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February 2009
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

"I often wish that I could rid the world of the tyranny of facts.
What are facts but compromises? A fact merely marks the point where we
have agreed to let investigation cease . "

William Bliss Carman, Canadian poet

Gandhi’s lesson for today’s thought leaders

Sixty-one years ago one and a half million people marched and another million watched as Mahatma Gandhi’s two mile long funeral cortege moved quietly to the holy waters of the Jumna River near New Delhi.

Gandhi had been a private citizen. A lawyer by training and early practice, he held no official post, and left no material wealth or property. He endured and overcame racism, religious persecution, poverty, caste discrimination, physical violence, political and legal persecution, and for much of his life the ignorance and disinterest of the powerful figures he need to influence.

Yet 300 million people credited his actions and ideas as the main force in the creation of India’s independence. And millions of others throughout the world recognised the impact of the non-violent protest strategies he first employed in South Africa, and the profound impact his ideas had on so many others including Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Today, Presidential candidates and corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy time and space in media to win people’s hearts and minds to their causes and products. These precedents support the easy assumption that only the rich and powerful can lead on important ideas. Yet this ignores that in the most over-communicated society in history, these campaigns based on core messages, flashy sound bites and staged photo opportunities fail more often than they succeed. More often they lead to increased distrust, cynicism and disinterest from those they most want to influence.

And with the Global Financial Crisis and its consequences saturating media, the pervading theme in most news headlines seems to be insatiable appetite individuals and organisations appear to have for Government assistance and handouts of all kinds. And many large corporations, universities and other organisations are at the head of the line. Many of the same people who only a few months ago mindlessly called for Government to free them to create wealth are now mindlessly calling on Government for handouts that future generations will have to pay for.

This spectre of hypocrisy is worsened by the evergreen stories of company directors and senior executives taking massive bonuses for results during specific accounting periods. The events since the close of those accounting periods clearly show that those performances were built on sand, and that no real value was created to justify any bonus.

The world now knows that many of these leaders actually destroyed value by their easy acceptance of the group think about risk and returns that wasn’t thinking at all. In the worst cases it was negligence. The old tale of the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes is truly a metaphor for our time, and a pointer as to why so few trust our leaders and institutions.

Of course there remain many excellent business leaders diligently creating wealth even in this difficult business environment. And there are many authentic leaders in universities, government and other organisations creating different forms of community value. It is these thoughtful, diligent and often unsung heroes who are creating a sustainable future based on fundamental value creation. They rise above those who look for short-cuts like creative financial techniques and mean-spirited wealth transfers from some sectional interests to others.

The first are authentic and build great industries, institutions and communities. The latter are frauds and drain initiative and energy from the whole community. In time communities sort out one group from the other, but often only after much damage is done.

Gandhi lived in another time and place, but were he here he would show what it takes to make real and sustainable change in this world. His words and deeds are as valid today as they were then.

Gandhi also did many things modern leaders do to lead on ideas. He worked hard to deeply understand how the world occurred to those he wished to influence. He understood the pain people most wanted to fix, and he had a meaningful solution and pathway to it. And he wrote articles and gave speeches.

But the core of his success was more about who he was, and who he was prepared to become. Every leader of consequence understands this to some degree, but in Gandhi we have one of the handful of figures in human history who have exemplified the foundation stone of a truly great thought leader.

He powerfully encapsulated the essence of this when he said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is in the journey we take and who we are becoming that develops the authenticity and authority to lead others on important ideas.

The good news is that nobody has to be Michael Jordon to play great basketball, or Garry Kasparov to play great chess. And thankfully leaders need not set the bar so high that they need to become a Gandhi to successfully lead – that would be a bar set so high that it would intimidate even the boldest souls. These leaders inspire and show the way for many to follow and reach their own potential.

There are no overnight sensations in elite sport, great science or influential idea leaders. All true thought leaders have taken a journey that is largely invisible to others for much of its length. What Gandhi teaches shows that a big part of that journey is discovering who we need to become to “…be the change we wish to see in the world.”

In his recent book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites the research that great achievers in any field seem to amass around 10,000 hours studying and perfecting their skills and ideas. That is a great deal of time – much more than the average performer in any field would seriously contemplate.

It may explain why so many remain relatively mediocre despite fervently wishing they were like the elites of their field. Always in command of himself and his perspective, Gandhi was ever ready to respond with thought-proving responses. When asked what he thought of modern civilisation while visiting Britain in 1930, he replied “That would be a good idea.”

Take some time to reflect on how your idea can change the world, or even a small part of your world. And before you write that speech, also reflect on who you want to become to be that change in your world. Then write that speech, set out on that journey and experience how your growing authority and authenticity draw people to march with you.

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)



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