According to Yukl (2010), ‘leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.’
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To put it simply leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. The leader is the inspiration. He/she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and skills that make others want to follow his/her direction.
Gandhi tells us a tale of how a person can make a difference. The movie describes how he changes the perspective of people and creates a revolutionary change. He was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement. He led the non-violence resistance movement against the British colonial rule in India during the first half of the twentieth century. He pioneered Satyagraha which is defined as the resistance to oppression through mass civil disobedience, a philosophy firmly founded upon ahimsa, or total non-violence. This concept not only helped India gain independence but also inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
Known as ‘Mahatma’ (great soul), Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and is widely considered as the father of the nation. His doctrine of non-violent protests, through his weapons of truth and love to achieve political and social progress has been largely influential to leaders across the world. (BBC on Gandhi)
The following section deals with several leadership theories that can be used to explain Gandhi’s leadership style as portrayed in the movie (Gandhi, 1982).
TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP THEORY
According to Bass (1985, 1996), the leader transforms and motivates followers by making them more aware of the importance of task outcomes, inducing them to transcend their own self interest for the sake of the organization or team, and activating their higher order needs. (Yukl, 2010)
Transformational leadership increases follower motivation and performance. The extent, to which a leader is transformational, is measured in terms of his influence on the followers. The followers of such a leader feel trust, admiration, loyalty and respect for the leader and because of these qualities of the transformational leader are willing to work harder than originally expected. These outcomes occur because the transformational leader offers followers something more than just working for self gain; they provide followers with an inspiring mission and vision, and provide them an identity. The leader creates positive change in the followers and induces people to be aware of what they feel – to feel their true needs so strongly, to define their values so meaningfully, that they can be moved to purposeful action. In this leadership style, the leader also enhances the motivation, performance and morale of his follower group.
Gandhi demonstrated transformational leadership. His followers were influenced by his drastic method of nonviolent protests and he instilled trust, loyalty, admiration and respect amongst his followers. He also transformed his followers in a literal sense – changed them in mind and heart, enlarged vision and clarified purposes to make behaviour congruent with his beliefs, principles and values.
Bass (1996) further described four types of transformational leadership behaviour – Idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration and inspirational motivation.
Types of transformational leadership behaviour in context to the movie –
Relation to the movie
Arouse strong follower emotions and identification with the leader. Setting an example of courage and dedication, and making self sacrifices to benefit the followers.
Gandhi talked about truth and love and preached the same through his non-violence resistance movements such as satyagraha and non-cooperation. Sacrifices like time away from family and long fasting periods for social protest.
Behaviour that increases follower awareness of problems and influences followers to view problems from a new perspective.
Gandhi held several meetings to talk about the issues faced by people and the importance of following his values to fight for the country’s independence. He also ensured that his beliefs were followed in the manner as he preached.
Involves communicating personal respect to followers by providing support, encouragement and coaching.
Gandhi was interactive, spoke to everyone and knew what was happening in their lives. Got involved with everyone and made them feel important by providing support whenever possible.
Inspiring and empowering followers to enthusiastically accept and pursue challenging goals and missions.
Gandhi inspired his followers through his principles and protests for which he was also sent to prison on various occasions. He was determined that his beliefs would finally attain swaraj (independence).
Two key effects that transformational leaders achieve are to evoke strong emotions and cause identification of the followers with the leader. Mahatma Gandhi is a great example of a transformational leader because of his contribution not just to his country but to social thinking around the world that inspired many other different world leaders. Gandhi is considered as one of the few individuals who embodied the ideals of a transformational leader.
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SERVANT LEADERSHIP THEORY
Servant leadership is primarily about helping people and fostering a relationship of trust and cooperation. Servant leaders must listen to followers; learn about their needs and aspirations, stand for what is good and right, oppose social injustice and inequality, must respect and appreciate the weak and marginal members of society and also empower followers instead of using power to dominate them.
Greenleaf (1977) proposed that service to followers is the primary responsibility of leaders. The servant leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Another important quality of a servant leader is the ability to accept his people unconditionally. It is creative as it stems from a genuine concern for the people rather than external motivations such as the need for power. It also leads to larger issues as it ultimately leads to a desire to serve the society at large.
A servant leader is motivated, not by a desire to control others, but by a desire to help them realize their dignity and power. Gandhi preached non-violence and dedicated his life to the achievement of a better life for the downtrodden. He served as a catalyst and example, providing vision and inspiring hope. He empowered the masses to march to the sea to make salt. In doing so they demonstrated their capacity for self governance and impressed upon history a very powerful image.
One of the key qualities of the true servant leader is that he is chosen by the people. When Gandhi was returning to India after the conclusion of the case for which he had gone to South Africa, he was given a farewell party. Over there, he expressed his concerns for the bill that was then before the House of Legislature that sought to deprive Indians of their franchise. Before he quite knew it, he had been elected by the people to stay on and fight for their rights. This was the beginning of his mission to serve humanity
Servant leaders transform people and bring out what they themselves don’t suspect is in them. Gandhi did the same with the Indian masses during their struggle for independence. Gandhi also stated that “service to the poor has been my heart’s desire and it has always thrown me amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself with them.”
Hence we can say that Gandhi was the quintessential servant leader.
Key values of a servant leader with examples from the movie-
Gandhi always communicated in an open and honest way. He only preached what he practiced himself and which were consistent with his values. He admitted and accepted responsibility for mistakes and never attempted to manipulate or deceive people. For example Gandhi swore to speak the truth and advocated others to do the same.
Gandhi was willing to make sacrifices to protect and benefit others and always put the needs of others ahead of his own needs. For instance his hunger strike for activities which he believed were wrong such as riots between Hindus and Muslims, his march to the sea to make salt as he believed the British Empire’s monopoly of salt was wrong.
Gandhi always treated others with respect, avoided status symbols and special privileges and was always modest about his achievements. For illustration he respected his colleagues as well as people from all castes and creed. Despite being proclaimed a leader by the masses he always emphasized that he was not a leader and lived in modesty in a village in India with only the basic essentials required by a human being. He also spun the cloth that he wore which was the khadi.
Empathy and healing
Gandhi helped others cope with emotional distress, encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation after a conflict and acted as a peacemaker. For example upon his return to India he travelled various regions of the country and met with a lot of villagers who were suppressed by the landlords, given measly compensation and lived in extreme poverty. He heard their stories and provided them courage to protest against the landlords for which he was sent to prison also. Also to act as a peacemaker for the religious tensions within the country he stated that – “I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you.”
Fairness and justice
Gandhi encouraged and supported the fair treatment of people, spoke against unjust and unfair policies and opposed violations of civil rights. For instance when he realized that the laws in South Africa were biased against the Indians, he decided to start a non-violent protest campaign to obtain basic rights for all Indians. He quoted that – “The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.” The government finally relented by recognizing rights for Indians.
DEVELOPMENT OF A LEADER
Leadership can be learnt unlike the trait theory which states that leaders are born with certain characteristics that make them a leader. The development of Gandhi as a leader explains how people or environments affect the actions of leaders. Gandhi was not a leader by birth, he developed the skills required to be an effective leader.
In the movie it is very explicitly clear that Gandhi learnt and developed his leadership skills in South Africa and honed them in India. He had a feeling for his followers, but he developed tools and methods to become an effective leader over time. He had rock solid values from which his activities stemmed, and he had a totally interdependent relation with his followers.