Mahatma Gandhi and his Leadership

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This paper will investigate the leadership style, capacity, and skill of Mahatma Gandhi. It will first examine his life history, goals, visions, and struggles that he and his community faced. It will then analyze a few critical theories of leadership such as Transformational and Ethical. It will address Gandhi’s use of these styles as a political and social leader while closely examining the view of Mahatma Gandhi’s values and their impact to society in the 20th century. Furthermore, this analysis will discuss the Christian principles and values at play and how they align to Gandhi and his leadership.

The study of leadership is a theory that continues to evolve. Its complexity of conceptualization never ceases to find a permanent definition. Yet, it is an essential and paramount topic when it comes to success, influence and goals. Over the centuries, the evolution of leadership has cultivated a deeper meaning in society. However, the impact that a particular leader and their leadership style has on individuals is always there. As there are many leaders that have had a significant impact on followers, the one that stands out was India’s social and political leader, Mahatma Gandhi.


Mahatma Gandhi, also known as his byname, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was born in Porbandar India in October 2, 1869 (Nanda, 2019). Gandhi, being born with an elite family name known in the Indian government, was known as a rebellion and troublemaker throughout his adolescents. It was known that on his father’s death bed, Gandhi decided to make love to his new wife and ended up missing his father’s death. However, Gandhi becomes struck with guilt after his wife’s miscarriage, as he knew that this was a sign for his wrong doings. Years later, Gandhi becomes a law student in London and joins a theosophical society which inadvertently draws him back into his Hindu ways where he begins to take on his values and principles he once left.

After graduation, Mahatma Gandhi travels back home to India where he loses his first court case. Shamed, he accepts a job in South Africa where he is later greeted with discrimination and segregation. It is his time in South Africa and India that Gandhi finds his true mission and influence, as he later becomes the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi was an activist that did not partake in violence. As the mark of his death strikes as a national tragedy. His actions however, impacted millions of lives that struggle from oppression from the British, poverty, and social rights. The influence left by him could not be mentioned without first mentioning the unique leadership capacity and style of Mahatma Gandhi. The study of leadership theory has strong ties to western studies.

Bligh suggest that leadership studies have focused on Presidents and corporate leaders. Over the decades however, more effort has been taken to further research the cross- cultural perspective of leadership (Bligh, Robinson, 2010). Many modern leadership theories we see today emerged in the 1970’s thus, research into Gandhi’s leadership style was more thoroughly conducted after his death in 1948. Interestingly enough, Varghese address the similarities between the values of America and India, as both are based off of the principles of religion, and culture (Varghese, Nolan, & Bihm, 2017). Gandhi’s leadership style can be exhibited in two distinct leadership theory viewpoints. Transformational (with a charismatic emphasis) and Ethical leadership. These two leadership studies draw distinction to one another as they both represent a level of importance to the values, needs, and moral conscious while aiming to first recognize, address, and then resolve conflict that effects not only their followers but the leader as well.

Leadership Capacity and Skills Transformational Theory The demonstration of transformational leadership can be easily portrayed in Mahatma Gandhi. To better understand, Northouse describes this leadership theory as the process of engagement between other individuals or followers, were a common connection of values, emotion, and goals are established (Northouse, 2016). This connection heightens the level of morality as followers begin to feel empowered. Charismatic visionary, this leader attends to the needs of their followers with the hopes they can be equally successful. Some of the personality characteristics that underline transformational leadership are strong moral values. Since Gandhi’s [bookmark: _Hlk2717645]followers relatively held the same Indian values, they were able to relate with the idealism of Ahimsa, one of India’s most recognized virtues that was later adopted by Martine Luther King Jr. Gandhi embraced Ahimsa as it was a universal principle for human behavior. He believed that people should not respond to violent provocation with violence (Varghese, Nolan, & Bihm, 2017).

One of the behaviors that made Gandhi stand out was his humbleness, as he viewed himself, not as an actual leader, but as an equal partner with others who had their common goals at interest. Leading by the way of transformation also involves one to reestablish their commitment within an organization by selflessness, empowerment, and being a role model. Many studies suggest a unique concept to Gandhi’s political role as a leader. His desire to transform and motivate others, lead to him also being transformed and motivated as he was a leader to others and to himself. Furthermore, with Gandhi constantly being in the middle of many crisis with the attempts to solve, these events or obstacles, became an enabling tool for his leadership talents to takeoff. Transformational leadership holds many characteristics. One characteristic that cannot go unnoticed is charisma. Northouse defines charisma as a theory that can transform a follower’s self-concepts while linking the identity of followers to the grouped identity of the organization. Gandhi carried a sense of dominance and strong moral values as he used this to influence others (Northouse, 2016). There is a high exchange of expectation between Gandhi and his followers thus, there is a heightened level of competence and self-virtue which eventually leads to a stronger relationship between the two.

Ethical Leadership

The values and traits rooted in Mahatma Gandhi were undeniably apparent in his leadership. However, if we dig deeper into Gandhi’s transformative style, his ethical principles are visible. Using Northouse’s definitions as a baseline, we first examine five principles of ethical leadership that are reflected in Gandhi. First illustrated is respect others. Gandhi’s clear dedication to Ahimsa, the act of non-violence, demonstrates his clear respect, not only for his community, but for the British government during his revolt against them. The vision of treating others the way you would want to be treated even if your being treated unjustly. Gandhi understood his people’s needs and values and helped them become more aware of their purpose.

The second principle being illustrated here is to serve others. The emphasis of Gandhi being attentive to social dynamics in Africa and India shows his concern for his follower’s needs. Gandhi was driven to mitigate adversity amongst Indians by understanding the struggle they faced daily and being their voice and light towards freedom. Thirdly, showing justice continues to promote the idea of a leader’s consideration of justice and equality. We see this heavily in Gandhi’s political role in in the Indian National Congress as it was his mission to fight injustices that has overcome his community during that early 1900’s.

Forth principle noted is Honesty. Though Gandhi was a troublemaker in his youth, his work in the political arena and holding true to his values and principles promoted the ideal of honesty, as he believed that society expects leaders to be trustworthy. To better understand honesty, Northouse makes an interesting comparison with dishonesty. He notes that it is a misrepresentation of reality and brings many objectionable outcomes such as distrust, unreliability, loss of faith, and loss of respect which leads to a weakening relationship between follower and leader (Northouse, 2016). The Fifth and final ethical principle explained is Building Community. This principle focuses on leaders and follower’s both achieving a common goal. Gandhi took into account the idea of a group effort. For example, in 1930 the Salt March campaign against the British salt laws, took place for almost a month. Gandhi established a march of thousands of Indians to walk 240 miles in a salt water marsh land, as the British Salt Act of 1882 prohibited Indians from producing and selling salt (Pletcher, 2010).

The farther Gandhi walked, the larger his crowd became. In a way, Gandhi built a community that all wanted to achieve a common goal which was to defy the British law by cleaning and crystallizing the salt from the ocean at each high tide. Gandhi was soon arrested, but eventually released and acknowledge by the British government as they were willing to meet with the Indian National Congress. These five principles illustrated the importance of civic virtue, community development, and fairness, while acknowledging and creating a solution that will fulfill the needs of the people, in order to accomplish a common goal.

Values Gandhi’s leadership traits can be easily distinguished in transformational and ethical leadership as they are one of the main bases for these theories. However, by stepping back to solely examine Gandhi’s values that he followed so close, there is a clear line of leadership qualities that stem from these values. Brought up in an Indian background, Mahatma Gandhi embraced many values followed in the Indian community which helped expand his political work. Discussed earlier, Ashima focused on taking action in a resistance with the exclusion of violence.

Another Indian philosophical value is Dharma. This value, or value set, encompasses ideals such as uprightness, justice, duty and virtue. Gandhi’s passion to fight for the rights of his people, seek justice and peace are clearly associated with the foundational values that his leadership skills are based on. Furthermore, Gandhi’s transformative and ethical leadership is driven by values that endorsed benevolence, social responsibility and nonviolence. This proves that he had an influential imprint on society. Incorporation of Christian Principles

Though brought up Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership incorporates many Christian principles in which we can pull from today. Gandhi had a natural passion for others who were suffering from injustice. This concept of loving thy neighbor which is taught in Matthew chapter 22:39, is a clear example of compassion for your fellow man. Christianity teaches on many biblical principles such as stewardship, love, and self-development. Jesus also demonstrated that the bases for leading others should be servanthood. Mark chapter 10:44 illustrates that God’s people should not limit themselves to serve God, but to be servants of men.

Furthermore, Christian principles emphasizes the importance of recognizing the concerns of others as Jesus has done, and continues to do for us. It is one’s social responsibility as a Christian to spread the gospel, seek justice and peace even if one will forgo their right’s. Gandhi stood up for the rights of others even if it meant going outside the legal realm. Although he was arrested multiple times, Gandhi put his concern for his people and community before his own. Ultimately, God has called man to be servants of men and leaders of faith with the mind set of building people up and loving them as God loves us.


Mahatma Gandhi’s role as a political and social revolutionist during the 20th century, have impacted and influenced thousands of people. Nevertheless, His vision, principles and values imbedded in his leadership, have illustrated the importance of recognizing the needs, values, and empowerment, of followers, and acting on it. His passion to seek justice and tranquility for Indians while fighting violence and racism, was seen in the eyes of men and women, young, and old. The morals and values Gandhi cherished, are what underline his transformative and ethical leadership style. It is clear here that Gandhi was a quintessence role model of civil disobedience and a charismatic leader as he publicly advocated his ideology with great boldness while adhering to the Ahimsa notion of nonviolence. Being an effective leader first starts with self- recognition and awareness of our strengths and weakness, as Gandhi states, we must be the change that we want to see in the world.

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Mahatma Gandhi and his Leadership. (2020, Jan 15). Retrieved from

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