood.
During Gandhi’s early years in London, he tried experiments to align his identity with the English elite. In 1889, a 20 year young Gandhi with borrowed funds spent a substantial sum of 10 British pounds, that he could not afford to spend, to buy an expensive suit from London’s fashionable Bond Street, and 19 shillings to buy a Chimney pot hat. He also learned to wear a tie, and purchased a gold watch chain. Gandhi did not find much satisfaction with these, but he continued wearing English clothes when he practiced law in the distant South Africa. Gandhi, however, discarded these English clothes when he returned to India in early 1915, and switched to the traditional Kathiawadi garments including a turban, dhoti and a cloak. Later he simplified more.
Similarly, rather than rely on books or others, Gandhi constantly experimented seeking truths about his diet. When just a boy, he experimented with eating goat meat in order to become stronger and fearless like his Muslim friend (In Gandhi, 1996; Rahman, 2011). However, his conscience was haunted by the baby goat crying in his stomach, and the guilt that he told a lie to his loving mother. He promised his mother that he would never again touch meat during his stay in England or thereafter. Many nights Gandhi slept on empty stomach in order not to break his vow to his mother. Later Gandhi stopped eating even sweets and spicy food to curb and control his sensory desires and strengthen his soul-force.
Reliance on Ahimsa Nonviolence
Gandhi’s reliance on outward manifestation of nonviolence Ahimsa, from his inward adherence to truth, came from his family’s Jain background (Parekh, 1988). As devotees of Mahavir, a contemporary of Gautam Buddha in c560 B.C., Jains are extremely strict about not taking any life for their personal sake. As vegetarians, they do not eat meat and reject onion and garlic because these are root vegetables. Jains also do not wear hard leather shoes as these might crush bugs on the ground, and they cover their mouths so that no airborne bugs enter their mouths and die.
It is, therefore, quite understandable that Gandhi raised Ahimsa nonviolence to a much higher level by integrating it with his political action for civil disobedience as well. Gandhi learned about civil disobedience from the American philosopher Henry Thoreau, who proposed personal protests against the unjust laws enacted by the State (Parekh, 1988). Gandhi turned around Thoreau’s civil disobedience into a much more positive and potent Satyagraha truthful persuasion that he developed against the apartheid government in South Africa.
Gandhi radically innovated the negative and passive meaning of Ahimsa nonviolence in India’s ancient Vedic traditions, and transformed it into a more positive, active, and powerful dynamic. Gandhi has highlighted (Parekh, 1988) that,
Non-violence is not a cloistered virtue to be practiced by the individual for his peace and final salvation, but a rule of conduct for society if it is to live consistently with human dignity.…Complete non-violence means complete cessation of all activity. Not such, however, is my definition of non-violence.…The religion of non-violence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well.
In his definition of Ahimsa non-violence, Gandhi also included not bearing any ill will or causing any mental suffering to anyone or anything, including one’s enemies. His positive aspects of Ahimsa support a fearless love and charity towards the enemy. Gandhi saw Ahimsa nonviolence as well as fearless love and charity – the common threads and the backbones of all religions and spirituality.
Gandhi highlighted (Iyer, 1987) that,
…non-violence …is not a mechanical thing. You do not become non-violent by merely saying, ‘I shall not use force.’ It (non-violence) must be felt in the heart. There must be within you an upwelling of love and pity towards the wrong-doer. When there is that feeling it will express itself through some action. It may be a sign, a glance, or even silence. But such as it is, it will melt the heart of the wrong-doer and check the wrong.
Gandhi was, therefore, shocked and devastated when thousands of Hindus and Muslims turned so violently against one another, and slaughtered each other, during the British rushed partition of India and Pakistan in the aftermath of India’s independence on August 15, 1947.
