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Leadership of Indira Gandi

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This article explores the relationship between Indira Gandhi’s personality profile in the period before she became Prime Minister and her leadership style during the time she was Prime Minister. The instrument for assessing the personality profile was compiled and adapted from criteria for normal personality types and pathological variants. Gandhi emerges as a multifaceted individual with four of her personality scales—the Ambitious, the Reticent, the Contentious, and the Dominating—approaching the level of mildly dysfunctional.

A psychodynamic explanation for these patterns was then offered. This study also developed an instrument for evaluating leadership styles in a cabinet system of government and postulated the theoretical links between personality patterns and leadership style profiles. Gandhi’s leadership style was then examined and links between personality profile and leadership style explored: In eight of the 10 leadership categories, Indira Gandhi’s leadership behavior matched our expectations for the Ambitious, Dominant, and Contentious personality profiles but not the Reticent one. Further discussion focused on the two areas in which personality patterns fell short of predicting leadership style and the possible explanations for this result.

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  • Keywords: Indira Gandhi, personality profiles, leadership style, psychodynamic explanations

Previous studies of the personalities of political leaders developed by political psychologists have been largely impressionistic, based on the psychological insights and categories of various authors.

Lal Bahadur Shastri’s subsequent death, two years later, made her the compromise choice of the ruling Congress Party hierarchy for the post of the prime minister, since she was thought to harbor no political ambitions of her own. Over the next 11 years, she proved to be a formidable political leader, consolidating her control over the party and the country, winning the 1971 war with Pakistan that saw the creation of Bangladesh, and declaring a State of Emergency in 1975. This latter action, a culmination of bitter relations with the opposition, led to her political defeat in the 1977 elections. Out of power for the next three years, she returned triumphantly in 1980, and ruled India with an increased determination to maintain herself in office. Not above manipulating communal grievances to stay in power, ironically she, herself, eventually fell victim of one of these crises. In 1984, she was assassinated by her own bodyguards, members of the Sikh community, thus ending a remarkable political career. An exceedingly complex individual, Indira Gandhi was frequently perceived as a shy, aloof young woman. And yet her behavior as Prime Minister was engaged and aggressive, climaxing in her declaration of a State of Emergency in 1975. If, as I argue, there is a relationship between personality patterns and the exercise of leadership, how can we account for what is commonly known about Indira before she became Prime Minister with her behavior as Prime Minister? To help answer this question and others related to her leadership style, I examined her personality profile prior to her assumption of the office of the Prime Minister and investigated its impact upon her leadership style during her tenure as Prime Minister.

Purpose of the Study

The goal of this study is to explore, on the basis of a single case study, the extent to which personality manifests itself in leadership style. In an attempt to provide some preliminary answers to this question, a personality pro?le of Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, patterned on the work of Immelman

Background to the Study of Personality

In his review of the ?eld of personality and politics, Simonton (1990) suggests that the dominant paradigm for the psychological examination of leaders has shifted from the earlier preponderance of qualitative, ideographic psychobiographical analysis toward quantitative and nomothetic methods. This trend re?ects the impact of Hermann’s (e.g., 1974, 1978, 1980, 1984, 1987) investigation of the in?uence of personal characteristics on foreign policy, Winter’s (1980, 1987) examination of the role of social motives in leader performance, and Suedfeld and Tetlock’s (1977) and Tetlock’s (1985) work in integrative complexity. Another major approach in the emerging quantitative-nomethetic approach to the study of personality noted by Simonton (1990, p. 671) involves the extension of standard personality instruments and techniques to the analysis of biographical material for the indirect assessment of political leaders (e.g., Immelman, 1998, 2000, 2002; Kowert, 1996; Milburn, 1977; Simonton, 1986).

I use this latter approach which has been adapted by Immelman (1993, 1999) from Millon’s model of personality (1969, 1986a, 1986b, 1990, 1991, 1994a, 1996; Millon & Davis, 2000; Millon & Everly, 1985). The resulting methodology entails the construction of empirically derived personality pro?les based upon diagnostically relevant content in political-psychological analyses, journalistic accounts, and biographies and autobiographies of political ?gures. These pro?les are based on the conceptual models of Millon (1996), Millon and Davis (2000), and Strack (1997), which offer an empirically validated taxonomy of personality patterns compatible with the syndromes described on Axis II of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 1994). A distinguishing attribute of these models is that they provide an integrated view of normality and psychopathology. “No sharp line divides normal from pathological behavior; they are relative concepts representing arbitrary points on a continuum or gradient” (Millon, 1994, p. 283).

Method and Sources for Deriving Personality Profiles

Given that Immelman (1993, 2003) has provided a comprehensive review of Millon’s model of personality and its applicability to political personality, a brief description in this paper should suffice. The Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), based on Millon’s model of personality, is essentially an index; it formally charts and scores 12 personality patterns across eight attribute domains. This assessment tool was compiled and adapted from criteria for normal personality types and pathological variants (see Immelman and Steinberg, 1999). Each attribute domain is a distinct facet of human behavior in which personality traits are manifested. (See Table 1 for a description of the attribute domains across which personality can be measured.

