The Many Faces of "Gandhi"
For me, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1982, is still the most compelling cinematic portrayal of leadership. But then look at his subject. There are countless examples of leadership in Gandhi's life that are powerfully captured in this sweeping epic.
Start with the scene early in the film, when Gandhi is a young man living in South Africa. He is a successful lawyer but is thrown off a first-class train compartment because he is "colored." This incident makes him ask: If people are truly equal, why are they treated differently? His growing indignation at these injustices led him to move to India, where he developed a movement of nonviolent resistance against the occupying British rulers. He gave up his career and every material comfort, and, wearing nothing but a cotton loincloth, lived like the Indian peasants whose cause he championed. He devoted himself to the independence movement and to defending the rights of all, especially the poor and disenfranchised. Here we see the first lesson from the movie: Leadership is about making sacrifices.
In 1922, after seven years at the head of the resistance movement, Gandhi became a national leader. He achieved this by providing the Indian people with a vision of independence from the British. So, a second lesson in leadership: Provide a vision that will inspire people to follow your lead.
Another episode in the movie shows Gandhi starting a hunger strike in response to Indians' killing British troops, despite the fact that he wanted the British out of India. The lesson here is that great leaders always believe in justice and the value of human life.
Later, when plans were being made to partition India and create Pakistan for the Muslims, Gandhi was opposed. He wanted one government for all people, of all faiths, in India. So, in the name of unity, he went to Jinnah, the leader of the minority Muslim party, and offered him virtual control of the Indian government. Which brings us to the next lesson from the film: Great leaders are magnanimous. They are generous. They are for everyone, not just for one segment of society.
When India's independence came, Gandhi assumed no role. But he was regarded as the father of the nation, the "mahatma," which means saint, man of soul, great spirit. The lesson here is that great leaders inspire people, and not necessarily from a position of hierarchy but by example.
Gandhi's life inspired many, particularly Martin Luther King Jr., who used nonviolent resistance to promote civil rights in the United States. King once said, "Christ gave us the goals, and Gandhi gave us the tactics." Great leaders inspire other great leaders.
What you learn from watching a film like "Gandhi" is that there's not one single characteristic of leadership. Rather, a great leader is made from a confluence of great traits.
Posted by: sburke01a | February 19, 2009 9:32 PM
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