Swaraj Self-Rule for Indians
Gandhi extended his one year planned stay in South Africa to 21 years, to lead the struggle against injustice, and uplift thousands of Indian settlers in South Africa. He then returned home to India in January 1915 to help India gain Home-rule Swaraj. To do so Gandhi integrated Satya truth and Ahimsa nonviolence into Satyagraha truthful persuasion. Gandhi (1968 – 1969) in Bhuvan (2017) elaborates,
The world rests upon the bedrock of Satya or truth. A-Satya meaning untruth, also means non-existent and Satya also means that which is… And Truth being that which can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of Satyagraha in a nutshell (volume 3: 389).
In 1919, after the end of World War I, the English colonial government in India broke their earlier promises, and they passed the Rowlatt Act so that they could arrest any Indian protester without trial, and muffle their voice for justice (Gehani & Spears, 2009). Gandhi, other Congress leaders, and millions of Indians were outraged. They wondered what actions they should take to register their opposition without resorting to violence. One day Gandhi woke up earlier than usual, and in his condition of twilight consciousness, he had the epiphany to declare a truthful protest (Satyagraha) by declaring a nation-wide ‘hartal’ when every Indian would boycott and do no work for the colonial foreign government. In consultation with Indian National Congress leadership, Gandhi announced that the national Hartal day of nonviolent peaceful protest would be on April 6, 1919 (Gehani & Spears, 2009).
The announcement for nonviolent (Ahimsa) Satyagraha truthful persuasion received an overwhelming nationwide support and response from millions of Indians (Dear, 2002). In most regions of India everything came to a stop, and there was a widespread adherence to nonviolence (Ahimsa). But in some select major states such as Punjab in Northern India, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the Western part of India, a handful of Indians could not control their expressing their frustration, and used some violence against the oppressing colonists. Gandhi had strongly urged all that the use of violence (Himsa) was against the principle of truthful persuasion (Satyagraha). He immediately and unilaterally suspended the nonviolent Hartal protest, and admitted that he had made a gross miscalculation about the readiness of his fellow Indian people. To him, their hearts, minds, and souls were not yet prepared for his nonviolent Satyagraha movement, and that they needed much more disciplined training of their soul-force (Atma). As a penance for his miscalculation in his fellow-beings, Gandhi fasted for 3 days.
Similarly, in 1921, as Gandhi-led Satyagraha protest movement strengthened and spread, the colonial government’s oppressive measures also intensified. When Gandhi tried to gradually launch a nationwide peaceful protest in a small Bardouli district of Surat, Gujarat in the Western part of India, a group of Indian protesters used violence about 800 miles away in Chauri Chaura district in United Provinces in the Northern part of India. Once again Gandhi did not hesitate cancelling his Satyagrah peaceful protest. Gandhi (1946) noted in Harijan March issue that he was not willing to lead a violent struggle.
Survodaya Awakening Greatness for All
Gandhi carefully studied the influences of Industrial Revolution in England since 1760s, and noted that the industrial machines had increased economic disparity and concentration of wealth in the hand of a select few in English society. This created a multitude of poor masses. As early as in 1909, Gandhi highlighted that India was ruled not by British colonists but by their industrial machines and gun violence promoted by English mill owners. In a Letter to his English friend Henry Polak, Gandhi noted that the western machine-driven material civilization had invaded, overwhelmed, and colonized India’s ancient spiritual civilization.
Gandhi wanted to help uplift millions of nonviolent Indian millions with simple wants, so that they would live in self-sufficient and self-governing village communities. They dreamt of being gainfully self-employed throughout a year. Gandhi did not mind the villagers using machines or electricity, provided they all had easy access to these.
Gandhi proposed and described an alternate Gandhian vision for an independent decentralized and self-sufficient nation (Dear, 2002), as follows,
…In this structure composed of innumerable villages there will be ever-widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village…the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but give strength to all within, and derive its own from the centre…real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused.
Next, we will examine how Gandhi’ innovative leadership strategies fit with the 20th Century leadership theories.
