Leadership Analysis: Mahatma Gandhi, Essay Example


“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” Spoken from Mahatma Gandhi himself believed that there was more to leadership then brawns but instead through relationships formed with people. Leadership can be defined in several ways however leadership encompasses three central things, influence, their followers, and the common goal of all parties involved. Leadership is viewed from the casting of a collective vision that others want to follow. Mahatma Gandhi is one of the true definitions of a leader. He wasn’t born to be a leader, he was imperfect, but he was authentic. Gandhi became a famous writer, intellectual, gifted orator, and politician that changed the lives of millions. Not only was Gandhi influential to those around him but his power resonated with the likes of Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Albert Einstein, and others with his movements for civil rights, freedom, and non-violence.

Throughout this this leadership course the purpose was to show that anyone can be capable of leadership. The leadership styles are the mechanisms adopted by the leader in order to carry out the responsibilities of doing the greater good for others. In many profiles of great leaders most possessed the qualities that weren’t inherent but instead developed and created over times. Their leadership skills were carefully molded and polished over a period of time through experiences that gave them the will and motivation to put aside their ego and become a great leader. Great leaders are not born but instead can be learned and taught how to be an effective leader. Becoming a great leaders is a never-ending process that requires much practice, self-study and reflection, training, and experience. From Gandhi’s humble beginnings into learning and developing the skills of Gandhi’s influential transformative approach, Gandhi changed a nation. This paper will provide an analysis and assessment of why Mahatma Gandhi is the definition of a great leader and the style that he utilized in becoming an iconic leader in the world.


Born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar a small village under British authority in western India he was the youngest child from his father’s fourth wife. Gandhi’s father, Kraramchand Gandhi was the chief minister or dewan of Porbandar that was able to be an influential presence or princes and the political officers in power. His mother, Putlibal was a very religious woman who did not see the importance in material things such as jewelry or fine clothes. She devoted much of time to worshiping and praying in the temple, at home she frequently fasted, and was also a servant to her family when they were sick. Mahatma grew up religious also worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu who tenets involved being non-violent and believe that everything in the universe is eternal. He steadily practiced fasting, self-purification, mutual tolerance, and noninjury all living beings. In school Gandhi was average he was punctual in his classes, he won scholarships and prizes but his school record wasn’t a standout. He married at age 13 and enjoyed long solitary walks and help his parents and around the house. He was the typical teenager that rebelled against his family, he would eat meat, became a secret atheist, did petty thefts, and smoked, however after each activity he vowed do never again do them and he kept his vows.

Gandhi began to mold his life after the Hindu gods Harishcandra and Prahlada that were embodiments of sacrifice and truthfulness. After passing his matriculation exams he went on to studied at college at the University of Bombay and Samaldas College. His passion was to become a doctor but family pressure persuaded him to seek positions in high offices within India. He then set off to London were he felt he would be surrounded by philosophers, intellectuals, and poet that were the center of civilization. He took the vow before leaving that he would abstain from women, wine, and meat, and went off to study law. There at the London University he worked hard to perfect his Latin and English but his difficulty in adapting to the western lifestyle prove to be the bigger hurdle. Upon following his vegetarian background he found a vegetarian restaurant where he was able to come out his shell and participate as an executive member of the London Vegetarian Society, where he was introduced to several notable figures that influence his thinking. He was introduced to the Bible, philosophical form of poetry Bhagavadgita, figures such as George Bernard Shaw, Edward Carpenter, Annie Besant, and others. The figures shared ideas of simple living, the evils of the capitalist society, and superiority of moral value over materialistic values.

