Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps the greatest leader of the millennium. His leadership pioneered peaceful and non-violent civil disobedience and set the stage for the development of human rights. Ghandi used transformative, people-centred, charismatic and servant leadership to lobby for India’s independence from the British. He was particularly a good power manager and never rose above his followers.
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He voluntarily decided to be poor, fasted for days as a way of passing his disapproval and even dressed in the same way as his followers. Gandhi set a legacy that has been instrumental in the fight for freedom. This report discusses Gandhi’s leadership style and behaviour, and his power management skills.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader. When one reads his many famous quotes, there is no doubt that they were informed by an in-depth understanding of leadership (Nath 2010). Gandhi is no doubt among the greatest political personalities who lived during the twentieth century. His influence is far-reaching and he is credited to be the inspiration behind the leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement.
“Gandhi was born in Gujarat on October 2nd 1869, and was assassinated on January 30th 1948” (Yates 2013, p. 1). Mahatma was a charismatic leader, who was analytical and deliberate in his behaviour. A product of the colonial era Gandhi was interestingly inspired by the Bhagavad-Gita, which had been written many years before he was born. He was an orator, a politician, an intellectual and a writer.
He was indubitably a quite complex human being, one who believed in voluntary subordination and simplicity and yet had a strong stand about his vision for a free society. This report is an analysis of the behaviour and leadership style of Ghandi, the transactional and transformative aspects of his leadership and the way he used the power he had to help India gain Independence.
Gandhi’s leadership style and behaviour
According to Dalglish and Miller (2010, p. 94), “A people-centred leader stresses concern for people”. Gandhi was such a leader. His people-minded leadership is confirmed by his ahimsa principle. Gandhi used this principle to urge his followers to love all humans regardless of whether they are their friends or enemies. The ahimsa principle was informed by his belief in non-violence (Gandhis Non-violence n.d.).
Gandhi not only urged his followers to refrain from physically harming their opponents (the British) but he also urged them to avoid developing ill-will and hatred towards them. Therefore, non-violence was not all about avoiding physically harming the British. Mahatma believed that the colonialists in India needed to be convinced of their injustice and not to be punished (Gandhis Non-violence n.d.).
It can therefore be argued that Gandhi was focussed on having a virtuous following while protesting against the injustices of the British colonialists. This proves the fact that he was a people-centred leader.
The Satyagraha principle, that was basically an extension of ahimsa principle, was also instrumental in the fight against colonialism by the British. It means ‘soul-force’ and it advocated for a firm stand on the ideals that the Indian populace held, but without ill-will and hatred. Its form in the public domain was civil disobedience as well as failure to cooperate with evil.
The former involved breaking unjust laws while the latter involved non-compliance with unjust systems. “The Salt March of 1930 was one of Gandhi’s greatest successes in civil disobedience. Salt was necessary to the life of Indian farmers’ cattle, and the British monopoly on salt production had led to massive taxes on the vital substance” (Gandhis Non-violence n.d., p. 1).
After Gandhi broke the British Salt Law, a myriad of Indians followed his example and broke the law too. It also encouraged them to break other oppressive laws. This is proof of people centred leadership because Gandhi empowered the masses to reject oppression through civil disobedience. The second element of Satyagraha did not involve breaking laws.
They accomplished it by avoiding British products, getting out of schools established by the British and so forth. This led to halting of production systems that were set up by the British (Gandhis Non-violence n.d.).
“Research showed that people centred leadership is not consistently related to productivity but does tend to enhance group satisfaction and cohesiveness” (Dalglish & Miller 2010, p. 94). Gandhi had the potential to move and inspire masses in India. He was particularly good at empowering people, making common Indians engage in the struggle for independence and making them realize the progress they had made after each protest.
He toured the whole of India and personally led all major movements in the country, repeatedly holding public meetings with his supporters (Gupta 2008). He was always accessible to others and thus they became connected to him and shared his vision, making the whole of India resistant to British oppression.
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Gandhi’s transformative and transactional leadership
Transformative leadership theory has evolved with time but is remains an invaluable part of contemporary leadership literature. Dalglish and Miller (2010) describe transformational leadership as a style of leadership that seeks to change the current state of affairs by accomplishing three main tasks. Firstly, the leader connects with his followers and instils in them a sense of a greater purpose.
Secondly, the leader frames the issues at hand such that they relate with both the followers’ and leader’s values and vision (Pillai 2011). Lastly, the leader ensures that he/she upholds the morals necessary for the achievement of the vision, often at a level much higher than that of his/her followers.
This way, the followers strive to emulate the leader and this leads to change of status quo (Dalglish & Miller 2010). Gandhi has been cited in various literatures as the embodiment of transformative leadership (McDowelle 2009). This section investigates the transformative aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership.
Gandhi was imprisoned for a long period, and fasted for so long that his health was threatened. He intended to use this as a way of sending a message to the Indian populace and the colonialists. He created a moral vision that was transformative in nature and “based on what he called truth” (McDowelle 2009, p. 1).
