What CDOs Can Learn from Indira Gandhi’s Leadership Style

“I have lived a long life, and I am proud that I spend the whole of my life in the service of my people. I am only proud of this and nothing else. I shall continue to serve until my last breath, and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it.” — Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi was one of the most charismatic women leaders of India. She was renowned for her courageous leadership and bold decisions whether it was winning the war against Pakistan in 1971 or flushing out the militants from the Golden Temple in 1984.

She was infamous for imposing emergency and an unprecedented centralization of power. In this regard, we will discuss her leadership style and the lessons we must learn from her leadership.

“You must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose.” — Indira Gandhi

Leadership Lessons

Gandhi was the only first woman Prime Minister of India and was the second longest serving Indian Prime Minister after Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. She encountered several challenges one after another in her personal life and political career. However, she came out with flying colors with her grit and determination.

Gandhi survived and succeeded in a male-dominated society. It is evident from her challenges and controversies that she was an exciting and inspiring leader during that period. There are several lessons you can learn from her leadership. Here are some of them.  

  • Walk your talk
  • Be a great communicator
  • Connect with ordinary people emotionally
  • Overcome volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)
  • Convert your threats into opportunities
  • Encounter the challenges head-on 
  • Make decisions boldly
  • Be tenacious and resilient
  • Encourage women empowerment
  • Stand by your principles and philosophies

I served in the Indian Air Force, and my first posting was to the Air Force Station, Race Course, New Delhi in 1983. I served there for three months. I was fortunate to see Indira Gandhi regularly because her residence was a walkable distance to my home.  Her charisma and leadership personally inspired me. 

India’s Iron Lady

“All my games were political games; I was, like Joan of Arc, perpetually being burned at the stake.” — Indira Gandhi

Gandhi was loyal to her nation and expected loyalty from her team. She consulted her team before making decisions. Once a decision was made, she never looked back.

Gandhi was firm and determined and was compared with Goddess Durga after winning the 1971 Indo-Pak war, and was a practical leader who followed the policies as per the prevailing political and economic scenario. Gandhi also adopted nationalization, abolished privy purses, and liberated Bangladesh from Pakistan, and was successful in the Green Revolution, joining the club of countries with nuclear weapons, and building a strong nation. She showed her statesmanship by leading India in spite of several constraints and stiff opposition at home and abroad. She made India a powerful country in South Asia.

Gandhi was a great strategist. She was a nationalist and a great patriot who worked for India’s unity and integrity and dedicated her life to India’s peace and prosperity. She also received several accolades for her contribution to India and world, including Bharat Ratna and Bangladesh Freedom Honour and being "Woman of the Millennium" in a BBC online poll.

Learn lessons from her leadership to excel as a courageous leader. You are gifted with one life, and you must deliver your goods with excellence without craving for any attention and approval from others to provide meaning to your life.

Gandhi remains an inspiration for all Indians and will be remembered forever in Indian history for her courageous leadership and contribution. Jai Hind.

“Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” — Indira Gandhi

Prof M.S. Rao, Ph.D., an International Leadership Guru, authored this article. He is the father of "Soft Leadership," a C-Suite advisor, a renowned public speaker and the founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India, authoring over 45 books that include the award-winning 21 Success Sutras for CEOs. You can reach him at [email protected]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends.


Prof M.S. Rao, Ph.D. sees leadership traits in Indira Gandhi that will help CDOs overcome adversity and leading teams through new IT territories.