Giving back through love and the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi
Following this year’s Leadership Challenge Forum in San Francisco, I had one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences. During the traditional post-Forum event for members of the Certified Master Network, our colleague from Singapore, Martin Tan, shared with us a brilliant program that truly got me excited.
Masters Give Back is a cooperative program between Publisher (Pfeiffer, A Wiley Brand and publisher of this newsletter as well) and members of the Certified Master Network that promotes the donation of time and resources to presenting The Leadership Challenge Workshop® to a non-profit or charitable organization—to those who couldn’t otherwise afford the expense. With Masters Give Back, they would now have that chance. The exciting and rewarding aspect for me was that it totally fit into my yearly commitment to do something to give back to the community.
Leaving San Francisco and the Forum behind, I went in search of the right opportunity where I could make a difference with my donation. And I found just what I was looking for one Sunday when the Spiritual Leader of our Christ Church Unity of Orlando, Reverend Cynthia Alice Anderson, made an announcement. She was planning an eight-week series called “The Season for Nonviolence”. Based on the wisdom of India’s Mahatma Gandhi, the program would focus on the inner work of spiritual transformation and culminate with a visit and presentation by Dr. Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. The flyer indicated that the church needed a major sponsor to make the “Evening with Dr. Arun Gandhi” happen and, although it wasn’t an easy decision, ultimately I realized that I was called to do this as another way of giving back. So I wrote the check for the sponsorship. An additional benefit, I thought at the time, was to get further exposure for my company, Diversity Leadership Consultants, and advertise an upcoming open enrollment of The Leadership Challenge Workshop®. Only later was I to realize a deeper purpose for my decisions and action and the even stronger connection to the purpose of our work at Diversity Leadership Consultants: to manifest collaborations.
As our weekly Sunday Lessons continued, based on the book, Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran, I learned that Gandhi became spiritually awakened throughout his life to his own spiritual transformation. And out of those lessons, I made two significant connections to the Sanskrit words ahimsa and satyagraha. Loosely translated ahimsa is unconditional love and satyagraha is love in action. Gandhi believed that the strongest love in action is to love your enemy and was the basis for his non-violent movement. He taught hundreds of millions of his followers how to channel anger into love through non-violence. He saw this as a way of thinking and living to put love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of the lives of his followers. This philosophy made a real impact because when I did my values card sort as a first-time participant in The Leadership Challenge Workshop®, my #1 value was love. It still is.
Now it was finally starting to make sense, why I was motivated to spend the money to sponsor Gandhi’s grandson’s visit. But it wasn’t until a week prior to the event that I came to fully understand the true reasons. I was reading Gandhi the Man when I came across a passage that explained it all. During the latter part of Gandhi’s life he was asked to attend a Round Table Conference in London to represent the cause of Indian freedom. The book says that,
“On one occasion during the conference, Gandhi spoke eloquently before the assembled delegates for over two hours on behalf of the people of India. After he had finished, the London reporters clustered excitedly around Gandhi’s secretary, Mahadev Desai. ‘How is it,’ they demanded, ‘that he is able to speak so well for such a long time without any preparation, without any prompting, without even any notes?’ Desai replied, ‘What Gandhi thinks, what he feels, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes.’ Then he added smiling: ‘You and I, we think one thing, feel another, say a third, and do a fourth, so we need notes and files to keep track.’”
There was my connection! We know the foundation of leadership is credibility and doing what you say. Model the Way is all about being clear on your values and aligning actions with values. Gandhi was the epitome of that. What he believed he lived. People want to follow a person like that—someone, like Gandhi, who lived his values and had a clear higher purpose that connected with millions of others as a shared vision.
We teach in our work with The Leadership Challenge that people want to follow leaders who live their values and are transparent about who they are. That’s why I was drawn to sponsor this visit from Gandhi’s grandson. I was humbled to have been part of it and to hear stories of how Mahatma Gandhi passed on his teaching of non-violence. It was truly a cosmic and enlightening experience. And upon further reflection, I also realized that one of our most famous 20th Century American visionaries—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who for years we’ve recognized for how his life aligned with his value system—was a student of the teachings of Gandhi.
I think there is one last lesson here, and that is to follow your heart. When I consider what Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have shared with so many of us—their values and enduring beliefs—I realize that they, too, have a connection here. It is a connection of shared values, of Love, Accessibility, Liberation, Collaboration, Possibility Thinking, Credibility, and Evidence. I see many parallels here to the life of Mahatma Gandhi. No wonder I am motivated to follow and embrace the teachings of Jim and Barry. Their values align with my value system.
Now through the Masters Give Back program, I’ll have other opportunities to give back, to present The Leadership Challenge Workshop® to a deserving group of people who otherwise would not be exposed to it. I can’t wait.
Stephen Hoel is president of Diversity Leadership Consultants, a leadership development organization focusing on improving the effectiveness of leadership and team skills. Experienced in both operations management and human resources with Walt Disney World Resort, Hilton, Marriott and other independent hotel and restaurant organizations, he has designed and delivered leadership and team interventions and multicultural leadership development initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org