His way of protesting therefore made him win the feelings and emotions of his followers, a key component of transformational leadership (Lowe, Kroeck & Sivasubramaniam 1996).
Aluya (2009) describes Mahatma as a transformational and a spiritual leader. “His leadership style transcended the polarization of ethnic or religious boundaries and was regarded as the father of the Indian Nation” (Aluya 2009, p. 4).
Mahatma’s leadership style that advocated for non-violence was recently recognized by the declaration of October second, his “birthday, as the International Day of Non-Violence” (Aluya, 2009, p. 4) by the UN (United Nations). It is important to note that transformative leaders share many attributes with charismatic leaders (Harith 2012), and thus Mahatma was a charismatic leader as well.
Dalglish and Miller (2010, p. 139) define transactional leadership as the form of leadership that “is characterized by leaders and followers being in an exchange relationship”. Transactional leadership is transitory in nature and thus the parties may part ways after the completion of the transaction.
This is the main downside of transactional leadership (Dalglish & Miller 2010). Gandhi’s leadership can be viewed to have a transaction that is not so obvious to discern. Indian masses needed independence from the British (Palshikar 2008) and Gandhi was in the process of self discovery and self development.
After being an non-practicing lawyer for some time, Gandhi had made a resolution to follow a higher calling; ensuring that people get justice through his leadership. It is therefore arguable that he needed the support of the Indian populace, after coming back from South Africa, if he was to fulfil his dream of a just society.
Mahatma achieved transactional leadership after winning the hearts of the populace and the attention of the British through imprisonment and fasting. He however delivered his part of the exchange much later; after India gained independence from Britain (Aarons 2007).
Gandhi’s use of power
Transformational leaders get their power from influencing and inspiring the masses to believe in the same things they believe in, and their ability to stimulate the populace to act in a certain way in order to realize a common goal (Lai 2011).
Gandhi was a transformational leader and therefore he gained his power by empowering the people to resist oppressive laws and share a common vision of an India independent from British colonialism.
While the majority of leaders elevate themselves with symbols of power, Gandhi was a symbol of the people he served (Barnabas & Clifford 2012). Gandhi dressed in loin cloth like his followers and voluntarily accepted to be poor in order to serve people better.
Although he had power in the way he could control Indian masses, Gandhi was more of a people’s servant than a power-bearer. Gandhi can therefore be described as a servant leader who understood the need for voluntary subordination in service (Barnabas & Clifford 2012).
Gandhi used the power of his vision as the guiding principle of his protests. “He could write the most complex intellectual work to be sure his point was understood. Yet, he could express the feelings of his followers in the most simple and eloquent ways” (Yates 2013, p. 3). He indubitably had great intellectual power, which he did not show off to the British.
He instead used his intellectual power to influence people in order to rally support for rejection of oppression and colonialism. An example of how he appropriately used his intellectual power is when he collected a handful of salt from the beach, an action that was against the Salt Law and an expression of freedom from oppressive laws, and that was meant to show his disapproval of the aforementioned law.
This act was copies by many Indians and led to imprisonment of many. The protest against the Salt Law is however credited as a major step towards the independence of India (Yates 2013).
Gandhi also drew power from his disregard for himself and fearlessness. He singlehandedly halted slaughter in Bengal by meeting combatants without fearing for his life. This meeting was preceded by a fearless fasting period. It is important to note that his use of non-violence and disregard for himself were his greatest weapons. Gandhi also drew power from the aspects of transformative leadership that he exhibited.
This power is described by Shields (2010, p. 567) as “the ability of the leader to reach the souls of others in a fashion which raises human consciousness, builds meanings, and inspires human intent that is the source of power”. After gaining such power, Gandhi used servant leadership to lead his followers and thus he never acted in a way suggesting that he took credit for beginning the revolution.
His way of disobedience had a great influence on leaders all over the world. Some of the leaders who got their inspiration from Gandhi include Martin Luther King and his counterpart in American Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X (Yates 2013).
From the above discussion, it is apparent that Mahatma’s leadership style can be summarized into four leadership styles. These are transformational leadership, people-oriented leadership, servant leadership and charismatic leadership. Gandhi was a special and remarkable individual and thus his leadership was more or less a legacy.
His disregard for himself in the fight for freedom and use of non-violence transformed civil disobedience and influenced civil movements throughout the world. He was commendably the inspiration behind Martin Luther King’s advocacy for dialogue and peaceful protests during the American Civil Rights Movement that took place in the mid-twentieth century.
Among the most interesting things about Gandhi was the way he used the power that had been bestowed upon him by his followers. Gandhi lived like one of them and interacted with them freely.
He never misused the power he had over the masses and only used it to stage civil disobedience against oppressive laws and colonization. Gandhi frequently fasted for days as a way of showing disapproval of British laws and behaviour. He was ready to die for his country that at one time he faced a battalion alone. He died by assassination and became an inspiration to many people around the world.
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