Leadership – A Higher Standard

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Excerpts from A Higher Standard of Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Gandhi


1. “I began to understand the heroic nature of the man (Gandhi) in his willingness to address fundamental questions and then to try with all his being to live by the answer he found.

2. The qualities that Gandhi exemplified, such as personal responsibility, truth, love, respect for the individual and courage, have applications throughout our work and social lives.

3. . . . this kind of heroic leadership . . . leadership that can harness the ideals in all of us, appeal to what is best in us, and move us to a better quality of life.

4. Those of us not in power have a responsibility to raise our standards so our leaders will have to follow.

5. Because I believe it is up to each of us to move toward a higher standard of leadership, the emphasis in this book is on individual responsibility.


6. The standard of leadership depends not only on the qualities and beliefs of our leaders but also on the expectations we have of them.

7. In putting forward a path to a higher standard of leadership, there is no greater exemplar than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

8. He reminded the world that the human spirit is indomitable and that courage and love are more powerful than force.

9. Gandhi had many of the qualities we associate with successful leaders.  In addition to courage and determination, he could sustain a high energy level for extended periods, he was decisive, he had great interpersonal skills, he was thoughtful but action oriented, and he paid great attention to the details of implementation.

10. Gandhi’s life was not governed by policies; it was governed by principles and values.

11. Gandhi believed that all religions were manifestations of the Truth and that people of different faiths should and could live in peace and harmony.

12. Gandhi believed in the equality of all forms of labor.  He developed and participated in the labor union movement and never asked any of his followers to do work he would not do himself.

13. The lessons from Gandhi’s life challenge our beliefs about the standards of leadership – beliefs that many of us have come to accept as necessary for success.

14. Gandhi believed in a single standard of conduct in public and private life – a standard founded on integrity derived from the absolute values of truth and non violence.

15. He believed that individuals must have ideals and try to live up to them, and he demonstrated that an idealist could be practical and effective.

16. He did not strive for consistency except in his quest for the truth.

17. On the fundamental values of truth, nonviolence, and service, he had a message for the ages. He asked us to reject not only physical violence, but violence to the spirit.

18. We need a new heroic ideal:  the brave, truthful, nonviolent individual who is in the service of humanity, resists injustice and exploitation, and leads by appealing to our ideals and our spirit.  Such a heroic ideal is embodied in Gandhi.


19. A single standard of conduct. The essential quality:  courage. Commit to absolute values. Commit to the journey. Commit to training your conscience. Commit to reducing attachments. Commit to minimizing secrecy.

20. When leadership sets the example, the double standard permeates the organization.

21. We have come to accept that a lower moral standard is necessary to get things done in the real world of politics and business. This is the gospel of expediency – the double standard of conduct.

22. The reality is that we lose respect for our leaders if we do not approve of their conduct – public or private. Leaders who do not command our respect reduce the legitimacy of their leadership and lose our trust.

23. Setting an example is central to the leadership role.

24. Leaders who are not trusted find it difficult to challenge others to greatness.

25. Gandhi believed and acted on the belief that leaders have the responsibility to set an example of conduct.

26. To increase legitimacy and respect for leadership and for the system in which we live, we must acknowledge Gandhi’s ideal of a single standard – a single standard of conduct in both public and private life.

27. When we lose our ideals, we lack depth as individuals, we stop thinking and striving to improve, and most importantly we lose our kinship with others.

28. Ideals are food for the soul.

29. Striving toward an ideal requires commitment. This is no different than trying to achieve excellence in any field of endeavor. There are however, two important differences. Striving for an ideal with respect to individual conduct is more difficult  because it encompasses everything we do. On the other hand, each of us has the potential to achieve excellence – we can all think of ourselves as gifted.

30. Five basic commitments that lead to a higher standard of leadership:

• Develop a basis for the single standard: Commit to absolute values.

• Acknowledge the ideal: Commit to the journey.

• Develop the guide that will keep you on the journey: Commit to training your conscience.

• Reduce forces that lead you astray: Commit to reducing attachments.

• Be willing to stand scrutiny: commit to minimizing secrecy.

31. Each of us must make a commitment to live by a single standard of conduct – for if we do, our leaders will have to follow.

32. Courage is the essential personal quality required to maintain the five basic commitments; as exemplified by Gandhi’s life, this is courage of the spirit linked to an indomitable will.


33. In  every field of human endeavor, we search for universal principles that will bring order to chaos.

34. In business we look for strategic concepts to guide decision making.

35. To grow as human beings, to guide our conduct, we also look for universal principles: absolute values.

36. Leaders have the greatest responsibility. Without the compass of absolute values, what instrument do they have to guide others?

37. Gandhi formulated two absolute values: truth and nonviolence. They were linked together, both ends in themselves and means to an end – faces of the same coin.

38. Gandhi’s definition of truth was broad: “There should be Truth in thought, Truth in speech and Truth in action.” When truth controls action, we move toward complete congruence between words and deeds. This is living truthfully – thinking and acting truthfully.

39. To Gandhi, God was truth. In this sense Gandhi gave a religious meaning to the expression, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The level of your personal commitment in the search for truth will determine your commitment to truth in dealing with others.  This is the basis of the oft-quoted advice given to Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all to thine own self be true: And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

40. Gandhi’s definition of nonviolence was equally broad. It was not just a rejection of violence; it was the positive love for all humanity.  “Nonviolence translated ‘love’ is the supreme law of human beings,” he said. “It knows no exception.” For Gandhi, violence encompassed all forms of exploitation, including discrimination and poverty. Nonviolence demanded action, requiring work against all forms of exploitation.

41. In our personal lives, living truthfully has to be practiced in the context of relationships with other individuals such as family and friends.  Similar relationships exist in business with customers, colleagues, employees, shareholders, and society.

42. “Walking the talk” means living truthfully with respect to employees and colleagues.

43. When we do these things from a moral imperative, living truthfully becomes fundamental to our way of living, and we don’t give it up because of short-term set backs – like a decline in sales and profits.

44. Truth is important for pragmatic reasons as well. With truth as an absolute value, we are committed to seeing things as they really are.  Without a true understanding of reality, how can we act with any assurance of success? Acknowledging reality is difficult, especially when it requires change. There is a vested interest in the status quo.

45. A commitment to truth creates a moral imperative that forces you to acknowledge the data and to take the important first step of recognizing reality.

46. The practical significance of nonviolence became clear once I understood that violence included exploitation.

47. Because we need our entire work force and the talents of everybody, and because we need to leave a habitable environment for the future, a commitment to nonviolence has practical applications.

48. We must guard against ideology, tradition, and organizational goals masquerading as absolute values. These pseudo-absolute values include national interest, patriotism, group loyalty, capitalism, free markets, and organizational survival. When we turn these into absolute values, we may sacrifice what is fundamental at the altar of what is expedient.

49. Nonviolence demands action, requiring work against all forms of exploitation.

50. Much of what we are trying to bring to leadership in business, government, and our communities fits within the concept of living truthfully.

51. Operationalizing values transforms them into action. Gandhi operationalized the absolute values of truth and nonviolence when he established his ashram.

52. Truth and nonviolence are practical values – we can use them to guide us in our work and personal lives.

53. If we don’t operationalize our ideals, they are often nothing more than slogans. Business talked about product quality for years, but it was not until the measurement of quality was integrated with process design and implementation that improvements in product quality were realized.  Measurement resulted in operationalizing quality requirements and made people accountable. Similarly, by operationalizing our values, we take personal responsibility and are willing to be held accountable.

54. Complete commitment is the ideal, but any increase in our level of commitment will have a significant positive impact on the quality of leadership.

55. Gandhi’s message is that we have to strive for the ideal; knowing we will not be able to attain perfection is no excuse for not making a commitment.


56. Doing what we  believe is right is what keeps us on the path toward the ideal.

57. The object is to try to do everything a little better tomorrow than it was done today. Continuous improvement is the path to a higher standard of leadership.

58. If we are to stay on the path to a higher standard of leadership, the application of continuous improvement must be expanded to include moral conduct.

59. The journey toward an ideal never ends; there is always room for improvement  When the ideal seems far away, you should not be discouraged. Think of the distance as a measure of your potential – not of your imperfections.

60. It is not easy to stay on the path; we all need assistance. It is important that we associate with colleagues who share our commitment to be on the path.

61. Evaluating everyday activities is essential to avoid straying from the path.

62. By evaluating our everyday actions, we develop the skill to exercise moral judgment on the bigger issues.


63. Without a trained conscience, an individual will find it difficult to see the difference between the path of the single standard and the slippery slope of expediency.

64. A trained conscience is developed through personal reflection. But without a commitment to the truth, personal reflection will result only in rationalization.

65. Moral growth is not possible without the discipline of regular personal reflection, which is best described as a dialogue with yourself.

66. Disciplined reflection does not take time away from work; it sustains the spirit and increases the intensity and quality of work.


67. Attachments are relationships, possessions, privileges, and other components of our life we do not want to give up. Some of these attachments, such as family and country, are desirable and have motivated people to do great things.

