A leader can create milestones, transforms people, or change history. What motivates a leader to do one of these, or all of them, can be examined in the internal and external environment of the leader, the characteristics of the people, events that are happening, and the characteristic traits of the leader. The leader capable of doing these has also the characteristics distinct from others. A leader should have the cognitive and emotional intelligence to achieve what Gandhi has achieved as an effective leader who led the independence of India.
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The story of Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of colonizing countries and human rights. Gandhi wanted independence and to free India from the clutches of the British Empire without resorting to violence. He used humility and fasting instead of force. Fasting was his most effective weapon against the British rulers. He was, in the words of Howard Gardner (1999), “a creator with superlative interpersonal intelligence”.
Gandhi popularized the idea of peaceful resistance. He fasted for days until he gained sympathy from a great number of people, forcing the government to give in to some of his demands. He was an effective leader because he had the characteristic traits of a leader such as self-confidence, humility, trustworthiness, extraversion, enthusiasm and sense of humor.
Moreover, his leadership was effective because of several factors. The internal and external environment chose his leadership; he did not only volunteer for his leadership, but the people chose him to be their leader. India waited for his homecoming so he could lead the people to fight for their independence, without violence.
The Film Gandhi
Scene 1 – The assassination (2:39 – 4:27)
The opening scene can tell us how an effective leader can be cut off from continuing his leadership. Assassination is cutting off someone who is effective. The assassination of Gandhi cuts him off from his people.
The reason of course is obvious – he is an effective leader, the people follow him, whatever he says has an effect and an outcome, or perhaps, we can say that his leadership cannot be stopped except through the bullet of a gun. The assassin is one of those opposed to his ways. But there is another leadership here – the assassin is being coached by another leader, someone who is against Gandhi’s teaching.
Scene 2 – Gandhi’s burial parade (4:36 – 6:16)
The burial parade is attended by hundreds of thousands, people of all walks of life, and dignitaries and representatives from the different countries of the world.
Gandhi was a Hindu who practiced the teachings of Christianity, sympathized with Muslims and other religions, but was revered by millions throughout India and the world. His leadership was leadership by example. He made humility not only a tool but a weapon mightier than an empire.
Gandhi’s burial showed that Gandhi was not just an ordinary leader. He was a leader of no army, but his enemies feared his weapon.
Scene 3 – Gandhi, a young lawyer, consulting and discussing with the Indian immigrants of South Africa, telling them his train experience wherein he was thrown out because he was colored – 9:21-11:18
Gandhi was surprised that the Indians had accepted their fate, subject to white supremacy. This was the beginning of his desire to change his oppressed countrymen. He wanted to lead and the people had to be awakened. Gandhi knew India needed change, but it had to start from the ordinary folks in the countryside. Indians under the British Empire had to know what was going on. The people were living in extreme poverty under a foreign government. Somebody had to begin the campaign for freedom, and he started his campaign in South Africa.
This is one of the first scenes that showed his interpersonal skill of communicating with a small group of Indians in South Africa. He communicated clearly with them and established a strong personal bond. He convinced them to help him organize the Indians of South Africa.
This small group of Indians who became a core group in Gandhi’s small community was a motivational factor in Gandhi’s initial outburst of leadership and ‘cry’ for justice for the oppressed Indian immigrants of South Africa. They were motivating each other.
They had a mutual relationship although at first they were pessimistic because they knew they were going to fight a formidable force – the British Empire. They first warned Gandhi, but later they were all awakened by the fact that they had to be united to fight for justice. They saw in Gandhi the traits of a good leader.
Scene 4 – Gandhi organizes the Indian Congress of South Africa – 11:18-16:03
Gandhi organized his young countrymen, including the rich Indians and ordinary people who had migrated to that country for jobs or to find their place under the sun. His leadership skill displayed in the initial stages of the ‘revolution’ to free India. He even asked his wife to bring along with them the wives of the other Indians. Organizing the small groups of Indians to stand for a cause was a beginning feat for Gandhi. He sought the help of the press, as he was himself a writer, and from the Indian population of South Africa.
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Gandhi and the businessman who was motivated to follow him asked the Indians to burn their passes. The ‘pass’ was a piece of government document which was required of all colored people in South Africa to distinguish them from the Europeans. Only the whites did not have passes.
By burning the passes, Gandhi and the people protested the injustice of the white government. Gandhi was beaten but he showed no fear. This is the kind of leadership that the people wanted. The wake-up call started by Gandhi presented him as a charismatic leader. Charismatic leaders have “strong convictions, high self-confidence, a tendency to dominate, and a desire to influence those around them” (Mannarelli, 2006, p. 46).