When Gandhi returned to India he wasn’t welcomed with open arms, the law field was overcrowded and he had to accept a one year contract with a small Indian Firm. He moved to South Africa and that is where his leadership skills were molded. He stayed in South Africa for 21 years and experienced many forms of racism, discrimination, and harrowing encounters that left him looking for a change. He was beaten, thrown out, and banned from hotels that were restricted to only Europeans. His reaction to these actions were not the act of aggression but instead he felt that what he and other Indians were experiencing were a great injustice that attention needed to be given to. Returning to Pretoria he educated himself on the way of life of his fellow countrymen and tried to educate others on their rights. When he first was supposed to leave he learned that the Natal Legislative Assembly was preparing to pass a bill that barred Indians from voting, he felt a sense of urgency and dutifulness where he overcame his fears of public speaking and became a proficient political campaigner. He used his role to draft up several petitions, although he didn’t succeed against the bill he sparked the attention of the press and the public within England and India.

Gandhi founded the Natal Indian Congress where he invoked a spirit of kinship and solidarity within the Indian community. He drafted several letters and petitions to the legislatures and offices to make them aware of the mistreatment, the injustice, and the discrimination that was being conducted on the Indian citizens. Major media ran stories on Gandhi and he was able to meet with prominent leaders to address the situations to the public. He was attacked ferociously but he never would prosecute his assailants because he didn’t feel that he needed to seek redress in a court of law. When the South African Boer War broke out he spoke out against Indians who felt it was their duty to defend the British Crown. He raised a corps of volunteers to aid the injured where he instilled a sense of service to others. Although he was making progress elsewhere the South African Europeans were unmoved, and they passed a ordinance where Indians had register, Gandhi help to form a mass protest where they took a pledge to not obey the ordinance if it became law and was prepared to suffer the repercussions of breaking the law. He used the idea of civil disobedience where they resisted their adversaries, and were willing to suffer for their rights. It lasted for over seven years, Gandhi and his followers held fast to their resistance which included hundreds of Indians going to jail including Gandhi. They were sacrificing their livelihood and their liberty, they were imprisoned, shot, and flogged. Under pressure from British and India governments they negotiated a compromise led by Gandhi.

Shaping Gandhi’s Leadership Skills

Gandhi’s process of becoming an iconic leader were developed from his experiences that happened in South Africa. He stay in London helped to introduce him to new ideas and mold his views on what the government was doing to others. He views were aided by literature introduced including the Bible, Tolstoy, and philosophical poetry. He deciding on being a champion for the independence of India from Great Britain, the rights of Indians, Muslim and Hindu unity, and the issues that were effecting the poor, the inequalities and the injustices that were done to the Indian community. Gandhi accomplish these goals by developing an approach of civil disobedience that resisted the enemy tactics through non-violence. Although he didn’t display any of the leadership qualities as a child or throughout his years in England, once he saw the injustice of his kinsmen in South Africa he developed a spirit of leadership where he established direction, created a vision of freedom, aligned the people, and motivated them to make a change. (Northouse, 2013) Gandhi developed the three crucial skills to becoming an effective leader that included, human, technical, and conceptual. According to Zenger-Folkman what makes great leaders is their observant of leadership, “they need not only to understand some basic concepts and be reasonably well read, they need to able to judge everyday interactions and understand what is missing.” (Zenger-Folkman, 2005)

What sets great leaders apart from good leaders is their dedication and their duty to discipline. A trait that Gandhi clearly developed, it is considered more of important than a natural ability, because those with discipline will go beyond those with natural ability. Gandhi would also be considered a level 5 leader by Jim Collins. In his definition of what a great leader he defines that level 5 or great leaders are those that are willing to put their egos aside for the greater means to something larger and lasting than themselves. (Collins, 2001) Gandhi fully believed that leaders were just more than muscles but instead was about the relationships formed with individuals. The definition and purpose of leaders is view through a perspective that exclusive of the direct influence and motivation of others. Leadership is a processed practice where leaders can emerge out of necessity. In the case of Gandhi he felt that there was no other alternative. He wasn’t a very vocal person, and usually shy which proved difficult when presenting cases. The need for someone to stand up for him and his people inspired an overnight change in Gandhi were others responded favorably to him. He can be first viewed as an emergent leader when he spoke out against the proposed bill, the age of 25 he was bent on rallying others and changing the minds of those in power. Northouse believes that emergent leaders developed their skills from communication which involves them being verbal, informed of situations, seeks out others input, create new ideas, and can speak from an authoritative position. (Northouse, 2013) These skills are pertinent in organizations and in the case of Gandhi in motivating others.