68. The Buddha identified attachments as one of the causes of suffering.

69. We need to acknowledge that attachments, such as power, privilege, and possessions, can make it difficult to maintain high moral standards.

70. We know what we ought to do, but our attachments prevent us from doing it, so we condone – and therefore support – bad leadership.

71. If you establish bounds on your needs and curb your desire for ever-increasing wealth, you remove a major force that could lead to immoral actions.

72. The first step is to understand the rationale for the various privileges you may have acquired as a leader. Every privilege should assist in meeting organizational objectives – and it is the objective you should be committed to, not the privilege.

73. The problem occurs when power  becomes an attachment and is misused to gain even more power and privilege.

74. As an individual committed to a higher standard, you must use power within the bounds set by your values, and you have to be willing to risk the power you have to maintain your commitment to your values.


75. Secrecy is the enemy of trust and is responsible for much of the distrust that exists between business and society, corporations and customers, management and employees.

76. We share information with people we trust.  How can leaders ask for the trust of the people they lead if they are not prepared to share information?

77. A commitment to minimize secrecy forces us to think of the consequences of our actions and provides a discipline that helps us stay on the path.

78. Making it difficult for others to get information is an indirect way to maintain secrecy.

79. If those who seek openness do not meet their commitment to be truthful, they are equally responsible for the cycle of deception by providing those who have the information the justification for secrecy.


80. Each step on the path to a higher standard of leadership takes courage – courage to commit to absolute values and to the universal code of conduct to treat others as ourselves.

81. It is moral courage that determines the standard of leadership in the practical arenas of politics business, academics, and the community.

82. When you exercise moral courage and do what you know is right, you may face adversity. Adversity comes in many forms: loss of friends, money, position, popularity, success.

83. Throughout his life Gandhi demonstrated that the way to remove injustice while adhering to nonviolence is to resist by not cooperating.

84. When you stand up for what you believe is right, you must have the courage to acknowledge your actions and face the consequences.

85. With courage a leader wins battles, but it takes indomitable will to win the war. It is the indomitable will of the leader that gives others the confidence that they will overcome.

86. Leadership is a way of life and a courageous life is the life worth living.


The Spirit of Service

Reconcile Power With Service

Focus on Responsibilities Not Rights

Emphasize Values-Based Service

Understand The Needs Of The People You Wish To Serve

Make a Commitment To Personal Service

87. Gandhi never held any official position in government, he had no wealth, he commanded no armies – but he could mobilize millions.  People were willing to serve with him and for him because his life was devoted to serving them.

88. As long as power dominates our thinking about leadership, we cannot move toward a higher standard of leadership. We must place service at the core; for even though power will always be associated with leadership, it has only one legitimate use: service.

89. The importance of service to leadership has a long history

90. Service exists in the context of a relationship.

91. If the single standard is the foundation of a higher standard of leadership, the spirit of service is the material with which the structure must be constructed.

92. Service must be conducted within the bounds of moral values – it must be truthful service. If you are committed to truthful service, you may not always tell people what they want to hear.

93. Gandhi placed before us a higher standard – a standard based on an enduring spirit of personal service founded on individual responsibility and a moral imperative.

94. In examining the life of Gandhi in the context of today’s leadership tasks, I have found five steps that will help make service the centerpiece of leadership:

• Focus on responsibilities

• Emphasize values-based service

• Make a commitment to personal service

• Understand the needs of the people you wish to serve

• Reconcile power with service

To climb these steps requires no special talents, only the desire and commitment to serve.


95. [As to the “Rights of Man” Gandhi said] “I suggest the right way.  Begin with a charter of duties of man (both D and M capitals) and I promise the rights will follow as spring follows winter.”

96. The challenge for leaders is to live up to their fundamental responsibility as human beings: to treat others as themselves.

97. When we fail to meet our responsibilities to others, they have to insist on their rights. In some cases, these rights have to be written into law.

98. Whether you are a department head or a supervisor, the principle remains the same: meet you responsibilities before you ask others to met theirs.

99. As a business leader, you need to make your employees aware of the challenges the business faces. Show them how you are trying to meet your responsibilities, and learn how they are trying to meet theirs.

100. Gandhi demonstrated that meeting one’s responsibilities in no way diminishes the intensity of the struggle for justice.  It intensifies it, since it is all put in the same context: living up to our responsibilities as human beings.

101. A society driven by responsibilities is oriented toward service, acknowledging other points of view, compromise and progress – whereas a society driven by rights is oriented toward acquisition, confrontation, and advocacy.

102. In business the highest level of motivation occurs when all employees are driven by a sense of personal responsibility to do their work to the best of their ability.

