The leadership style shown in the 1982 film Gandhi is based not on force or intimidation, but on a more subtle, inspirational, and principled approach. Where many leaders rely on charm or fear and have only their own benefit in mind, Gandhi led by setting a clear example and aiming to teach his followers and subordinates, setting a solid example and using his powers of persuasion to keep his movement morally exemplary, nonviolent, and ultimately successful.
Throughout the film, Gandhi follows this approach consistently. For example, at his first public act of civil disobedience (burning the identification cards that South Africa forced Indians to carry), he acts to inspire others to follow his example, though clearly he faces the perils of police brutality and arrest. At a large meeting shortly thereafter, he uses reason and principle to reach his audience, some of whom vow to use violence against South African police for violating their rights.
He does not lose sight of his own commitment to nonviolence and appeals to their sense of superior morality; by defying injustice but refusing to answer violence with violence, Gandhi illustrates for the audience both the methods and the intended effects. Later, after he returns to India and becomes involved with the growing home rule and nationalist movements, he sets himself apart from more politically ambitious leaders (like Nehru and Jinnah) by living and dressing like India’s many poor peasants and, again, adhering rigidly to his nonviolent civil disobedience.
He does not behave deviously, compromise himself, use people, or contradict his goals; instead, he leads not for his own glory, but for the much greater benefit of India itself. In doing so, Gandhi does not issue orders but certainly commands his followers’ respect. In my own experiences, I have often responded best to leaders who lead not by using and intimidating their subordinates, but by consistently following their own principles, clearly conveying why certain things must be done, and never losing sight of the bigger goals.
Indeed, this inspires confidence because such leaders do not behave hypocritically or immorally; they do not let ego get in the way of accomplishing the chief task and assume the same risks their followers face, thus subordinating themselves to their goals without being misled by their own personal ambition or benefit. This relates well to one of my favorite employers, who led by setting examples, instructing, and persuading rather than bullying. While we were certainly not engaged in any epic struggles, she led in a similarly non-commanding manner, without ulterior motives or excess self-interest.
She functioned more as a mentor, instructing rather than micro-managing and placing the greater purpose (our tasks and projects at hand) above her own desire for power or authority. Instead of demeaning her subordinates, she related to us directly, giving us credit for our intelligence and feelings and appealing to our sense of right and wrong to get points across. In doing so, she let us focus on our work without creating resentment or undermining us (or the company), and she knew that employees who feel respected are often more productive.
Also, she did not separate herself very rigidly from her subordinates; while she did not present herself as our friend, she was nonetheless friendly, approachable, and patient. She also assumed some degree of risk by defending her employees, rather than feigning support and then denying it when risks appeared. By treating us as capable, intelligent individuals, rather than devices for her own advancement, and she did not behave with the hypocrisy often seen in employers whose “do as I say, not as I do” approach is often counterproductive.
Like Gandhi, she was often conciliatory rather than directly commanding, which made us feel more at ease and thus open to her commands (which appeared more like friendly requests). In general, I find that effective leaders share Gandhi’s sense of perspective; they do not lose sight of the goals they wish to achieve, and as leaders they do not place themselves ahead of what they want to achieve. BIBLIOGRAPHY Gandhi. Dir. Richard Attenborough. Perf. Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Ian Charleson, Saeed Jaffrey. Columbia, 1982.
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