Gandhi The Legendary Leader History Essay

The topic of leadership has generated excitement and interest from ancient times. Leadership has gained the attention of researchers’ worldwide. When people think of leadership, images come to mind of powerful & dynamic personalities, who command victorious armies, shape the nations’ events, preach religions or direct corporate empires. How did a leader build such great armies, countries, religion and companies? How did Gandhi become such influential leader? Gandhi was a private man without wealth, without property & official title. He was neither commander of army nor the ruler of vast land, even though he became the spokesman for country and all mankind. Gandhi, man who made humanity and truth, more powerful than empires (Albert Einstein).There is no universal definition for leadership because leadership is complex and is studied in different ways that requires different definitions.

In the very beginning of movie it has reflected that how situation can influence a person to become a great leader. Movie shows how a person learns and sharps his ability as a leader with the time. It also shows the leader’s ability to find best solution to the problem. Gandhi’s tools were non violence and peaceful protest for the legitimate right of equality and independence. Movie reflected Gandhi’s ability as a charismatic leader to mobilize people from all religion, cast and sex for freedom struggle. Gandhi visited to rural villages for his followers and indentified the problems and tried to solve it. He started spinning and wearing indigenous cloths. His innovative ways of protest and fight for independence like non cooperation, salt march etc against the strongest empire in the world makes him a transformational and motivational leader. His activities were without any consideration for economic benefits or self-gratification (need for power, achievement, and esteem) and his work for different communities especially for untouchables establish him as a spiritual leader. Gandhi had kept fast twice protesting against violence and riots which reflects the character of ethical leadership. Till his death he kept thinking about the welfare of mankind.

Gandhi reinvented the rule of the game to deal with a situation where all the existing methods had failed. He broke the tradition as he understood that it is not possible to fight for freedom with force. He decided to change the game in a fundamentally different way unleashing the power of ordinary people, inspired men and women of the country to fight for a unifying goal. He used non violence and peaceful protest to fight the battle for the country. Resource constraints did not bother him. His agenda was full independence that inspired him. His leadership style was follower centric and one that took into account existing conditions before determining the strategy. Gandhi leadership style was dependent on circumstances. By applying and understanding following theory we can explain his character and leadership style as well as the influence of environment on his leadership aspect.

The word charisma is derived from the Greek word ‘charismata’ meaning gift of grace (Conger, 1989; Weber, 1947). The neo charismatic emphasis on the characteristic of the leader ignores “the nature and severity of the particular threat, the content of the radical vision and how it deals with that threat, and the magnitude and persistence of particular changes that are accomplished through charisma” (Beyer 1999). Beyer attempted to precisely delineate Weber’s approach into four necessary and distinct steps for evolution of charismatic leadership is depicted in Table 1.

Gandhi was a charismatic leader as he didn’t impose himself on the people to follow him, but he succeeded to lead by his ways of life, like by using indigenous clothes, living simple life, non violence, love for total mankind etc. Without having any tools or weapons or governmental power he was the person who had the biggest power in the country and because of his charisma people followed him. One instance when he told masses not to buy British clothes, people stopped buying and they burnt British clothes. Whenever he started any movement people participated in it like non cooperation or civil disobedience. This characteristic of his proved him as a source of power where people submit their faith to extraordinary.

He also succeeded in making a regime in the heart of people by encouraging then that they must struggle without violence to gain independence of their country. He said clearly for no cause he will support violence. He always kept his promise. He even stopped Non cooperation movement when mob killed policemen. By spinning for himself he displayed the example of self reliance and self employment to his countrymen. Needless to say, Gandhi has been a charismatic leader for which people followed him without thinking of consequences.

Mahatma Gandhi is an excellent example of transformational leadership because he looked after the aspirations of his followers and instead of riding those needs to power, he remained sensitive to a higher purpose. During non cooperation movement against British rule, violence had broken out and being a proponent of non violence he was deeply troubled. He always said that for any cause he will not support violence because he believed violence triggers more violence. He started his first fast to stop the non cooperation movement as he believed people were not ready to get independence. As a result of his fast, non cooperation movement was stopped. In early part of movie he went to a small rural village on request of one of his follower where he chose to wear clothes made of indigenous materials. He inspired Indian people to boycott British clothes as a part of independence movement and this led to burning of foreign clothes as a public demonstration of Indian solidarity. He initiated salt making campaign as a part of civil disobedience movement. After air and water, salt was considered to be most important for millions of poor people in India and the government was having monopoly over it. This movement was an act of defiant of British laws which shows the courage & vision of Gandhi. This movement got a vast support from people of India and it acted as a serious blow to British Empire. Gandhi was arrested soon after the salt movement. But his followers kept breaking law and continued making salt. People from different religions worked together even in his absence and no violence broke out even when many were beaten by British soldiers. Gandhi’s followers had courage to do this because they were strong enough to do this on their own and the courage was built in them from the strong beliefs of Gandhi.