Leadership Theories and Their Fitness
Effective leadership styles and strategies must evolve with changing contextual times (Bennis & Thomas, 2002; House & Aditya, 1997; Mintzberg, 2004). In the current 21st Century context, leaders must confront diverse value systems and associated realities, complex economies, and high uncertainties due to rampant disruptive innovations (Drath & Palus, 1994). Coupled with these are the uncertainties looming from the threats of climate change, global warming, and wide ecological fluctuations. Thus, often it is not clear who is leading and who are following. Such complexities and dynamic uncertainties make it hard for the viability of simplistic models of leadership developed and used until the end of 20th Century (Lord & Maher, 1991; Yukl, 1999). These leadership models were rooted in isolated and fragmented parameters and paradigms, which do not match the recent seismic shifts in socio-cultural and politico-economic trends around the world.
Furthermore, Professor Sumantra Ghoshal (2005) of London School of Economics has cautioned us “Bad management theories are destroying good management practices.” Much of our management academy’s research and practitioners’ practice have been rooted in simplistic, often static, fragmented models of leadership based on certain quick fixes that do not fit all leadership dilemmas. How can these 20th Century leadership theories help us grasp the complexity, dynamism, and immensity of the 20th Century’s top-most leader Gandhi?
Limitations and Misfits of the 20th Century Leadership Theories
Gandhi was well aware that the reality is dynamic and subjected to a wide variety of uncertainties. He, therefore, did not restrict himself by making limiting rational assumptions. Instead, he continually experimented with his notion of truths Satya of reality, and considered his autobiography as nothing but a series of his experiments with truth (Dear, 2002; Gehani & Spears, 2009).
Most traditional leadership theories of 20th Century postulate and empirically test the rationalist assumptions of leaders (Bennis and Thomas, 2002). Emotional and affective elements entered into leadership theory development much later (Goleman, 1995). For ease of quantitative statistical analysis, many leadership researchers and practitioners limit themselves to handful of truncated cognitive or behavioral variables that cannot help us understand Gandhi’s dynamic and holistic leadership fully (House and Aditya, 1997).
Leader Not Taking Responsibility For Followers’ Actions
When Gandhi announced a nation-wide Hartal non-violent strike and a day of prayer on April 6 in 1919, he learned the hard way that a handful of followers in a remote part of India resorted to non-violence (Gehani and Spears, 2009). Contrary to the suggestions of most of his fellow Congress Party leaders to ignore this one stray incident by a handful of people, Gandhi as a leader took full responsibility for the actions of all his followers’ actions nationwide. Immediately and unilaterally Gandhi suspended the nonviolent Hartal protest nationwide, and admitted that he had made a gross mis-calculation about the readiness of his fellow followers. As his self-sacrificial penance for his miscalculation, Gandhi fasted for 3 days (Parekh, 1999).
Traditionally, most leadership theories have been dyadic person-centered, between a heroic leader sending instructions down to her/his followers with less power, influence, or control (Meindl, Ehrlich, and Dukerich, 1985; Yukl, 1999). Such leaders were either transactional (Avolio, Bass, & Jung, 1999), transformational (Avolio & Yammarino, 2002; Hunt & Conger, 1999), charismatic (Avolio & Yammarino, 2002; Hunt & Conger, 1999), or servant leaders (Greenleaf, 2002; 2003). Most research attention was paid to the traits, attributes, or the whims and whimsies of the leaders. The followers’ responses, intentions or actions received either passing or indifferent attention. Other leadership paradigms, such as dispersed (Ray, Clegg and Gordon, 2004), distributed or shared leadership (Sims and Lorenzi, 1992) were rarely considered.