In Gandhi’s development into becoming a great leader he displayed several leadership styles that helped him to become the leader of a nation. The style chosen needs to resonant with the followers, specifically being a resonant leader are those that are passionate about their mission and use their relationships that are formed with their follows to move them forward.  What Gandhi clearly possessed was the power to inspire others. The theory of path goal leadership identifies that leaders incorporate the capabilities of defining their goals, clarifying the path to achieving these goals, and removing the barriers. This theory lays the foundation of being a transformative leaders. Gandhi motivated others through ethics, standards, values, and emotions. Gandhi’s idealology of nonviolence was a formative tool in combatting the injustices done to the Indians. He led an idealology that changed the mindset of others and made a difference that forced the government to come to a negotiation. His following of Satyagraha or (devotion to truth) was a technique that helped for redressing the wrongs of enemies without fighting them with violence. Gandhi felt that the courts couldn’t properly redress those that committed wrong to them.  “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” (Gandi) A transformational leader has the characteristics of being fearless, willful, humility, and creating a greater change. According to Collins, great leaders, “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.” (Collins, 2001)

One of the leadership styles that Gandhi clearly possessed was the servant leadership approach. This leadership style is closely aligned with a transformational leaders as they both but their followers first, and support their followers to grow and succeed. Gandhi aspired and motivated through empathy, listening, healing, persuasion, awareness, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment, and building community. (Northouse, 2013) Servant leaders such as Gandhi perform their leadership skills that empower others, uphold ethical standards, and creates value for the community. Although Gandhi was trained as lawyer he developed he skills of service when he lived in South Africa where he tried to educate and teach other Indians on their rights. His experiences of discrimination and injustice helped him to become dedicated to humanitarian work. He dedicated time to being a volunteer nurse at the local hospital were he was healed, and help to develop an ambulance corps during the South African Boer War. His dedication to service helped to influence others, which the corps was made up of local merchants, lawyers, and other servicemen.

Gandhi was a selfless leader that dedicated much of his life to serving the poor. He saw poverty as one of the greatest crimes of the world, to Gandhi serving the poor was one his greatest pleasures. He put others before him and even motivated his wife to sacrifice her liberty for the fight for others. She along with Gandhi were jailed several times, and she died while being in jail. Gandhi gave his life as well as he was assassinated trying to achieve on of his goals of uniting Hindu and Muslim brethren. His technique of nonviolence and support for others that weren’t like him transposed his death and carried into other movements and generations. His philosophy was that, “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.” (Gandhi, Brainy Quotes, 2013)

Characteristics and Skills of Gandhi’s Leadership

Gandhi possessed the skills of being a relational leader that held the power to be empathetic to the needs of the people. Gandhi developed powerful relationships with his followers and never placed his self on a higher pedestal. Involved in their problems and situations he struck a significant bond that resonated with those around him. Gandhi not only had the ability and the personality to resonant with his followers but intellectuals as well. He had the personality to be on the same level as those he was petitioning to in offices. Gandhi possessed what Northouse described as the Big Five Personality Factors which defined the mechanisms used in order to formulate relationships with others through extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. (Northouse, 2013)

Gandhi had the qualities of being genuine and humble in his care for his kinsmen and his opponents. He took the causes of his followers and made them his own including the rights of the poor, the famers, the mill workers, the Muslims, and the Hindus. He fought for independence, unfair taxes, and fair treatment of the people in South Africa.  He possessed the abilities of being an authentic leader that dedicated his life for the betterment of others. Bill George’s Authentic Leadership Approach shows the key characteristics of being an authentic leader. Understanding his followers’ purposes, establishing trusting relationships with his followers, demonstrating self-discipline, strong values and standards held on the right things to do, and being passionate about the missions. (Northouse, 2013) Gandhi felt that he had to lead by example he set up his life to a role model for others, although he had reported flaws and failures as a leader, it didn’t outweigh his methods, approaches, and practices on making a change for South Africa. He influence many notable figures that include Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr in their fight for civil rights, and influence Albert Einstein on living a morally superior life.
Gandhi’s Leadership