3.3 Spiritual Leadership

The definition of spirituality includes two essential elements in a person’s life (Fry, 2003, 2005) as shown and described in Table 3.

Transcendence of self

Manifest in a sense of calling or destiny and the belief that one’s activities including work have meaning and value beyond being instrumental for obtaining economic benefits or self-gratification


Manifest in the need for meaningful relationships and being connected to others in a way that provides feeling of joy and wholeness

Table 3: Elements of Spiritual Leadership

Both elements involve altruistic love and faith. By doing things to help satisfy the two essential needs for transcendence and fellowship in the workplace, spiritual leaders increase their intrinsic motivation, confidence and organizational commitment.

Gandhi was able to bring spiritualities into his leadership style. He promoted love and peace at time when other leaders were calling for an eye for an eye. He did not hate any one. Rather he believed in offering the other cheek if someone hits on first. He strongly believed that this attitude of his will reduce the anger of enemy and increase respect. He served the society and worked for the welfare of untouchables. As shown in the movie Gandhi always worked for his followers. While working in South Africa as well as in India he worked a lot for the weaker section of society and empowerment of women which motivated them and eventually, they participated in the freedom struggle.

3.4 Servant Leadership

The service to follower is the primary responsibility of leaders and is the essence of ethical leadership. Services include nurturing, defending and empowering followers. Servant leader must listen to followers, learn about their needs & aspirations and be willing to share & comfort in their pain and frustration. Leader must stand for what is good and right. Social injustice and inequality should always be opposed. Even weak and marginal members of society must be treated with respect and appreciation. Leader must empower follower instead of using power to dominate them. Trust is establish by being completely honest and open, keeping actions consistent with values, and showing trust in followers.

Gandhi worked for the empowerment of woman as well as for the lower castes. He spent whole of his life fighting against injustice & social evils. He always maintained trust of his followers by striking to his principal of non violence.

Larry Spears (1998), CEO of the Greenleaf Centre, concluded that Robert Greenleaf’s writings incorporated ten major attributes of servant leadership. The Table 4 lists those ten attributes.









Building Community

Commitment to growth

Table 4: Attributes of Servant Leadership

The below Diagram 2 depicts the structure of Servant Leadership and its interrelationships –

Diagram 2: Structure of Servant Leadership

4 Power and Influence tactics of Gandhi

The Power and Influence tactics of Gandhi has been described in two separate sub headings as follows –

4.1 Analysis of Power

The term power is usually used to describe the absolute capacity of an individual agent to influence the behaviour or attitudes of one or more designated target person at a given point of time (French & Raven, 1959).

Different kinds of power described by French and Raven are depicted in Table 5 as below –

Reward Power

The target person complies in order to obtain reward controlled by the agent

Coercive Power

The target person complies in order to avoid punishment controlled by the agent

Legitimate Power

The target person complies because he/she believes the agent has the right to make the request and the target person has the obligation to comply

Expert Power

The target person complies because he/she believes that the agent has special knowledge about the best way to do something

Referent Power

The target person complies because he/she admire or identifies with the agent and want to gain the agent’s approval.

Table 5: Different kinds of Power

Gandhi did not have any military or economic power. Gandhi was a small man who despite repeated imprisonment refused to submit to British authority and defeated the most powerful empire of that time with the help & support of his followers. Charismatic leader like Gandhi are usually perceived to possess referent power. His principal of non violence, satyagrah, civil disobedience was referred as soft power. He was a man of character and integrity who refused to surrender against injustice. His integrity is reflected by his truthfulness and by set of values that he had. Even British recognised his power when they set him free from prison to stop the violence. He never supported violence for any reasons. He called back non cooperation movement due to violence outbreak. Because of his strong referent power he influenced so many people without any explicit effort.

4.2 Analysis of Influence Tactics

Influence is the primary ingredient in effective leadership (Covey, 1990; Malphurs, 1996; Maxwell, 1998; Yukl, 1998). The true measure of leadership is influence nothing more nothing less (Maxwell, 1998 p11). The type of behaviour used intentionally to influence the attitude and behaviour of another person is usually called as influence tactics. The broad categories of Influence tactics are depicted in Table 6.

