Leading a Nation Vs. Leading an Organization change: A perspective

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Leading a Civil Rights movement; Leading an entire nation during an Independence struggle; Leading and Managing organisation change. Without hesitation you would say that the first two would be bigger, more daunting, even more challenging and complex when compared to leading an organisation change. This does not mean that the latter is not important or critical. It only emphasizes, that if an entire nation could be moved together, then there is something to understand and learn from Mahatma Gandhi. He was definitely not the first, nor would he be the last, but he was certainly the most famous of the world’s peaceful political revolutionaries. He led India’s independence movement in the 1930s and 40s by speaking softly facing down the British colonialists with stirring speeches and non-violent protest. Managing change starts with yourself . It is having astute awareness of yourself and managing yourself. Mahatma Gandhi did just that. Through his transformational leadership style, he was able to lead the nation in the struggle for Independence. His exemplary leadership stands out, especially for his ideas and strategies which are now proving to have great meaning for the corporate world, particularly in India. His “inner voice” (his term for ‘conscience’) that firmed his moral authority along with his Innovation and creativity formed the strong foundation of each 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.”

Gandhi’s concept of Non-violence and his high moral standards are what today’s leaders must emulates in order for organizations to have the advantage in the global market. His concept of a self- ruled society can be compared to a project orientated organisation, where individual teams are self-governed and highly efficient.

 To be an effective leader while managing change, the focus should be on transforming the attitudes and behaviors of employees, to facilitate a business reach and higher performance goals while embracing change. The way to achieve this is by psychological insights that lay the foundation for changing mind-sets.

History confirms that Mahatma Gandhi proved that one man has the power to take on an empire, using both ethics and intelligence.  Other peaceful resisters (like: Martin Luther King Jr., Tibet’s Dalai Lama) have emulated his methods, shaking up the dynamic of world politics in the process.  

Before Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian civil rights movement, India was a country that had multiple diverse nationalities. Uniting the country under one leader was a task fraught with complexities and challenges. Yes, Mahatma Gandhi was able to be a leader and gather followers from all over India. He united India under one leader by leading through his own example.

Not only was he a great role model, but was also very persistent and consistent in his beliefs. Determined to follow through in what he believed in, he believed in keeping his promises. Mahatma Gandhi very strongly believed in non-violence and showed how non-violence was an ultimate solution with the salt tax protest.

People will move with you if they see the point of change and are in agreement with it. Of course, the surrounding structures should complement the change e.g.: rewards and recognition systems. There is an independent realization of each condition, the synergies proving to changing attitudes and behaviors.

Create a Compelling Story

“A free India” proved to be just the purpose for Indians to believe in. If people believe in the overall purpose, they will be happy to change their individual behavior to serve that purpose.  Once you create a compelling change story, communicating it to employees, and following it up with ongoing  Communications and involvement is an imperative. Be mindful: What motivates you doesn’t motivate most of your employees

Be a Consistent Role Model

Ensure to take actions that model the desired change and mobilize a group of “influence leaders” to drive change deep into the organization. Be mindful of the self-serving bias; the real bottleneck to role modeling is knowing what to change at a personal level. Commit and then take action!

Capability Building

It is important to build the skills and talent needed for the desired change. We need to keep in mind that Employees are what they think, feel, and believe in. Seeing it through the lens of your employee would go a long way in helpful insights while developing the right development plans. Once the development initiatives are  rolled out, it is prudent to create the environment that allows for practice of these new skills.

Reinforcing Mechanisms

While the process side of managing change should be in place (i.e. systems, processes, structures, etc.) leaders should focus the required energy for the people side of the equation. Keep your focus on the culture, motivation, beliefs and practices prevalent in the organisation. Ensure alignment to the objectives at all times while leading from the front.

To put this in context to close: Change leadership requires leaders, and the organization as a whole, to address beliefs and mindsets and to develop the practices and behaviors that help people adapt to change. For this, Leaders must personally lead and commit to the change. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, relationships are based on 4 principles; respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation. A leader who builds his or her foundation on this would be effective in Change leadership

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Cheryl Patel has over 15 years experience ranging from Startups, Marketing, Operations, People Development and Relationship Management across various industries. In her current role she heads Learning and Development for Diebold Nixdorf in India catering to a diverse works force. She possesses a demonstrated ability to work with integrated teams to improve flexibility and effectiveness in working in a fast paced and dynamic environment. In addition to her professional accountability and expertise, her ability to connect with people with a mature and sensitive approach to their needs is her primary strength.

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