The first to burn his pass was the rich Indian who was immediately apprehended by the police. But Gandhi did not show fear. He wanted the people to follow him even in the face of danger. In his confrontations with the British authorities, he was confident of himself. Gandhi’s speech angered the police and the British authorities.
No one had ever made such a remark or goaded the Indians to rise to action. Gandhi’s statement was a cry for a revolution. To ask to be treated as equal with the white people meant ‘sacrilege’ for the white people at that time. The police were alarmed; this was like calling to arms. But Gandhi said that they were not seeking a rise to arms but their protest was for peaceful means, and all they wanted was justice.
The environment was ripe for a change. The Indians were beginning to feel the pressure from the government. They needed a leader; they needed someone who had the characteristic traits of a leader, someone they could follow, and someone who could be trusted. When they saw and felt that Gandhi was that someone that had been waiting for, they cooperated with him. They were awakened and they wanted to fight.
Scene 5 – Gandhi and a Christian preacher meet a group of young white people who were ready to harass them – 18:42 – 19:49
Gandhi knew how to understand his emotions and others; he also knew his opponents. While walking with the pastor who came to visit him, they met a group of young men who were ready to harass, or make a fool of them. Gandhi’s self confidence and humility are remarkable in this scene. He said to the pastor that he had heard of the teachings of Jesus Christ and followed some of his examples. Gandhi told his pastor friend the example of Jesus Christ that when your enemy strikes you in one cheek, offer the other. The young men did not push through with their evil intent.
The whites were beginning to feel the pressure too. So they were starting to harass and add more pressure to the Indians.
Scene 6 – Gandhi asks his wife to clean the latrine of the room for the journalist’s driver – 22:28 – 25:07
Gandhi leads a Christian community known as ‘ashram’. He was addressed as “Bapuji”, which meant father. India was in a deadlock; the country was under the heels of change. This change was about to burst in the midst of mounting protests by nationalists and Japan’s imperial ambitions. (Fisher, 1942, p. 32)
His leadership was like leading a family; he was a father to the members of the community. He experienced the poverty of his people by organizing the community known as ‘ashram’. Gandhi emphasized the importance of understanding people (Gardner, 1999, p. 46). He displayed a precocious concern with the treatment of others and with consequences of violating one’s moral codes. Gandhi had the quality of inter-personal intelligence.
In their community, they offer hospitality to their visitors. One time when a journalist visited them, Gandhi asked his wife to clean the latrine, one for the journalist, and another for the driver. The wife refused, arguing that she was a member of a class in India known as “untouchable”. Gandhi had wanted to modify this caste system. His leadership was to lead by example; no one should be above the other even if he is a leader.
He had taught humility to his people, and this should be practiced by everyone including the members of his family. He used his interpersonal skills in persuading his wife that it was for principle that he wanted to modify some of the Indian beliefs. The caste system was discriminatory. His family should be the first to show to the people that they practiced what they preached.
Gandhi was a trustworthy leader, and to be trustworthy, he was being genuine and honest in his values and beliefs (Dubrin, 2009, p. 38). He practiced this at the risk of sending his wife out of his own home when the latter insisted that she was a member of “untouchables”. Gandhi did not like this thought and the Indian custom. It had to be blotted out from the minds of ordinary Indian families.
Gardner (1999, p. 128) said that leaders have a good intrapersonal sense – “a keen awareness of their own strengths, weaknesses, and goals – and they are prepared to reflect regularly on their personal course.”
Another trait of a leader is self-awareness. In his confrontation with his wife about the latrine issue, Gandhi was examining his conscience. He had some weaknesses and strength. But he knew he could draw some strength from his wife who had always been there. From this time on, he learned to understand himself, his mood and behavior and how he could affect others.
Scene 7 – Gandhi speaks in front of Muslims and Hindus – 25:08 – 30:25
There is tension because the British general had imposed new stricter laws against the Indians. All Indians were to be fingerprinted; marriages had to be Christian marriage, and other than this act, their wives were considered whores. A policeman, entering an Indian dwelling, may enter that dwelling and could do anything to their wives, legally.
There is an uproar coming from the audience as Gandhi explains the new law. But Gandhi persuades them not to attack anyone; to resist by not giving their fingerprints. Through their pain, the British would see their injustice.
“We will not strike a blow. We cannot lose. They may torture my body, break my bones, they can have my body, but not my obedience.” Gandhi spoke to the crowd in the presence of government people.
In this scene, Gandhi showed the many qualities of a real leader. He had self-confidence. Humility is one of those traits needed of an effective leader. Gandhi also showed extraversion. He was outgoing and gregarious, convincing the people not to obey the laws of the British, but not to fight violence with violence.
He was an effective leader in the truest sense of the word.