Impression Management Tactics

Influence people to like the agent or to have a favourable evaluation of the agent. These tactics can be used by leader to influence followers or by followers to leader

Political Tactics

Influence organizational decision or otherwise gain benefits for an individual or group. Political tactics are also used to defend against the opponents and silent crisis. Some political tactics include manipulation &abuse of power

Proactive Influence Tactics

Immediate task objective involves change in procedure used for current task, provide assistance or support proposed changes, task compliance by using a simple request based on legitimate power

Reactive Tactics

It resists an unwanted influence attempt to modify the agent’s request or proposal to be more acceptable to the target person.

Table 6: Types of Influence Tactics

Gandhi was the most influential Indian leader. His not only influenced Indian politics but also the world. He influenced his followers to mobilize and fight for their legitimate rights and against discrimination & inequality in India as well in South Africa. His influencing tactics were proactive in nature. He used logical argument and factual evidence to influence and motivate his followers. For example his idea about non cooperation and civil disobedience movement were very logical. His inspirational appeal influenced people tremendously. In South Africa he fought against injustice for which British beat him and imprisoned him but could not take his obedience. He also used pressure tactics with his followers when violence broke out he opted to fasting to stop it. The movie reflected the power and influence tactics by Gandhi very well.

5 Leader – Follower relationship

Leader- member exchange (LMX) theory describes the role making processes between a leader and each individual subordinate and the exchange relationship that develops over time (Dansereau, Graen, &Haga, 1975; Graen & cashman, 1975). The basic premise of the theory is that leaders develop a separate exchange relationship with each subordinate when the two parties mutually define the subordinate’s role. A leader is likely to establish a high exchange relationship or a low exchange relationship with each subordinate. The development of high exchange relationships occurs gradually over a period of time through reciprocal reinforcement of behaviour when the exchange cycle is repeated over and over again. The relationship begins with an initial testing phase in which the leader and subordinate evaluate each other’s motives, attitude and potential resources to be exchanged and mutual role expectations are established. If the relationship proceeds to second stage, the exchange arrangement is refined and mutual trust, loyalty and respect gets developed. At third stage wherein exchange was based on self interest is transformed into mutual commitment to the mission and objective of the work unit. According to Graen and Uhi-Bien (1991) the third stage corresponds to transformational leadership.

In the movie there are many incidents which show how to develop relationships with the followers. Gandhi biggest follower was his own wife. She always followed him in every walk of his life. She actively participated in all the movements started by Gandhi. She even participated in community development program for the welfare of human kind. She went to jail number of times together with Gandhi and she even died in jail. Meera Ben is another person in the movie who became a big follower of Gandhi. Even though she was a British and daughter of an English admiral, she came to India because she had deep faith & respect for Gandhi’s principals and causes. Nehru was another follower who first evaluated the motive & attitude of Gandhi then exchanged his loyalty towards him & then worked together on mutual commitment to the mission.

6 Evolution &Development of Gandhi as a leader

While going to South Africa, Gandhi was travelling in first class and he was forcefully thrown out of first class just because he was an Indian even though he had the right tickets. That was the beginning of transformation of an ordinary man into a great leader. Injustice done to him made him aware about discrimination in the British Empire and he started raising his voice against it. He started mobilizing people and made them aware of their rights. He started working for community development especially for untouchables and women empowerment as he knew without unification of society revolution was not possible. He always believed that fighting with an evil is duty. He advocated non violence as a weapon to fight against British Empire. His principal of non violence served two purposes firstly, he protected his followers from strongest army in the world & secondly, this principal made his demands more acceptable to rest of the world.

This shows his vision power. When he came back to India, he started wearing Indian made clothes because he wanted to get associated with common Indian man. Before taking any responsibility, he visited different parts of India and came across various problems and their possible solutions. He said without the involvement of common men in the freedom movement, independence is not possible. He kept on working for community development & woman empowerment in India & contributed magnificently to bring unity among people from different religions. Gradually, he emerged as a leader because of his character, principals and values he believed and was unanimously accepted by the whole nation. He went to Motihari, a rural place on request of follower and started spinning clothes and encouraged to boycott British goods as part of freedom movement. He himself started spinning to lead the country with an example. His movement like non cooperation and salt march united the whole country & dented British image to rule India. He even kept fast till death to stop communal riots during India’s partition after independence.

7 Conclusion

Movie Gandhi shows the transformation of a common man into a legendary leader. It shows how situation can inspire a person to fight against injustice and inequality. Gandhi’s leadership style proves that to achieve a good end, means should be equally good. Gandhi had a vision which was accepted by his followers. His charisma led to Indian independence. His contribution towards the weaker section of society is unforgettable and unmatchable. His teaching of non violence is very much relevant even in today’s world.

For the contribution and sacrifices he made for the India’s independence, upliftment of weaker sections, woman empowerment and unity among different religions, he has been given the title of ‘Mahatma’ by his nation and is called as ‘Bapu’ that is Father of the nation.

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