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Leadership: Gandhi Style

Gandhi_spinning

There’s a famous story, where a mother brings her son to Gandhi, and asks him:

“Bapu (Father), my son eats too much sugar. It is not good for his health. Would you please ask him to stop?”

Gandhi reflected for a few moment, and replied:

“Please come back in one month. I will talk to your son then.”

The woman looked perplexed, and wondered why Gandhi had not asked the boy to stop eating sugar right away. She took her son and went home.

A month later, the mother and son visited Gandhi again. Gandhi looked at the boy and said:

“Son, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.”

The boy nodded, and promised that he would not continue this habit any longer. The boy’s mother was puzzled. She turned to Gandhi and asked:

“Bapu, why didn’t you tell him to cut out the sweets two weeks ago?”

Gandhi smiled and said:

“Mother, two weeks ago, I was eating a lot of sugar myself.”

In business, your staff will respect managers who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the kind of task they are asking of their employees. This is especially true in small businesses. It’s not practical for the manager to do every task- that’s why you have employees, but employees respond best to managers who have been there, and can empathize with their workers.

To be clear, I am not asking you to be as genuine as Gandhi when you delegate business tasks. He was very wise, and had incredible self discipline. But the story is relevant.  Gandhi had enough integrity to only ask someone to do what he was willing to do himself.  It’s important that managers have this same kind of integrity in assigning work to their employees.

Remember that there are two sides to this coin.  I’ve seen managers, and even business owners, who are so sensitive about respecting their employees that they don’t ask their workers to do demeaning tasks. Instead, they do the tasks themselves.  To be clear, delegating work is important and I don’t recommend putting the weight of the world on your shoulders either. If you are willing to do a task, or have at least done the task at an earlier stage of your career, it is perfectly appropriate to ask your staff get tough.

And, for the record, I would never ask my team to stop eating sugar.