103. We cannot expect to reach a higher standard of leadership if we do not recognize that meeting our responsibilities should be a way of life, not a way of gaining rewards.


104. The service that Gandhi espoused was based on a moral imperative: you serve your fellow human being because it is the right thing to do. The rewards for such values-based service are personal fulfillment and a sense of satisfaction.

105. When your commitment is based on policies, it is easy to reduce service when conditions change or short-term results are not favorable.  An enduring spirit of service, one that will lead to a higher standard of leadership, requires a values-based approach.

106. For Gandhi, all acts of service had to pass the tests of truth and nonviolence, and service to any group had to benefit all of humanity.

107. Service to any group – shareholders, customers, employees, or society – should be done in the context of service to all.

108. In business it is not possible to make service a moral imperative because of the system of rewards and compensation. Service can, however, become a cultural value or tradition in the business.

109. In serving many constituencies, there will always be short-term inequities. However, when the people are convinced that the leader’s commitment to service is enduring and based on values, they will be more tolerant of the short-term inequities.

110. An enduring spirit of service, driven by valves, will continue to give purpose to your life even when you are no longer in a policy-making position.


111. You and I do not have to wait for a great cause to make a commitment to personal service. It can start with those nearest to us: our family and friends.

112. Commitment to personal service requires performing the service through direct contact with the individuals receiving the service.

113. Everyone in the organization, irrespective of position, can commit to one personal act of service every day.

114. It is not how much we give, but how much of what we have that we give that determines the level of our commitment.

115. When you combine your personal commitment with respect for the commitment of others, you will initiate a compounding effect that will create a commitment to service throughout the organization.


116. Look below the surface and identify the hidden or unarticulated needs that others cannot see and create a bond with those you are trying to serve.

117. Feel, not just intellectualize the needs of the people.

118. Personal observation and a commitment to the truth allow a leader to see things as they really are: to understand the true needs of the people.

119. Every step we take – no matter how small – to understand the needs of the people we strive to serve will increase our bond with them and move us in the direction of a higher standard of leadership.

120. Shared experience creates the deepest understanding and the most lasting bonds of attachment.

121. There are many opportunities for sharing experiences, but it has to be done with humility and a spirit of service.


122. One of the great challenges of leadership is to develop harmony between service and the power that is necessary for the exercise of leadership.

123. You can exercise power through control or through service. Control motivates people through their attachments.  Service motivates people through their sense of personal obligation and a moral imperative.

124. The greatest source of power in any organization is personal power: the character, courage, determination, knowledge, and skill of the individual members of the organization.

125. Power is given to you by others.  It is not yours; it is in trust with you and it is a great responsibility. Power is to be used for the benefit of those whose trustee you are.


126. Decisions and actions bounded by moral principles:

Establish Principles of Governance

Create Integrity in The Decision Process

Change the Criteria For Decision Making

Implement Decisions Within Moral Constraints

127. The majority of our life is spent in work. If our work lacks a moral dimension, is it not likely that the moral content of the rest of our life will decline?

128. Including the moral dimension in our decisions can be difficult. But decisions that affect the lives of other people should not be easy.

129. Including the moral dimension in our decisions and actions will bring out the best in us. It will make us think and act beyond narrowly defined business and political interests and give meaning and purpose to our working lives.


130. Three principles of governance which, if adhered to, will help keep us on the path to a higher standard:

• Include moral criteria in evaluating decisions and actions

• Acknowledge the fusion of ends and means

• Respect the intrinsic good in every individual.

131. Principles of governance establish the bounds and constraints on the goals we set and the actions we take to achieve these goals.

132. The moral direction set by our decisions and actions determines the nature of the society in which we live.

133. Every company makes a commitment to be a profitable company. To also make a commitment to be a moral company requires that decisions and actions be evaluated on the basis of moral criteria.

134. Acknowledge the fusion of ends and means – it is when we do not apply the same standards to both the ends and the means that we are in danger of lowering our standard of leadership. The values of truth and nonviolence must apply to both.

135. Respect the individual – Gandhi believed in the intrinsic good in every individual – the universality of humankind. He asked individuals to search for the truth that was within them and to act in accordance with their conscience.

136. We must ask ourselves what we are willing to do to be successful.

137. Gandhi not only appealed to the best in those who followed him, but also to the best in those who opposed him. Whether the struggle was for independence, the abolition of untouchability, or communal harmony, Gandhi appealed to the conscience and morality of his opponents. He sought to convert them, not to coerce them.

