One of the forgotten legacies of the Father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was the talisman he gave to the masses. It goes,
I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.
But like Gandhi’s other ideals of peace & non-violence, has the talisman also faded away in the information age? Let me try and translate this talisman today for the corporate world.
Let me begin by putting some context around the talisman. Gandhi gave this talisman in 1948, a period of political & social unrest in the Indian subcontinent. The partition of India into two countries on the basis of religion had ignited riots across the country & there was murder all over. It was in this period of trouble that Gandhi gave this talisman, to the leaders of the day & of the future to guide them in making decisions that would ultimately lead to the salvation of those poor & suffering. Though that never happened.
The scenario now is different. We take our independence for granted, and would rather resort to throwing fists at the smallest of issues. In the corporate world, life is always messy. Ethics are sent out for a toss on a daily basis, and dishonesty pretty much rules to roost. As with politics, it is not the absolute top of the pyramid that is bad. We have great political leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and similies can be drawn across the corporate boardroom with gems like Narayan Murthy, Ratan Tata & many more.
But the problem isn’t at the top. It is at places just below the top. The middle & upper-middle layers of managements are usually the ones busy in scoring points for themselves & ensuring that their paychecks increase in girth year after year. There is a systemic rot in these systems which all know of & acknowledge, and yet everyone is powerless on what needs to be done to stem it.
The first step is to define the scenario in which the talisman is used. Gandhi said to apply the talisman whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you. We need to tweak this. Simply because in today’s world, every person has an ego inflated to the size of Jupiter. People hardly seem to think twice about their actions, forget about being in doubt! So we change this to say “Whenever a decision needs to be made, or a policy needs to be created”.
We have the interpretation on when. Let us move to the what part now. Of course recalling the face of the poorest wouldn’t serve the purpose here, as these decisions wouldn’t affect them directly. We change this part to say, “Recall the face of the lowest grade employee who works for you”. The lowest grade employee could be the worker sweating away in your factory, to the software engineer who slogs his days writing code. This is the person who is at the bottom of the proverbial food chain, who is picked upon by everyone, who exists more like a telephone pole against whom any dog can come up and raise its leg.
This is the employee who the decisions should benefit. Every decision made, every policy created has a direct effect on this person. The correctness of decisions can be judged only if this decision makes a positive difference in the daily life of this person. A policy that would make his each day a better one. So the final translated talisman stands as follows:
Whenever a decision needs to be made, or a policy needs to be created, apply the following test. Recall the Recall the face of the lowest grade employee who works for you, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.
I must warn you, it will not be easy to put this talisman to practical use. It involves putting a lot of ego aside, and thinking of others before self. The right path is never the easiest. But it is the right path, and however long it may be, it will prove more rewarding at the end.
So what are you waiting for? Try the talisman out, I am quite positive that it’ll help you make decisions that will never prove heavy on your conscience, and will always prove correct in the long term.
Peace be with you!