Scene 8 – Gandhi leading the miners’ strike – 30:26 – 34:53
Another scene of the film portrayed Gandhi leading the miners’ strike. Horse-driven constables came to disperse Gandhi and the crowd, but the group resisted by lying on the road. The troops retreated. Gandhi showed leadership by example. He was ready to die with the miners. He taught them courage and humility in the face of danger. The owner of the mine could do nothing but leave along with the police.
Scene 9 – The effectiveness of Gandhi’s example – 34:54 – 36:00
The preacher in one of his sermons was reiterating the principles being taught by Gandhi. “We will not fight but we’ll not comply.” The preacher learned much from Gandhi. The leadership qualities were now implanted in the heart of the preacher, despite his being a Christian.
Scene 10 – Gandhi and his countrymen are freed – 36:00 – 39:38
Gandhi is called to the office of the general informing him that he and the rest of the Indian prisoners would be released. But in exchange for the general’s ‘goodness’, Gandhi asked for money, saying that he was going home to India. This is one of those Gandhi’s wise moves.
A leader should be wise. Gardner (1999) said that “a person who can use several intelligences together appropriately is more likely to be wise, because a greater number of faculties and factors will have entered into the equation.” An example is a military man’s leadership: a military man can be schooled in the art of diplomacy and fighting. The military leader uses his intelligences in persuasion or diplomacy and the art of fighting with arms and bullets.
In the scene in which Gandhi was released from person, he used wisdom. Gandhi asked money from the general who said he neither had money, but pointed to Mr. Daniel to give Gandhi the needed money.
How far was Gandhi going? He was going home to India. Gandhi was going away from the prisons of South Africa, to return home to India who needed him most. In India, he was joyfully received by the people, and gave him a hero’s welcome. There was much work to do for Gandhi in the land he did not know much. But he was determined to free India from the British possession. Gardner and Laskin (1995) said that Gandhi saw himself as the only one who could help India; there was no other one.
Scene 11 – A hero’s welcome (daytime) 40:00 – 43:49
In India, Gandhi was greeted by thousands of people, including the political leaders of India, members of congress, and other influential people. Many had heard of his exploits in South Africa, and had read his articles. Gandhi’s leadership skills were like a magnet to the people.
Bruce J. Avolio (cited in Dubrin, 2010, p. 20) states that “leadership is a function of both the leader and the led and the complexity of the contest.” Leadership is not imagined, nor is it abstract. It involves the person and the persons led and a variety of forces in the environment. Gandhi knew he could lead them but he had to motivate his countrymen.
He saw the beginning of a new relationship. His leadership would soon be tested. Nevertheless, his leadership now involved the greater population of India, a people living in terrible poverty. Gandhi started this by living what he had preached.
Leadership is building up a character, a personality, and changing it to something to mould an organization or a group of people. Leadership leads to change, but leadership succumbs to change. And change affects all of us – our thoughts, feelings, activities, and experience. Leadership and change go together because a leader has to change all the time.
Change is an internal dynamic in a person; meaning the attitude – our attitudes, our outlook in life, our motivations and objectives for the organization – should change, and we become good leaders. But first we have to be transformed into good followers who want change. The ‘want’ is emphasized here because if we do not have the longing for change, it will not be effective. It has to be a desire and a goal.
When Gandhi was consulted by a group of young leaders most of all were lawyers, he asked them the question: Do we want change? Gandhi asked this because the young did not know what they wanted of Gandhi as a leader and where they were going.
Scene 12 – Gandhi and the political leaders of India address the African National Congress – 52:00 – 57:21
Gandhi had come home from South Africa. The political climate, the sentiment of the people, and the overall prevailing situation provided for an environment where a leader and followers could understand each other and fight for a common cause. The political leaders spoke, and they received a resounding applause. But when Gandhi started to speak, they knew he was talking sense.
The environment was now ripe for all to collaborate and speak their minds against the injustice and oppressive government of the British Empire. Anyone could lead. There were the political leaders who wanted to fight, the different sectors who were looking for a trusted and courageous leader.
Some thought they needed some who could fight with arms. When Gandhi talked about fighting the British with the use of non-violence and humility, they were pessimistic. But Gandhi’s effectiveness of a leader proved them that humility was effective in fighting a formidable force.
Scene 13 – Gandhi’s weapon – humility and fasting (daytime) 1:44:30 – 1:50
When the British finally gave India the much-awaited independence, the Muslim and Hindu factions could not be stopped from fighting each other. This led to the separation of the Muslim-dominated Pakistan and India. Gandhi fasted again for days that nearly took his life.
His followers and those who cared for him did everything to convince him that the fighting had stopped. Leaders of the different fighting groups went to him to convince him that they would not fight anymore. Gandhi and the new leaders of India were about to begin a free India when the bullet’s assassin ended all that he had started.