138. Respect for the individual means that the leadership provides its employees with the tools and the training to do their work well, in addition to some choices as to how they do their jobs: for the people doing the work can often find ways to do it better. Each individual should also be able to evaluate how what he or she does contributes to the success of the organization. When employees feel competent, have choices, and know they are making a contribution, they enjoy their work and are at their most productive level.

139. In business, respect for the individual means acknowledging that every individual wants to do good work and to contribute to the success of the organization.

140. Organizational changes are not enough. A spirit of community has to be created for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. The role of leadership in creating this spirit is to acknowledge and respect the contribution of each individual to the success of the business. As a business leader, this respect must be present in all your interactions with your employees.


141. In a free society, support for a decision is dependent on confidence in the integrity of the process.

142. To create integrity in the decision process, the first requirement is that individuals who participate in the process have integrity.

143. Just as the integrity of individual decisions is governed by personal values, the decision process must be governed by process values.

144. Truth in data and opinions promotes better decision making. When we see the situation for what it really is, the decision is forged on the anvil of truthful debate.

145. By acknowledging the truth in the collection and interpretation of data, leaders not only see issues in a broader context, they create integrity in the process.

146. Openness can be defeated by complexity.  Processes that are technically open can be so difficult to understand that in reality they are secret.

147. If we are to reduce the influence of special interests on the decision-making process, we must first acknowledge who the special interests are. They are us.

148. Openness allows all who are impacted to evaluate the decision.  It creates a sense of integrity about the process – it promotes trust.


149. It is not the techniques of decision making that need changing – it is the criteria. We need to include truth and nonviolence, the universal code of conduct (to treat others as ourselves), and the spirit of service.

150. “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” Gandhi

151. When we include moral criteria in business, we have made a commitment to do what is right. This will require tradeoffs, which might include sacrificing some short-term economic gains.

152. Individuals and groups make moral progress when the leadership establishes goals and sets an example.

153. In addition to establishing goals with a moral dimension, we must also develop measures of performance.

154.The new challenge for leadership is to do the same with absolute values, deriving specific objectives and measures of performance. If, for example, truth is one of the moral principles we subscribe to, we need to derive goals based on this principle and ways to measure our performance.

155. Consider our commitment to total quality where we try for “zero defects” in product quality. Why can’t we set similar standards for “zero defects” in “truth with customers”?

156. Society is interconnected. Deceptive practices in business and government may not appear to injure anyone, but they permeate the system and reduce the moral standards of society.

157. When your strategy includes a commitment to moral principles, it commands the respect of your opponents – decreasing, if not eliminating, the ill will that can exist.

158. Incorporating moral values in strategy motivates people at every level in every type of organization – business, political, and academic – because of its appeal to what is basic in all of us: our desire to do what we know is right.

159. Employees feel proud to be with a company that has high moral standards, and this is a source of individual motivation and increased productivity.

160. If businesses include the moral dimension in their strategy and create an advantage for themselves, others will have to follow and society as a whole will benefit.

161. Including and adhering to moral criteria in developing strategy does not require additional education or technical skills. It requires qualities of the spirit that are in all of us irrespective of race, gender, creed, or origin.


162. If you are not committed to adhering to absolute values in implementation, the entire fabric of a higher standard of leadership breaks down.

163. To maintain a higher standard of leadership during implementation, a commitment to evaluate actions against absolute values has to cascade through the entire organization.

164. If you do no have the spirit of nonviolence, you create a strategic vulnerability: not only will you be equated with the very people you oppose, you will not appeal to the best in others.

165. Team members need to be evaluated on their commitment to moral principles so they can work together to bring the moral dimension to decisions and actions.

166. When team members share a commitment to moral standards in addition to business strategy, the team has the greatest level of alignment.

167. Many individuals may be willing to take a stand and the causes they stand for – peace, environmental protection, free speech – may be noble, but maintaining the spirit of nonviolence is often difficult.

168. To bring the moral dimension to all levels in the organization, it is necessary to bring the moral dimension to individual actions.

169. Taking a stand during implementation is often difficult: the decision has been made and things are moving forward, and then you call things to a halt or ask for a change in direction.

170. At the most fundamental level, all conduct is individual. So, when you bring the moral dimension to individual actions, you bring integrity to the entire work environment.


171. Each one of us in setting an example for someone else, and each one of us has a responsibility to shape the future as we wish it to be.

172. Your life is your message. Leadership by example is not only the most pervasive but also the most enduring form of leadership.

173.There have been more books written about Gandhi than anybody except the founders of the world’s great religions.

by Keshavan Nair. Compliments of Leadership Alliance

Note:  Bolded items = “key points.”

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