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Mahatma Gandhi Management Guru

Updated: December 26, 2009 5:51 pm

Peter Drucker is considered to be the father of management. However, Mahatma Gandhi is now being acknowledged as a Management Guru. The Harvard School of Business Management has hailed him as the Management Guru of 20th century. Boston Consulting Group’s CEO Arun Maira, prominent professors of management Professor CK Prahlad and Professor Arindam Chaudhury are stressing on Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas for making managers more successful, humane and compassionate.

Peter Drucker wrote that management is deeply involved with spiritual concerns, the nature of men, good and evil.

Spiritualism was the driving force in Mahatma Gandhi’s remarkable life and work. He understood it not in the conventional sense of going to a place of worship. For him it had a larger meaning of going beyond one’s self and linking oneself with the larger society—the world and the universe. It is essential for a manager, in the words of Peter Drucker, to “motivate and direct people for a common venture”. Gandhiji preceded the modern-day managers by successfully motivating people to launch the first-ever non-violent struggle for Independence in the world.

Hundred years back in South Africa Mahatma Gandhi studied the nature of human beings and adopted a spiritual path to address the problems arising out of sufferings of his compatriots. He was in quest for truth. He wrote that he saw truth in the suffering of the Indians. He took measures to remedy the sufferings for attaining self-realisation and achieving truth. It is this larger goal of reaching out to truth by redressing the sufferings of the people that made him one of the finest managers in human history.        The advent of such a manager is a by product of a deeper spiritual conviction which took him beyond the material sphere and made him an outstanding leader engaged in experiments with truth. He exercised self-control and subjected himself to self-assessment unremittingly and thereby took steps towards the final goal of truth which he said is the God. In his book Management Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices, Peter Drucker devotes one chapter to management and self-control. Much after Mahatma Gandhi subjected himself to self-control and spearheaded one of the epoch-making movements for Independence, the founder of the modern management devoted his attention to self-control to prescribe methods to the modern managers for realising the objectives of the organisations in which they worked.

Mahatma Gandhi accorded primacy to the means for achieving the ends. Peter Drucker once wrote: “Efficiency is doing things right and effectiveness is doing the right things.” His statement   stresses on right means for reaching the desired goal. We can apply appropriate means if we exercise restraint and cultivate values. It is being suggested by important managers in the modern organisations that the role of leadership must stress on making efficiency effective. One Austrian admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and India Mr. John Brussen slightly altered the famous equation of Einstein E = MC2 and stated that if ‘E’ stood for excellence then ‘M’ stood for men and human beings and out of ‘C2’ one ‘C’ stood for commitment and the other for character. This is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi did and this is exactly what the modern-day managers are now trying to emphasise.

Mahatma Gandhi stressed on some of the distinguishing features of the modern day management practices such as total quality, customer relations, corporate social responsibility, decentralization and human resource development. Total quality management has become a defining feature of managerial practices since 1990s. Mahatma Gandhi stressed on quality in all his endeavours for mobilising people for getting Swaraj. Quality here does not mean the quality of the final product alone. Quality consciousness has to permeate to every level of the organisation. His stress on quality Swaraj rested inter alia on quality of Hindu-Muslim unity, quality of sanitation of our surroundings and quality of human relations marked by gender equality and devoid of the practice of untouchability. In today’s management theory and practice, total quality means sum of the quality work from the lowest level to the highest level of the organisation.

            Peter Drucker once defined quality of a product from the point of view of customer. Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. …We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

The idea of stakeholder finds eloquent expression in Mahatma Gandhi’s writings. Most of the modern-day managers driven by unreasonable greed neglect the interests of the customers and shareholders. Mahatma Gandhi treated the workers and labourers in a factory as major stakeholders.. On 31st March, 1936, seeing the pitiable conditions of the workers in the Kollar Gold Mines he wrote: “If the workers only knew what they could do for themselves by combining the training and intelligence they would realise that they were no less proprietors of the mines than the managers and the shareholders.”

            Decline of ethics in many corporate organisations have resulted in financial irregularities and self-indulgence. Many corporations in the world have collapsed on account of unethical practices. It is in this context that Gandhiji’s endorsement of the idea that commerce without principle is sin assumes critical significance. The demand by management students to introduce courses on ethics is indicative of their desire for adopting fair business practices.

He identified himself with the common people and adopted voluntary poverty to tune himself to the ordinary masses. On 24th February, 1942, Mahatma Gandhi authored an interesting piece called “The duty of a Manager”. He did so in response to a question which is reproduced below:

“Is it correct for the head of an institution, while demanding the utmost from his subordinates in the way of simple life, to live in comparative luxury himself even though the money he spends on himself be his own earnings?”

The reply of Mahatma Gandhi was educative. He wrote: “The manager who expects more from his co-workers than what he does is bound to fail.” His example is now being followed by modern management institutes. Founder Director of Manford Alliance, Anand David wrote a special article on Mahatma Gandhi titles the “Leader Mahatma” in the Training and Management journal in 2005. He referred to his qualities—humble, bold, modest and determined. He called him the Level-5 leader who went beyond personal gains and identified himself with the larger cause of society, nation and humanity. The use of Mahatma Gandhi’s picture in 1998 by the Apparel Computers in an advertisement testifies to the enduring relevance of Gandhiji for the modern-day managers. In that advertisement there was just one picture of Gandhiji and below it, was written: “Think Different”. So beyond the realm of politics Gandhiji assumes enormous significance for the corporate world.

            Earlier a reference was made to the stakeholders. According to Mahatma Gandhi, stakeholders are not only the people who possess the shares of a company but also all those who are linked to the activities of the organisation, which has a larger goal of serving the society. Today when the emphasis is given on corporate social responsibility the idea of Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of trusteeship is of immense relevance for our time. In fact, many business organisations are now stressing on a sustainable business practice, which expands the scope of stakeholders to include the larger sphere of plants, animals and the whole environment. In the book Beyond Reasonable Greed, the authors have stressed on reforming business to go beyond the predatory commercial instinct and to cultivate a positive vision involving sustainable business in both a social and an environmental sense. They have outlined the danger of following a lifestyle and using a product or business process which are unsustainable. It is very instructive to note that the authors used Mahatma Gandhi’s famous words: “The Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”, and emphasised on a business practice that would look after the interests of not only human beings but also the nature. It is this larger understanding of the concept of stakeholder that remained central to such an approach. This is in consonance with what Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1930s. He spoke about a doctrine of equality for all creatures. No revolution and movement, which aimed at unchaining human beings from bondage, had stressed on equality of all creatures. But now the modern-day business people are talking about sustainable business practices so that they can continue their business activities in harmony with nature. This is what exactly Gandhiji meant when he wanted a doctrine of equality for all creatures and described commerce without principle as sin. This idea must be incorporated in the larger scheme of management. It is heartening that these issues are being taken up by people concerned to include them in the syllabus on management (Vide editorial of The Hindu, dated 26th December, 2008). It was evident from the decision taken by the first Global Forum on the Principles of Responsible Management Education. The Forum in its meeting organised in New York adopted the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) to mainstream environmental, social and governance issues in the business school curricula. This line of thinking to expand the scope of management discipline to incorporate the environmental issues bears significance in the context of the looming planetary crisis of global warming and climate change. It is interesting to recall that this initiative concerning Principles of Responsible Management Education came from 5000 multinational corporations from 100 countries under the aegis of the United Nations to achieve the objective of sustainable development. The New York meet categorically affirmed: “The long-term viability and success of business will depend on its capacity to manage environmental, social and governance concerns and to create sustainable value through innovation and new business models adapted to a changing global environment.” In other words, the statement wants   refashioning of business and business studies by going beyond commerce and profit and taking into account the larger issues such as ecology. This is a refreshing change which is in tune with the vision of Mahatma Gandhi who had analysed the problems created by modern civilization based on multiplication of wants and desires, which are responsible for endangering the whole planet. No wonder, therefore, that Mahatma Gandhi has been described as the Management Guru of 20th century.

By Satya Narayana Sahu

(The author is Director, Prime Minister’s Office)

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