Gandhi’s style of leadership is remarkable – peaceful, non-violent, non-cooperation. His defiance to the British authorities was to respond to violence with simple disobedience. No matter how many times he was beaten, stricken by wooden stick, humiliated, and imprisoned, his reaction was not to fight violence with violence.
Gandhi’s example – his life, his belief, including his ways and practices – allowed him to have moral authority over his countrymen. It was unique and immeasurable, like that of Jesus and other great men of the past who have led their people to freedom. It may not be original nor is it difficult to practice. Gandhi was charismatic; he had the charisma to lead people. He knew the way, and he knew how to lead them to that way.
He told a gathering of Asian workers not to violently resist discriminating laws, but not to obey them as well. Holman quotes Philip Yancey who says, “Today, Gandhi sits like a superego on the shoulder of the Western church asking all of us … why we don’t practise what we preach.” (Holman, 2003, p. 21)
Scene 14 – Protest walk to the sea – 2:00:30 – 2:05:20
Gandhi leads the protest walk up to the sea where he would make his salt. The protest march arrived at the sea at the anniversary of the massacre of Indian civilians. On this walk, the people were waving and cooperating at the side of the road, women were weaving the traditional Indian cloth as a symbol of their support to the cause of Gandhi.
Majority of the people, Muslims and Hindus, including the different sectors of society, politicians, businessmen, and ordinary folks were supporting and collaborating to the cause that Gandhi was fighting for – independence of India. This made the leadership of Gandhi very effective.
Gandhi had a high degree of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman’s (Dubrin, 2009, p. 44) analysis suggests that emotional intelligence played greater role than cognitive intelligence in creating an effective leader. One of the important components of emotional intelligence is social awareness. Gandhi realized the plight of his millions of countrymen who were in dire poverty and had succumbed to injustice and oppression.
Gardner (1999) said that leaders and creators seek to influence the thoughts of others; Gandhi had the power of persuasion. A leader or a creator has a story to tell; he creates his own story. A leader speaks directly to the people, and his speech has to be as simple or simplistic as possible. (Gardner, 1999, p. 131)
Gardner (1999, p. 126) says that traditionally, leaders are those who influence people to change their thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors. Many of those leaders could bring about changes coercively, as in the case of a despot in a dictatorial regime. But in this situation, the effectiveness of the leadership is there when the intimidating force is still present, but when the coercion has been removed, the leadership’s effectiveness wanes.
Leadership is at the forefront of all human activities, and it is a role that should not just be taken lightly (Thompson and Martinuzzi, 2008, p. 6). Gandhi is one of those who succeeded in making changes without coercion. He introduced humility and submitted to the cruelties of the British by disobeying their laws. In the first scenes of the film, the leadership of Gandhi was portrayed as one with persuasion.
Gandhi also had the gift of language; he wrote skillfully and told effective stories. He awakened the people through his writings. According to Gardner (1999, p. 128), these are some of the first “intelligences” of a leader. Self-confidence is a trait that Gandhi showed, making him to qualify for a good leader. He not only showed this to the authorities, he convinced his countrymen that he could be their leader.
“Leadership is a responsibility that must be practiced fulltime” (Weiss, 2000, p. 17). While it is true that it must be practiced full time, it has to be practiced with humility.
Gandhi knew his responsibility as a leader and as a father to a small village. This small village would grow into the bigger India which was in the verge of a revolution. People always look at the kind of leader they want to emulate or take as a role model. Others follow leaders whom they idolize. (Willis, 1996, p. 6)
Characteristic traits of Gandhi were also charismatic and transformational. Charismatic leaders have “strong belief in their ideas and a high level of self-confidence” ((Black and Porter, 2000). Transformational leadership can transform people into the kind of followers an organization must have (Bass and Rigio, 2006, p. 16).
Transformational leadership motivates members to make large changes. Bass (1990) defines transformation leadership to include “charisma, inspiration, individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation’ (Friedman, p. 9). But Sashkin (1988) also includes vision in this kind of leadership.
Trice and Beyer (1991) argue that charismatic leaders are founders of an organization while transformational are members who want to effect change. Burns (2003, p. 24) attributes change to transactional leadership, but transformational is a different concept at all.
The political climate, the tense atmosphere, and the people in need of a leader made Gandhi effective. Additionally, the external and internal environment coupled with the characteristic traits of Gandhi made his leadership very effective. Gandhi was emphatic and stressful in his words. He was a gifted writer. He was a lawyer; he knew what he was talking about.
His style and behavior motivated the people to follow him; the British too felt the Indians were becoming stronger. The British rulers respected Gandhi and looked up to his ways. They knew he was not an ordinary leader. And they were beginning to feel Gandhi and the people of India were united for one cause. This made the leadership effective. India gained British independence because of that leadership.
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