Gandhi’s and Napoleon’s Leadership Styles

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Introduction

History remembers and mythologizes individuals that managed to change its course: Alexander, Caesar, Columbus. School students memorize their feats, but few wonder what exactly allowed them to transcend ordinary life and become exceptional. Two leaders who became “fathers” of their respective nations were Mahatma Gandhi and Napoleon Bonaparte. Gandhi adopted a policy of nonviolence and fought for Indian independence from the British Empire. Napoleon was a celebrated military commander that established the glory of the French Empire through warfare. Gandhi and Napoleon had radically different approaches to statesmanship and legacies, but both managed to carve out a place for themselves in history.

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What Made Gandhi and Napoleon Effective Leaders

According to Kouzes and Posner (2017), one of the most effective forms of leadership is to enlist constituents in a common vision by appealing to their hopes and dreams. Both Gandhi and Napoleon were gifted orators that knew exactly how to achieve this. They envisioned a different version of the world, and they manipulated the general population and inspired loyalty to achieve their goals.

Gandhi

Gandhi gained traction among the masses because of his ascetic “sage-like nature,” his dedication to his followers, and the “simplicity and directness of his message” (Guha, 2018, p. 329). His homespun loincloth showed people that he was not motivated by personal gain (Guha, 2018). He traveled to countless cities and spoke using ordinary expressions from peasants’ everyday lives (Guha, 2018). Gandhi convinced the public that he truly understood, cared, and sought to improve their conditions.

Napoleon

Napoleon believed he was a man “called upon to decide the fate of peoples,” and it could be argued that he fulfilled this call (Roberts, 2014, p. 196). Napoleon operated under the belief that “moral factors” account for three-quarters of military victory (Roberts, 2014, p. 265). He punished and praised his troops according to what was deserved. He supported festivals and medal ceremonies, loudly proclaiming the statistics of his troops’ victories and flattering them with comparisons to Ancient Greek heroes or tales of how much their families would honor them (Roberts, 2014). He refused to delegate and was an accessible general; he personally read his soldiers’ petitions, joked with them, took an interest in their health (Merriman, 2019; Roberts, 2014). He urged the troops to reveal their wants and complaints, as he was here to “do justice all” (Roberts, 2014, p. 275). Napoleon inspired devotion because his soldiers felt as if he genuinely cared for them, and he instilled in them the belief that their lives mattered and together they could make history.

How They Influenced the Lives of Others

Both Gandhi and Napoleon strove to challenge established norms and disseminate revolutionary ideals of equality. However, Gandhi personally appealed to people’s spiritualism and instigated social change through nonviolent protest. Napoleon spread his ideas through warfare and conquest.

Gandhi

Gandhi preached the doctrine of nonviolence and civil disobedience to oppose British imperialism. He organized protest marches, boycotts and introduced fasting as a tool for political resistance. Gandhi is considered directly responsible for Indian independence and secular social cohesion. His doctrine of nonviolence inspired many twentieth-century political figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, who sought nonviolent reform.

Napoleon

Napoleon inspired men to live and die for the glory of France. It is estimated that five million soldiers and civilians died due to the Napoleonic Wars (Rapport, 2013). Napoleon also reintroduced the slave trade in the French colonies after it had been banned (Roberts, 2014). His most lasting positive achievements were his legal reforms. The modern ideals of meritocracy, equality before the law, religious tolerance, accessible education were “championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon” (Roberts, 2014, p. 41).

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How Gandhi and Napoleon Will be Remembered in History

Both Gandhi and Napoleon are remembered as the “fathers” of their respective nations. Both have a somewhat complicated legacy today, but their influence and leadership acumen is undeniable.

Gandhi

Gandhi has recently been accused of racism and sexual abuse, but he is still deeply revered for his spiritualism and anti-colonialist peaceful protests (Frayer, 2019). His birthday is a national Indian holiday, and his face adorns India’s currency and government offices (Frayer, 2019). Gandhi will be remembered for being the first to show that it is possible to challenge authority without resorting to violence and as the founder of Indian independence.

Napoleon

Napoleon is remembered as a military genius, a tyrant, a conqueror, a megalomaniac. Ultimately, Napoleon will be remembered as an obscure Corsican boy that, through wit and daring, became “master of Europe”. His most enduring legacy is the legal codification of equality and meritocracy achieved through military campaigns. Whether his campaigns are works of genius or gratuitous destruction is up to individual interpretation.

Gandhi and Napoleon as Servant Leaders

Servant leadership is a model developed by Robert Greenleaf wherein leadership is born out of the “want to serve” (Eva et al., 2019, p. 114). Servant leaders are motivated by the desire to serve others; they prioritize the individual needs and interests of their followers and see themselves as “entrusted” with the task of improving the well-being of their community (Eva et al., 2019). Thus, there are three aspects of servant leadership: motive, mode, and mindset. While Napoleon did care about his followers, only Gandhi fulfills all three requirements.

Gandhi

Gandhi voluntarily became an ascetic to become one with the people, stating that “service of the poor has been my heart’s desire” (Barnabas & Paul, 2012). Even after India gained independence, he refused to hold a government post or accept any medals for his public service (Barnabas & Paul, 2012). He formed personal connections with his followers and empowered them to stand up for their principles. Gandhi truly took up the mantle of leadership because he felt he could help others, and consequently, he is the foremost example of servant leadership.

Napoleon

Napoleon can be seen as a servant leader insofar as he did care about the growth and well-being of his soldiers and the Empire. However, he did this purely out of a calculated desire to make a name for himself and install his dynasty on the French throne. Napoleon boosted the soldiers’ morale because he knew it was necessary for military victory and passed the Napoleonic Code because he wanted to establish himself as the new Justinian (Merriman, 2019). He was driven by ego, not the desire to improve his community. Therefore, Napoleon does not fit the definition of servant leadership.

Summary and Conclusions

In conclusion, Mahatma Gandhi and Napoleon Bonaparte are two of the most instantly recognizable personages in history. Both achieved extraordinary things because of their ability to envision a better society and make other people believe in it. They caused an ideological shift in the world, although using completely different methods. Napoleon spread French revolutionary ideals through military conquest to increase his own glory. Gandhi achieved independence for India through nonviolent protest out of a genuine desire to help his compatriots, and that is why he is an exemplary servant leader.

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References

Barnabas, A., & Clifford, P. S. (2012). Mahatma Gandhi–an Indian model of servant leadership. International journal of leadership studies, 7(2), 132-150.

Eva, N., Robin, M., Sendjaya, S., van Dierendonck, D., & Liden, R. C. (2019). Servant leadership: A systematic review and call for future research. The Leadership Quarterly, 30(1), 111-132.

Frayer, L. (2019). Gandhi is deeply revered, but his attitudes on race and sex are under scrutiny. NPR. Web.

Guha, R. (2018). Gandhi: The years that changed the world, 1914-1948. Vintage.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2017). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Merriman, J. (2019). A history of modern Europe (Vol. 2). WW Norton & Company.

Rapport, M. (2013). The Napoleonic Wars: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

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Roberts, A. (2014). Napoleon: A life. Penguin.

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