What makes Mahatma Gandhi great was that he was revolutionary of creating change without subjugating violence. Unlike other leaders, authoritative figures, and rulers he didn’t have motivate with power possessed from making people do immoral acts. His views and actions resonant with an ethical leader that has a moral compass of knowing the differences between what is right and what is wrong. His teachings and upbringing thanks to his mother helped to mold his moral values that are significant in becoming an effective leader. What Gandhi possessed is the utilitarianism approach where the leaders display behaviors that create the greatest good for the greatest number. He would sacrifice his body through fasting in order to provoke change from others. His used his intellect and empathy formed with others in order to inspire and motivate others to perform the greatest good for others. His leadership skills were not innate or something that he was born with but instead it was something that he developed through life experiences, interactions, and relationships formed with others. His ideas, abilities, and qualities where transformed and placed on display once he needed to step up to help those that couldn’t. His leadership skills are something to aspire to, he influence countries, and he influenced other great minds and leaders. Mahatma Gandhi is a legend, an icon, and the embodiment of a leader that is not without flaws but puts others ahead of him in order to create a lasting change that will outlast him. Even through more research was conducted his legacy as a great leader still stands.

Gandhi’s results from his leadership include India’s independence, influence Nelson Mandela in his civil rights fight to end the apartheid in South Africa, and the civil rights movement within the United States. Gandhi was a political leader that innovated and invented a new way in which liberation was practice without violence and with the greatest devotion to change. His influence has been felt through several generations and will remain in the future. He is celebrated globally and annually through festivals, holidays, movies, monuments, and museums. His dedication to nonviolence and peace is shared through the creation of the Gandhi Peace Prize, and named one of the most political icons of all time.

Personally, leadership styles that Gandhi embodied create somewhat of an unreachable pedestal as Gandhi is a global icon of peace and change. He influences me in my daily activities to treat everyone in a humane matter, and to focus on the greatest good for all. He has inspired me to be more dedicated to humanitarian duties, and the duties to help those that are less fortunate. Gandhi felt much joy in helping those in poverty and felt it was one of the biggest crimes in the world. By placing one in the shoes of others it helps to emphasize with their problems and their struggles in order to think of something greater to help them. Gandhi is a figurehead of resistance attacks of people through nonviolence means. That means when people choose to be hateful towards me, the skills I possess and admire in Gandhi is to simply ignore. Gandhi has helped me realized that through small changes greatness can happen. One man was able to change a nation.

In conclusion Mahatma Gandhi is an exemplanary leader, which possesses the qualities and characteristics of a learned leader that sacrificed his life, liberty, and body in order to for the greater good. With the aid of readings throughout the course, this paper was able to explain the type of leadership styles that Gandhi possessed and the skills that he developed throughout his life in order to become a great leader. His legacy has surpassed his life and death and influenced other great leaders that motivated others to make a change in the world.


Ancona, Deborah, Malone, Thomas, Orlikowski, Wanda, Senge, Peter. “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader. (2007). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://www.lifechallengeprogram.org/praise.pdf

Collins, Jim. (2001). “Level Five Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://nuonline.neu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-6597194-dt-content-rid-6911325_1/

Doyle, M. E. and Smith, M. K. (2001) “Classical leadership.” The Encyclopedia of Informal Educational. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/leadership/traditional_leadership.htm

“Mahatma Gandi” (2013). Brainy Quotes. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mahatma_gandhi_2.html

“Mahatma Gandhi” (2013). Bibliography. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/mahatma-gandhi-9305898

McKee, Annie, Boyatzis, Richard, Johnson, Frances. (2008). Becoming a Resonant Leader.  Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard Business Press.

Northouse, Peter G., (2013) Theory and Practice, 6th Ed., Sage Publications.

Zengor-Folkman. (2005). “Great Leaders Makes a Great Difference.” The Extraordinary Leader. McGraw-Hill Publishing.