This post compares the leadership approaches of Stan Goss, an executive coach, international speaker, and long-time mentor of this writer, and Mohandas Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader. Both men have modeled attributes that are characteristic of transformational leadership and authentic leadership styles. The 8-step approach of Advanced Change Theory (ACT), presented by Robert Quinn (2000), is used to address the elements of leadership modeled by these two effective leaders.
A leadership style that empowers a sense of morality, justice and peace can be called transformational leadership (Landy & Conte, 2007, p. 519). Those who engage in transformational leadership bring change through inspiration, vision, idealism, and challenging the status quo (Bass, 2008). A closely related theory, authentic leadership, describes a style that possesses relational transparency, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, ethical leadership, organizational citizenship behavior, and organizational commitment (Walumbwa, et al., 2008, p. 109). Quinn’s (2000) ACT theory combines these elements in the following eight areas:
Envision the Productive Community
This attribute is the ability for a leader to see a synergistic possibility beyond the current situation (Quinn, 2000). In one example, Stan was able to a see what others were adamantly sure was impossible. In the late 80’s a group of men started an intense transformational and emotional intelligence training that was centered in Chicago. After Stan experienced the training, he decided to bring the work to Texas and vowed that it would become the vibrant center of the work. The Chicago contingency told him he would be lucky to get a couple of men to sign up. Two months later, 24 men traveled with Stan to Chicago, returned to Texas and started what would become the largest men’s movement center in the world. Within a few years, over 5,000 men had experienced the training in Texas. Over 40,000 have experienced the training worldwide.
Gandhi was able to see a reality of peace and fairness in the midst of overwhelming personal and collective oppression in both South Africa and in India. In both countries, his vision of a more equitable society came to fruition.
First Look Within
Quinn (2000) describes this step as the leader’s ability to know their true motivation therefore making a “fundamental choice” (p. 56). In many situations, Stan enacted his fundamental choice to bring transformation to the world, often sacrificing personal gain. Gandhi writes, “reform…is obtained by self-suffering, and self-purification” (Iyer, 1990, p. 90 as quoted by Quinn, 2000).
Embrace the Hypocritical Self
Integrity is increased when a leader is able to see and admit lack of perfection. Stan, in organizational development work, spends considerable time telling clients how much he “doesn’t” know about their business. Further, he regularly admits to a well-developed sense of grandiosity and wordiness. This choice always engenders an atmosphere of openness. Gandhi consistently admitted to an inner battle with being like his oppressors, writing “self-deception and hypocrisy cannot have accord with simplicity of heart” (Iyer, 1990, p. 108 as quoted by Quinn, 2000).
Stan is seen by hundreds of people as a leader of great power and strength. Paradoxically, he is able to talk publicly about his fear of not being accepted, being abandoned, and failing. Some devastating losses as a child probably prepared him for a life of “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Gandhi demonstrated the ability to transcend fear in many instances. In South Africa and India, he was beaten severely and incarcerated many times and continued his peaceful confrontation of oppression.
Embody a Vision of the Common Good
The transformational leader must not only see the vision, but model it as well. Often, in large group settings, when the emotional energy is either volatile or stagnant, Stan has chosen to be vulnerable and articulate deep emotion which in turn loosens the emotional rigidity of the group. Usually this begins an unfolding of a deeper truth throughout the group. This is counter-intuitive for most leaders because the need to maintain a façade of control is much safer – if ultimately ineffective.
Ghandi never asked his followers to do what he was unwilling to do. He was at the front of many protests and fasts and modeled a peaceful and respectful approach even to his enemies.
Disturb the System
As one of the founders of the men’s movement, Stan often said “comfort is over-rated”. Complacency is the beginning of organizational death and the transformational leader will encourage and initiate disturbances that engender forward momentum. Gandhi wrote, “The victories of truth have never been won without risks, often of the gravest character” (Payne, 1969, p. 385 as quoted by Quinn, 2000).
Surrender to the Emergent Process
When the system is disturbed, chaos is inevitable. Healthy leadership, as displayed by Stan many times, can allow the chaos to emerge as a necessary prerequisite to the new reality. Often, in group settings, Stan will allow superficial arguments to continue without stepping in as the leader, knowing that the group is moving toward a higher resolution to the problem. Gandhi patiently endured incredible tumult and wrote, “History teaches us that men who are in the whirlpool…will have to work out their destiny within in it” (Iyer, 1990, p. 89 as quoted by Quinn, 2000).
Entice through Moral Power
This tenet suggests that transformation occurs through the modeling of integrity as inspiration. It is unlikely that Stan’s followers would describe him as perfect, but many would say he models integrity and accountability and practices what he preaches. He is able to get large projects accomplished (and is paid well for it as a organizational development consultant) not by preaching or demanding, but simply by modeling congruent leadership behavior which engenders inspirational group cohesion. On a larger scale, Gandhi transformed South Africa, India and much of the modern world’s view of transformational possibility through powerful modeling of integrous behavior. He wrote, “We shall never be able to raise the standard of public life through laws. More preaching will have no effect” (Iyer, 1990, p. 411 as quoted by Quinn 2000).
Both of these leaders were effective, not through coercion but by being agents of transformational change. A sense of moral clarity, compassionate vision, authenticity, self-awareness, and emotional courage all contribute to effective leadership, and has been modeled well by these two great men.
Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Iyer, R. (1990). The essential writings of Mahatma Gandhi. England: Oxford University Press.
Landy, F. J., & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Payne, R. (1969). The life and death of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Dutton.
Quinn, R. E. (2000). Change the world: How ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
F.O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure. Journal of Management, 34, 89-126.