Integrity in successful leaders: Gandhi cleaned toilets

October 19, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom, Leadership

This post is about integrity and sticking with your values.

A few years ago I visited my father in Ahmedabad, India, the country he has studied his professional life. We visited Gandhi’s ashram, a community where people who wanted to learn about and support him went. It still exists, though mainly as a static, historical site. It’s a humble place on the banks of a river, humbler than you’d expect one of the great historical world leaders to live.

A sign there (sorry no picture) stated clearly that part of everyone’s duties was cleaning the toilets, meaning scrubbing the buckets since I don’t think they had plumbing. As I understand, Gandhi’s environment in India included a very stratified caste system he opposed. He felt no one should be higher or lower status than anyone else. Cleaning toilets probably wasn’t as much a forced or punitive activity as just something everyone had an equal role in.

Of course, that meant he cleaned toilets, meaning scrubbing buckets used to carry waste from latrines to cesspools, just like everyone else. That meant everyone who traveled to live and work with him did the same, including wealthy and otherwise high-status people.

Can you imagine today’s Fortune 500 CEOs cleaning toilets used by their companies’ rank-and-file employees? In full view of them? How might you think these people in leadership positions would change their views of and relationships with them if they did so?

What do you do or not do — whether below or above your dignity or other threshold?

Keep in mind, Gandhi helped free a nation.

Incidentally, here is a relevant story on Gandhi and toilet cleaning from his great-grandson.

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1 response to “Integrity in successful leaders: Gandhi cleaned toilets

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