Individual Not Collective and Multi-level Leadership
Gandhi always considered that he was collectively leading and building his people’s capabilities to self-rule, without the State ruling on them by relying on violence. For Gandhi, Satyagraha or truthful persuasion was not just means to an end, and that its widespread reliance on truths and nonviolence were their primary collective ends (Dear, 2002; Parekh, 1999). Gandhi’s notion of holistic leadership was to serve the collective, rather than to rule the collective, as we often see today. Many of his closest allies, including Jawaharlal Nehru, his closest supporter, failed to understand his depth of self-less service. Gandhi strongly believed in a multiple-level leadership. In Sabarmati Satyagraha Ashram in 1931, he constantly trained and prepared his 79 Satyagrahi associates before he walked with them 240 miles to Dandi seacoast to break the unjust Salt monopoly laws by the British colonists ruling in India (Gehani & Spears, 2009).
In the past, leadership theories have rarely considered a leader’s actions and their followers’ responses as a collective organizational or a multi-level community-wide capability (Drath & Palus, 1994; Gehani, 2002; Lord and Maher, 1991), a relational (Goleman, 1995; Gehani, 2002), or a culture-wide accomplishment (Yukl and Lepsinger, 2004). Only recently, researchers have noted the significance of considering the effectiveness of leaders at not only their individual leader level, but also at the team-level, the organizational-level, and the community-level (Avolio & Yammarino, 2002; Dansereau and Yammarino, 1998a; Hunt & Conger, 1999).
Leadership as a Longitudinal Evolution Not Just Brief Cross-Sectional Snapshots
Gandhi’s leadership involved experimenting constantly with truth, non-violence, and truthful persuasion for more than 54 years, first 21 years in South Africa and then for 33 years in India. And yet near the end of his life, Gandhi was grossly dissatisfied by his fellow freedom fighters’ rampant use of violence towards one another during and after the partition of India and Pakistan in August 1947. Whereas Gandhi helped India gain freedom and independence after 850 years of foreign rule, first under the Mughal invaders and then under the British colonists, Gandhi failed to persuade his own fellow freedom fighters and the rest of the humanity to forsake violence, discrimination, and mutual hatred.
Many traditional leadership theorists, consultants, and practitioners rely too heavily on examining leadership effects through a small window of up to five years or shorter (Covey, 1989; Gehani, 2002). In cross-sectional comparisons during such short periods, not all integral holonic aspects of dynamic leadership are fully captured or accounted.
In conclusion, Gandhi’s specific and highly noteworthy, innovative, and effective leadership strategies practices validate that the individual leadership traits, characteristics, and capabilities do not determine the cause and effect relationships postulated by the traditional leadership theories of the 20th Century. Thus, leadership theories for dynamic and disruptive 21st Century demand accommodations for the following:
(1) Realistic rather than rationalistic assumptions;
(2) Leaders taking responsibility and accountability for the actions and behaviors of their followers and associates’ as well as their own;
(3) A collective multi-level as well as individualistic understanding of leadership, and
(4) Longitudinal evolution of leaders not just their short cross-sectional snapshots.
In the next section, we examine in detail how Gandhi’s innovative leadership strategies fit with Ken Wilber’s (1995; 2000; 2006) integral leadership theory and its four quadrants.
Gandhi’s Inspiring Innovative Leadership and Wilber’s Integral Theory
Based on his phenomenological research, Ken Wilber (1995; 2000; 2006) postulated a multi-level inter-disciplinary concept for a 4-Quadrant model of an integral leader who is more suited to face the looming mayhem of technological disruptions, complexity, and dynamic economic and ecological uncertainty of the 21st Century. He referred this as the 4-quadrant AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels) model using two dimensions that span from (1) individual to collective actions, and (2) inward to outward orientation. Next we explore how Gandhi’s innovative leadership strategies fit into the 4 stages corresponding to the 4 quadrants of Wilber’s 2×2 Cartesian model (Kupers, 2011; Kupers & Weibler, 2008).
