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Monthly Archives: October 2010

How Mahatma Gandhi taught ethical intelligence

Ethical intelligence reflects the leader’s ability to recognize and act upon the ethical dimensions of an issue. It is not about the ethical beliefs of a leader or how ethical you perceive the leader to be. It is also not about doing “good work” (as in “the ethical mind” that Howard Gardner of Harvard has proposed in Five Minds for the Future). Rather, this aspect of intelligence reflects how capable the leader is of recognizing and understanding the ethical implications of a new situation. Ethical leadership intelligence makes the difference between why somebody like Mahatma Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln is called a great leader and why somebody like Hitler is called a demagogue.Great leaders display the ability to lift the question of ethics from that of the personal, and transform it into a question that reflects and impacts the ethics of all of humanity. For a demonstration of how to practice this intelligence, watch Richard Attenborough’s movie, Gandhi. Toward the close, there is a scene that depicts Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the immediate aftermath of Hindu-Muslim religious riots that followed the partition of India. Gandhi went on a fast-unto-death if the riots did not end. The scene that I mention shows that the riots have stopped, and rioters are going by the house in which Gandhi lies. They are throwing down the arms they used in the riots in front of Gandhi who lies on a cot. Suddenly a Hindu man rushes toward Gandhi’s bed, throws a piece of bread at Gandhi, and orders him to eat it; the man then breaks down and tells Gandhi of how he killed a small Muslim boy because the Muslims killed his young son. Gandhi’s answer: “Adopt a Muslim boy the same age as your son, and bring him up as a Muslim.”Watch the clip: