Gandhi’s Top 5 Leadership Messages

Great leaders, like Gandhi, are associated with great leadership messages.

This is no coincidence.

Vivid messages help position people as great leaders. Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Anita Roddick, Steve Waugh, Janine Allis and Howard Schultz are examples of this.

Gandhi leadership messages smileThis article focuses on Mohandas Gandhi who changed the world with his ‘non violent, non cooperation’ position against the British occupation of India.

Gandhi is considered the father of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi’s leadership success began in South Africa, where he lived for 20 years. He learned to fight the discrimination that existed there. It was there he refined his concept of non-violent protesting against injustices.

A British-educated Barrister, Gandhi’s first experience of racism in South Africa happened just a week after he arrived in 1893, when, as a first class passenger, he was famously thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg simply for being Indian. Rather than retaliate or take the insult personally, his experience led him to test his leadership ideas.

Later, when he returned to India, Gandhi’s assumed leadership of the Indian National Congress. He led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Indian self-rule.

Many civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, used Gandhi’s concept of non-violent protest as a model for their own struggles.


Leadership Message No. 5:

gandhi young3“In this cause, I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.”

This leadership message was so memorable that it was forever captured in the David Attenborough film, Gandhi, which I recommend to you. It was on September 11, 1906 that Gandhi addressed a group of 3,000 Indians in Johannesburg.

The group was angry towards the British Raj’s discriminative laws against the colony’s Indian population. Just minutes before his brilliant message was delivered, many in the audience were advocating violence.

One person jumped up and exclaimed, “I am willing to die to fight these laws”.

Then Gandhi delivered the message that both composed and inspired the group.

“In this cause, I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.”

The room went silent with the power of this idea.

It’s worth remembering that Gandhi was not known as a charismatic speaker. He just delivered his leadership messages and let them sink into people’s minds. His leadership ideas had all the power required to change people’s thinking.

With this statement, Gandhi was able to sooth and satisfy an angry and hostile audience. And, by the end of the speech he had them agree to take an oath to resist white colonial rule without violence.

It marked the birth of the non-violent resistance movement.

This is leadership at it’s most potent. He led the room with the clarity of his idea. And his message was so vivid, and so transferable that he crystallised the non-violent, non-cooperation movement for the rest of the world to use.

Years later another man would use Gandhi’s approach in his fight against apartheid in South Africa – Nelson Mandela.


Leadership Message No. 4:

Gandhi salt march“The difference between what we do, and what we are capable of doing, would solve most of the world’s problems.”

This is a wonderful leadership message Gandhi used to inspire his followers.

In other words, we might think there’s nothing we can do when problems seem overwhelming – we can’t change the world, so why bother trying.

Whereas Gandhi argued that we are capable of doing a lot. And he led by example. This short, thin, uncharismatic man was able to drive so much change.

He did this by developing belief in his ideas by thinking them through. This gave him the ability to explain them simply through vivid messages.


Leadership Message No. 3:

gandhi with cute kid“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”

Here Gandhi is suggesting people think for themselves about what really matters. He felt that the rush to follow the western production-line-thinking view of economic growth, without integrating the Indian lifestyle would end badly.

His own philosophy valued people before monthly quotas and the bottom line. And this leadership message was a wake up call to his country to rethink the ideas the British were promoting.

You might say that today we are still trying to find the right balance in society. Technology has increased the speed of communication and transaction – which is great – but are we also able to stay balanced?

A leader who can help us find the right balance is very valuable.


Leadership Message No. 2:

Gandhi smiling with friends“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This is probably Gandhi’s most famous quote.

You may have heard it before but not realised it came from Gandhi. It’s been repeated by so many people now this leadership idea has a life of its own. It’s an example of a leadership message continuing to lead, long after the man is gone.

Gandhi came across a lot of people who had dogmatic views about how other people should act and what they should do. This message confronts the lack of thinking associated with dogma and turns it around to ask, ‘what are you doing with your life and the everyday moments you have’? Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford speech; “Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking.”

The famous Gandhi sugar story:

A woman walks with her son many miles to see Gandhi. She is worried her son is eating too much sugar. She asks Gandhi: “Please, sir, can you tell my son to stop eating sugar.”

Gandhi says, “Bring him back in two weeks.” Disappointed, she takes her son home.

Two weeks later she makes the long journey again. Gandhi says to the boy, “you must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you.” The boy has such respect for Gandhi that he stops and lives a healthy life.

The woman is confused and asks, “Why did you want me to wait two weeks  to bring back my son.”

Gandhi said, “Because before I could tell your son to stop eating sugar. I had to stop eating sugar first.”

The leadership idea: Changing yourself might help more than telling others they have to change.

And further still, he said that by changing yourself, you will change how you feel and what actions you take. And so have real impact on the world around you.


Leadership Message No. 1:

Gandhi with Nehru“I want to change their minds. Not kill them for weaknesses we all possess.”


Another leadership message home-run.

When faced with a group of Indian political leadership who wanted to go to war with the British, Gandhi was able to change the minds of the people in the room by to doing 2 things:

  1. Focusing on the similarities we have with others, even our enemies.
  2. Reminding everyone of their goal: To change their minds of the British leadership and get them to leave India.

This leadership message dissolved their violent rage. In just 5 seconds.

When we realise we’re all imperfect it becomes easier to see alternative ways of connecting with people who are, after all, just like you. As opposed to just blowing them up. Bill Clinton has said many times, ‘Politics may be messy, but it’s an alternative to violence’.

For many years, Indian politicians would seek the advice of Gandhi before making key decisions. On this occasion in Congress in September 1920, politicians were poised to fight the British for their independence through violence.

Through his message, Gandhi was able to convince the leaders to focus their efforts on the non-violent, non-cooperation movement, which ultimately led to the withdrawal of the British from India in 1947 – and set a precedent that might last for centuries.


Gandhi’s Leadership Ideas

Gandhi jail4There’s no question that Gandhi’s leadership ideas had a profound impact on the world.

Albert Einstein captured this impact well when he said: “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”


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