AQAL Quadrant-1: Gandhi’s Satya as (Conscious Intentional) Individual-Inward Leader
Gandhi’s early ‘Experiments with truth’ fit the AQAL Quadrant-1 representing an individual leader’s (or followers’) intra-personal and inner reality, including their individual – inward aspects (Kupers & Weibler, 2008; Wilber, 2006). Gandhi’s personal beliefs, and values, as well as intentions and attitudes are part of this domain. His subjective self-relationships manifest his reflections and intra-personal monologs. These have been accessed and assessed extensively through his speeches, writings, and interviews, which give us insights into his intuitions (Kupers & Weibler, 2008; Wilber, 2006). Therefore, this can be referred as the leader Gandhi’s consciousness or intentional quadrant (Chatterjee, 1998).
In terms of the level of inquiry for Gandhi’s leadership, we can focus on Gandhi as an individual leader or on his followers, with respect to how they align or differ. These can then be extrapolated as leader-member dyadic interactions and exchanges (Gehani, 2002).
In the case of AQAL Quadrant-1 leadership, Gandhi was highly transparent, and he constantly revealed his future vision and plans. Occasionally, as noted earlier, there were some surprises when he suddenly cancelled a nationwide Hartal strike, and unrolled the Noncooperation Program when he saw some early signs of violence that he feared could escalate easily (Gehani & Spears, 2009). He was governed by his core value to lead a movement based on truth and non-violence, and not on violence.
AQAL Quadrant-2 Gandhi’s Ahimsa as Individual – Outward Leader (Behavioral)
Gandhi’s leadership using non-violence Ahimsa in South Africa during the first decade of the 20th Century involved communicating constantly with his fellow-nonviolent protesters, and the rest of the Commonwealth world. Such behaviorist leaders in today’s times will have a high presence in the external arena and on social media technology platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linked in, and others. Most of Gandhi’s efforts were overt and unilateral as he took many personal risks first for 21 years in South Africa and then for 33 years in India. In alignment with this AQAL quadrant – 2, we can focus on Gandhi’s behaviors, actions, and relational skills that embodied his intentions and consciousness. Since the actions are more visible, Gandhi continuously trained, motivated, and inspired his followers for their faith on non-violence based on their competencies and performances (Kupers & Weibler, 2008). Here some of the traditional behavioral theories of 20th Century leadership can guide us in measuring Gandhi’s effectiveness as a leader. Gandhi constantly learned from his experiences, and his dialogs with others, and continually adapted his conflict resolution skills and strategies when dealing with the British colonists.
AQAL Quadrant-3 Gandhi Uses Swaraj as Collective-Outward Transformational leader (Systemic)
While leading for Swaraj self-rule since 1920s, Gandhi was always transparently acting out with his associates, in the public domain, using tangible shared artifacts and technologies such as Khadi coarse cotton and Charkha spinning wheel (Dear, 2002; Gehani & Spears, 2009). He built a close community-wide connection, as manifested by the thousands of people who came to visit, see, or listen to his message wherever he went or spoke. Over time, Gandhi and his followers developed their shared tangible practices based on their past experiences with implementing Satyagraha truthful persuasion for Swaraj self-rule (Dear, 2002). Since Gandhi was primarily serving the needs of his constituents, he seems like a committed servant leader (Greenleaf, 1977; 2002; 2003).
In AQAL Quadrant-3 the responsibilities of leaders and individual followers are translated into functions and collective norms manifesting in their institutions. This develops new normative systems. Here a common risk is for the collective or a segment of the dispersed leadership to shirk its responsibilities – such as by resorting to untruths or violence.
Gandhi systematically developed the infrastructure and the resources needed to help stabilize his non-violent and Satyagraha operations. He designed transparent concentric organizational structures and legislative decision-making processes, from village level up to the district, province, and national-level Congress Working Committee. Gandhi facilitated institutionalization of the system by creating pledges, vows, mission statements, codes of conduct, and policy guidelines at each of these concentric circular levels.
AQAL Quadrant-4 Gandhi’s Survodaya Collective-Inward Integral Leader (Inspiring Cultural)
Integral leaders such as Gandhi are highly reflective. However, to accomplish Survodaya ‘Greatness for All,’ Gandhi did not just act by himself, but also engaged millions of his associates intimately, subjectively, and transparently (Kupers & Weibler, 2008). Gandhi continuously created and shared their myths, memories, and intangible feelings together to co-create a new culture of dignity and self-respect. He was constantly guiding others with unwritten norms, agreements, and beliefs in using Khadi cotton and Charkha spinning wheel. He continuously raised funds to collectively build their mutual trust and collective aspirations for their economic and political self-sufficiency.
Gandhi went far beyond Servant leadership and become an inspiring mindful leader (Gehani, 2012) who synchronized the collective spirits and consciousness of his followers. Their values and beliefs were connected by their spiritual oneness. As a Collective – Outward leader, Gandhi took community – wide responsibility for his actions. In order to help India gain Self-rule Swaraj and Survodaya Greatness for All, Gandhi was committed to creating a new transformational culture of self – sufficiency and self-reliance (Kupers, 2011). This new culture provided new guiding orientations and value propositions so that India’s masses felt that they could self-rule and be self-sufficient without relying on their colonist rulers. Yet, this widespread awakening and self-sufficiency did not happen on a large scale, and most of the Indian masses remained impoverished for many more decades.
Gandhi as an integral leader had a paradoxical success (Gehani, 2008). Whereas he had a grand success gaining freedom and independence for 330 Million impoverished Indians, but he failed to uplift them with economic self-sufficiency. This is discussed in the next section.
Prosperity & Private Property
Why did Gandhi fail to uplift and awaken greatness among millions of poor Indians? Why were the poor masses not able to mushroom cottage industries in 700,000 villages of India, and become economically more self-reliant? Why did the gap between the rich and the poor not narrow down substantially? The answers to these questions lie in the balance that Gandhi had to strike in order to maintain unity, and not marginalize his primary goal of gaining freedom and independence for India from the 190 years of oppressive colonial rule and control.
Gandhi identified completely with the poorest of the poor masses in India. He dressed like them, he lived like them, and he shunned property like them. When he died, Gandhi’s total possessions amounted to equivalent of US$2 only. This included two dhotis, a hard wooden sandal, a pair of cheap steel-rimmed eyeglasses, a bowl, a spoon, and a walking stick. This old man who ruled the hearts of millions for 54 years, near the end of his life owned no home, no car, or any bank balances. Everything he had he shared with his followers and public in his Ashrams. How many such self-less leaders can we recall in human history?
Gandhi’s ‘Constructive Program’ was his plan to spread self-reliance and alleviate mass poverty among the rural farmers (Parekh, 1997). He asked fellow-patriots to burn their clothes produced by foreign textile mills exploiting the poor cotton farmers of India by paying them unfair low compensation for the raw cotton they farmed and supplied. Due to the automated cotton mills in Liverpool and Lancashire, England, millions of cotton spinners and weavers of India were either idle, famished, or starving for almost 4 months in a year. In Young India issue of Nov. 9, 1924, Gandhi (1924) noted that,
We must first come in living touch with the [rural] masses by working …in their midst. We must share their sorrows, understand their difficulties, and anticipate their wants… We must identify ourselves with the villagers who toil under the hot sun beating on their bent backs…
Gandhi had a strong faith that the innate human nature was essentially good (Dear, 2002). He recognized that the relationship between haves and have-nots was skewed. Yet he was apprehensive of imposing any radical economic remedies that would have to rely on violence. He underestimated the human greed, and the capitalists’ passion for exploitation. Many rich mill owners were often keen on getting richer by manipulating markets, usually at the expense of making the poor even poorer. Therefore, despite Gandhi’s deep concern for the poor masses of India, he had to give in to the majority of urban intelligentsia and the large landowners. He could not antagonize them – because he valued their right to their private property (Dear, 2002). He felt that socialistic redistribution of wealth, as in Russia, involves brutal use of violence – which was not acceptable to him. Therefore, there were no major land reforms in colonial India prior to her independence in August 1947. Gandhi did not want to radicalize the poor masses against the rich land-owners or industrialists who were bolstered by the colonial imperialist government.
