Leadership Theories - Gandhi as leader

The application of leadership skills in organizations on a great leader of our time according to Gary A. Yukl

Term Paper, 2010

11 Pages, Grade: 2,0




Chapter 1 Description of Gandhi

Chapter 2 Gandhi as a leader
2.1 Ethical leadership
2.2 Servant leadership
2.3 Spiritual leadership

Chapter 3 Gandhi in business life




What makes a great leader great? What kind of skills does he use? These questions came to our mind when we started the course “Leadership Theories”. By writing about one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, we were able to answer parts of these questions. We wondered why people still recognize him for his behavioral skills and whether it is possible to replicate those e.g. in business life. We found that it were not only techniques that he used to lead, but just as much will power and true belief.

Chapter 1 Description of Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has been a political, spiritual and ideological leader of India. He was born in 1869 in Porbandar, India, but was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist.

Primarily Gandhi was not only a political but ethical leader. His main principles were Satyagraha, the belief in truth, Ahimsa, non-violence and Swaraj, which means individual as well as political self-policing.

Gandhi is very well known for his role as the leader of the Indian Independence Movement and became Mahatma, the Great Soul of India. Gandhi encouraged the people of India to free their own state and defeat the British with their own weapons. What made him famous is his non-violence, non-cooperative approach he believed in (cf. McMahon, p.18).

Gandhi studied law in London and returned to India to practice his studies afterwards. Two years later he went to South Africa to do legal work and stayed there for 21 years. At that time South Africa was still controlled and owned by the British and an Indian minority was living there.

While Gandhi was in South Africa he faced direct discrimination against the Indians. He was thrown out of the train when he refused to move to 3rd class even though he bought a 1st class ticket (cf. Nojeim, p.73).

These happenings were the turning point in Gandhi’s life. While he protested against the British government he developed a new way of resistance. The basic principle of this form of resistance was non-violence and civil disobedience. Gandhi believed that behavior is more important than achievement. Therefore he also demanded peaceful coexistence of the religions.

The biggest achievement in his career during the Independence Movement was the Salt March which finally led to the British government to release India. In India it was forbidden to sell or harvest salt, by marching more than 300km to the sea and just doing that, Gandhi set a symbolic sign and ridiculed the British.

After the Independence of India Gandhi continued his work. He spoke up a for a united India where everyone would be recognized.

Critics claim the limitation of his support to Indian people only. Some people even found Gandhi a racist because he refused black people.

He was nominated for the Peace Nobel Price five times and got killed the year he was supposed to receive it.

Chapter 2 Gandhi as a leader

In the following Gandhi’s leadership skills will be analyzed by the means of “Leadership in Organizations” by Gary A. Yukl.

When analysing Gandhi’s leadership skills, the focus will be on ethical, servant and spiritual leadership. Both are normative theories of an ideal to be accomplished. They focus on the relationship among people, thus on the leader and its followers. The values catered by both theories include “honesty, altruism, kindness compassion, empathy, fairness, gratitude, humidity, courage, optimism and resilience” (Yukl, p.348). These leadership theories are mainly based on humanitarian ideas included in most religions.

A good leader is not regarded as a person who “will use power, but whether they will use it wisely and well” (Yukl, p.329). This determines their power.

Gandhi never saw himself as a powerful leader. He was convinced people would follow his beliefs if they had a reason to do so. He considered himself an eye-opener and thus would never force his opinion upon people, but waited until they were ready to see it themselves.

2.1 Ethical leadership

As Gandhi is seen as one of the greatest ethical leaders of our time, the question arises: Why is that?

If one looks at ethical leadership Yukl points out that values, traits and behaviour need to be evaluated (cf. Yukl, p.330). Moreover an individual leader like Gandhi should be judged by his own values, his stage of moral development, his conscious intentions, the freedom of choice, his use of ethical and unethical behaviour or other types of influences used (cf. Yukl, p.330). Of course this is very subjective and Gandhi maybe seen as a great leader nowadays, but has been seen as a trouble stirrer by the British colonial power.

Applying leadership skills to purpose, consistency of his moral standards in behaviour and the consequences of his actions, we will get a first insight of his leadership skills.

Gandhi’s purpose was to free the Indian people by their own means from suppression and colonisation through non-violent, non-cooperative protest. This initial aim, to change the peoples mind (also towards other Indians e.g. when it comes to religious diversity) never changed. He wanted the “untouchables” to be recognized and all religions to be equal. Still he never stood up for any other discriminated races.

The consistency of his moral standards is strict and consequent. He initiated the freedom movement after a successful repeal of a bill in South Africa. This bill reduced the Indian’s civil rights. He continued once arrived in India to accomplish more for his own people. He followed his beliefs of the value of labour. This means that labour should be valued the same, regardless of who did it.

The consequences of his action were not only India to be governed by Indians, but also a sign throughout the world, that there is no need for violence to reach an aim.

Gandhi did not violate basic laws, as he tried a passive approach. Laws of society were violated in the terms of not obeying to the British government. Is this unethical then? The question can be assed from different point of views. Ethical can be the pursuit of the heart and inner beliefs. This sometimes collides with basic laws. Gandhi truly believed in the equality and experienced injustice due to his race. Breaking with the law was a necessity to break a viscous circle of injustice. Where the line needs to be drawn is questionable, though. Most people agree that the line is crossed, once violence is considered to be a justifiable device. Gandhi never denied other people to join his non-violent protest. As he encouraged denying disobedience by boycotting the legislative part e.g. non-cooperation of civil servants as a form of protest.

He never wanted to endanger his followers in regard to health etc. His decision to fast was his decision. People were not persuaded to follow, they were allowed to decide themselves if they wanted to fast as a form of protest.

As Yukl claims, an ethical leader applies the same rules to everyone, is honest when providing information and keeps promises.

Applying Yukl, Gandhi can be seen as a leader with the “highest level of moral development” as his “primary motivation [was] to fulfil internalized values and moral principles” (Yukl, p.335). He deflected from previously set rules and existing traditions and risked by that not only expulsion by the British government, but also economic loss, physical punishment and social rejection within the Indians (as he treated the untouchables as humans).


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Leadership Theories - Gandhi as leader
The application of leadership skills in organizations on a great leader of our time according to Gary A. Yukl
Växjö University
Leadership Theories
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Gandhi, Leadership, skills, servant leadership, ethical leadership, ethical management, great leaders of our time, spiritual leadership, G. A. Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, Three Faces of Leadership, Hatch, Kostera, Koźmiński, Leadership Theories Leadership in Organisations, etisch, Ethik, humanitarian
Quote paper
Anna Lena Bischoff (Author), 2010, Leadership Theories - Gandhi as leader, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/161872


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