Mahatma Gandhi and Robert McNamara both left a deep imprint on the history of the past century, helping to shape the world as it is today and going a model for leadership in the minds of the next generations. Although both leaders were remarkable, they exhibited two very different leadership styles. Thus, Robert McNamara is noted for his scientific, information-based approach to management, while Mahatma Gandhi remained in the hearts of the people as one who won leadership thanks to his charismatic personality, noble character, and favorite ideas.
Robert McNamara’s style is renowned for two qualities: an active managerial philosophy and knowledge-based approach. Entering a course at Harvard Business School in 1937, McNamara developed there his management style that marked his later stances as Secretary of Defence and President of the World Bank Group. His managerial approach was “based on the accumulation and analysis of quantitative data” that “appealed to his disciplined mind and provided him with a tool for exercising control in uncertain conditions” (World Bank Group 2006). This enthusiasm for data collection and analysis helped McNamara to absorb new information, adapting to new environments quickly.
Thus, accepting President Kennedy’s offer to occupy the post of the Secretary of Defense, McNamara lacked specific knowledge about this sphere. However, he proved to be a quick learner, relying on “active role” management philosophy. McNamara himself stated that he was “providing aggressive leadership questioning, suggesting alternatives, proposing objectives and stimulating progress” (Wikipedia). He has successfully applied this management style at Ford Motor Company before accepting the Secretary of Defense post, and his aggressive managerial style won his team the nickname of ‘Whiz Kids’ at Ford (World Bank Group 2006). As a result, he was credited with many severe accomplishments in US defense including the elimination of a significant part of duplication in weapon development, introduction of computer technology, the creation of systems analysis units and PPBS, etc.
About to make a decision, McNamara always tried to seek adequate information that would provide a solid foundation for decision-making. For instance, when arriving to head the World Bank Group, “one of his first actions upon taking office was to request a list from his managers of all the projects that should be undertaken, regardless of the financial, political or economic constraints” ” (World Bank Group 2006). He traveled a lot, trying to find the cause of underdevelopment and use this knowledge for the development of a sound economic policy. Under McNamara, the World Bank substantially expanded its research facilities headed by Hollis Chenery, and the quest for data and their in-depth analysis received increased attention and more significant role in decision-making process. At the same time, this scientific, managerial approach has incurred a storm of criticism from McNamara’s opponents who tended to see him as a heartless technocrat (Wikipedia).
In any case, although being an efficient and knowledgeable leader and politician, McNamara cannot be credited with developing a new vision or philosophy. In contrast to him, Gandhi presented a coherent idea for a modern India and very appealing theory based on non-violence, celibacy, inner peace, simple living, and vegetarianism. Combining political actions with philosophical creations, Gandhi was able to win the support of a significant number of people in India who saw his ideology as a way to the long desired peace, stability, and prosperity.
Gandhi’s philosophy was more based on personal revelations that many consider having been coming from God rather than scientifically evaluated facts. In this, he differed from McNamara who emphasized the importance of data analysis. It is indeed an exaggeration to say that each relied on only one approach, but in Gandhi’s case, the intuitive component was more emphasized. He also could win the people with the charm of his personality, which makes his a charismatic leader. Gandhi’s role in power was the direct result of his popularity and iconic status in the nation. Gandhi was not afraid to retreat from the membership in the Congress Party in the 1930s, to give the party room for development. Whatever his status, Gandhi was invariably an essential political, spiritual, and cultural leader to ordinary Indians. On the contrary, McNamara came to power as a result of Cabinet reshuffles, taking a post that had earlier been turned down by Lovett (Wikipedia).
At the same time, Gandhi has been applauded by many as a fantastic strategist. His leadership style “is being termed as ‘follower-centric’ and one that took into account conditions before determining the strategy” (Ganapati 2003). In South Africa, he put on a suit to go to meetings, while in India he changed into traditional Hindu clothing. This follow-cantered approach ensured that his ideas resonated with the audience he led and made people willing to follow his lead.
Thus, the two leaders, McNamara and Gandhi, were vastly different in their styles. McNamara’s scientific management relying on linear thinking contrasts with Gandhi’s intuitive, charismatic leadership.
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