Gandhi repeatedly highlighted that political independence for India’s masses was meaningless without their economic and moral independence (Dear, 2002; Gehani & Spears, 2009). Gandhi was a true multi-disciplinarian, and he did not compartmentalize the human reality and dignity into artificial and insulated silos. To him economic independence meant that every individual was able to uplift self with own efforts (Dear, 2002; Parekh, 1997). Gandhi wanted to alleviate poverty not by killing the few capitalist millionaires India had, but by removing the ignorance of the poor masses. He believed that labor and capital can work together in harmony, without resorting to mutual exploitation. He envisaged the rich to be the trustees of their hard earned assets, and workers the trustees of their customers. Gandhi hoped that everyone would use what they need, and deploy the rest of what they owned for the welfare of others. He believed and hoped that a capitalist can balance the self-interest with altruism and charity.
Gandhi was always extremely concerned with maintaining unity among the different segments of Indian society, along with the different factions in Indian National Congress, all working together for their shared goal towards gaining India’s independence from almost two centuries of oppressive colonial control. In the end, pursuit of political independence of millions prevailed over economic independence of millions. The poor masses had nothing much to lose. They supported the movement for political independence in large numbers. However, their political independence kept the same ruling rich class of India in control over them even after India gained independence in 1947.
Implications for 21st Century Leaders
This research study has showcased for the first time how the life and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, considered one of the top-most leaders of the 20th Century, aligns with the integral leadership theory proposed almost 50 years later by Ken Wilber (2000). We also highlighted that Gandhi’s endeavors for the AQAL 4th Quadrant transformation of collective – inward culture to uplift the masses, and lead them towards greatness for all Sarvodaya, seem far more challenging than the 3rd Quadrant challenge of creating an outward – collective structure for India’s self-rule Swaraj. This is partly because of tensions between the diverse demands and needs of different factions and sections of a developing society that many other leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and others also faced when they led their nonviolent movements in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. Furthermore, in the case of Gandhi’s reliance on non-violence, a single freedom-fighter using violence could jeopardize his vision of winning freedom and independence based primarily on truth, non-violence, and Satyagraha.
Paradoxically, towards the end of Gandhi’s life, this prophet of peace and non-violence was extremely disheartened by the worldwide spread of violence by major nations in World War II, and the ultimate devastation caused by the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to end the Pacific War (Gehani, 2018). Closer to home, Gandhi also saw widespread use of face-to-face violence due to religious, political, or economic differences. Perhaps this could have been avoided if Gandhi had more time training the masses and help them achieve more economic self-sufficiency and enlightenment.
The good news, however, is that Gandhi developed and illustrated a breakthrough innovative way for humankind to resolve conflicts due to injustice through truthful persuasion and non-violent protests. Gandhi’s innovative non-violent way eventually led to freedom and liberation of more than 1,000 Million people in India, the United States, South Africa, Poland, and many more parts of the world, during and long after his highly meaningful and purposeful life and leadership.
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About the Author
Ray Gehani has earned a Doctorate in Polymer Science & Engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology on a Japanese Government fellowship, and a Ph.D. in Business from the City University of New York (and Columbia University). At the University of Akron, he has taught a variety of courses in Management of Technology and Innovation, Corporate Business Strategy, Supply Chain Management and Strategy, and International Business Operations at either Ph.D., executive, graduate or undergraduate level. He is a Fellow of the Fitzgerald Institute for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business, and a Fellow of the Intellectual Property Center in the School of Law.