Expressive behavior

  • The individual’s characteristic behavior; how the individual typically appears to others; what the individual knowingly or unknowingly reveals about him- or herself.
  • How the individual typically interacts with others; the attitudes that underlie, prompt, and give shape to these actions; the methods by which the individual engages others to meet his or her needs; how the individual copes with social tensions and con?icts.
  • How the individual focuses and allocates attention, encodes and processes information, organizes thoughts, makes attributions, and communicates reactions and ideas to others.
  • How the individual typically displays emotion; the predominant character of an individual’s affect and the intensity and frequency with which he or she expresses it.
  • The individual’s perception of self-as-object or the manner in which the individual overtly describes him- or herself.
  • The individual’s characteristic mechanisms of self-protection, need gratification, and conflict resolution.
  • The residue of significant past experiences, composed of memories, attitudes, and affects that underlie the individual’s perceptions of and reactions to ongoing events.

In the construction of Indira Gandhi’s personality pro?le, ?ve of the eight attribute domains, namely, expressive behavior, interpersonal conduct, cognitive style, mood/temperament, and self-image, were explored for each of the 12 personality patterns/scales categorized in Millon’s taxonomy (1994, p. 292). Due to the absence of suf?cient information regarding Gandhi’s object representations, regulatory mechanisms, and morphological organization these attribute domains could not be meaningfully examined.

Data Analysis

The analysis of the data for Indira Gandhi consisted of the personality scale scores (see Table 3), a MIDC personality pro?le (see Figure 1), and a clinical interpretation of signi?cant MIDC personality scores derived from the diagnostic procedure. Gandhi’s most elevated scales with scores of 21 were Scale 2 (Ambitious) and Scale 7 (Reticent), followed by Scale 5B (Contentious) with a score of 20, and Scale 1A (Dominant) with a score of 19. All these scores fell within the prominent range (between 10 and 23); indeed, four of them approached the mildly dysfunctional level. Although scores on each of the remaining scales were present, their comparatively modest levels relative to the four most prominent scores, noted above, rendered them essentially redundant for psychodiagnostic purposes. In terms of MIDC scale scores, Indira Gandhi was classi?ed primarily as a combination of the Ambitious (Scale 2), Reticent (Scale 7), Contentious (Scale 5B), and the Dominant (Scale 1A) personality patterns.

Indira Gandhi’s Multifaceted Personality

Few people exhibit personality patterns in pure or prototypical form. Although the standard diagnostic approach to interpreting MIDC pro?les emphasizes the elevations, i.e., the scores, of the two most prominent personality scales or patterns, personality functioning in reality involves the aggregation of several personality patterns (Immelman, 2002, p. 95).

This was amply demonstrated in the analysis of Indira Gandhi’s personality pro?le where four of her personality scales approached the mildly dysfunctional level. The theoretical foundations for the different personality patterns/scales were largely drawn from Millon’s (1994a, 1994b, 1996; Millon & Davis, 2000) models of personality, supplemented by the theoretically congruent portrait by Strack (1997).

With her elevated scores on Scales 2, 7, 5B, and 1A, Indira Gandhi emerged from the assessment as an amalgam of the self-serving, inhibited, oppositional, and controlling personality. These styles are exaggerated—though generally

Gandhi’s score of 21 on Scale 7 (Reticent) equals her score on Scale 2 (Ambitious). The inhibited style is an in?ated variant of the Reticent pattern suggesting exaggerated features of the basic personality pattern, with the potential for a mild personality dysfunction. It is associated with guarded, insecure, wary, and apprehensive behavior. Normal adaptive variants of the Reticent pattern (i.e., circumspect and inhibited types) correspond to Millon’s (1994a) Hesitating pattern and Strack’s Inhibited style. According to Millon, the Hesitating [Reticent] pattern is characterized by social inhibition and withdrawal . . . Those scoring high on the Hesitating [Reticent] scale have a tendency to be sensitive to social indifference or rejection, to feel unsure of themselves, and to be wary in new situations, especially those of a social or interpersonal character. (1994a, p. 32)

Like the self-con?dent dimensions of Gandhi’s personality, her reticent and self-effacing behavior could be observed since childhood. She was hesitant of con?ding in anyone; she felt extremely lonely and was too proud to show it (Vasudev, 1974, p. 79). During her stay at Oxford, she was asked by Krishna Menon to give a speech to the India League. She reluctantly agreed, but at the meeting she froze and was unable to utter a word (Frank, 2001, p. 129). Even at 42, as a married woman and president of the Indian National Congress party, she was described as retiring and ill at ease in social settings (Carras, 1979, p. 6).
style was the fourth-ranked pattern in her personality pro?le. The controlling style is a more in?ated variant of the Dominant pattern; it suggests exaggerated features of the basic personality pattern with the potential for a mild personality dysfunction. It is associated with forceful, overbearing, intimidating, and abrasive behavior. Controlling individuals, though often somewhat disagreeable, tend to be emotionally stable and conscientious.

The Personality Profile of Indira Gandhi

Unlike other political leaders pro?led using this model, Indira Gandhi displayed a personality pro?le in which all 10 of the personality scales that have an adaptive component (i.e., excluding the borderline and paranoid) were diagnostically signi?cant; that is, they received scores of ?ve or more. Each pattern was either present or prominent and the scores of four of them—the Ambitious, Reticent, Contentious, and Dominant—were so high in the prominent range as to be close to the mildly dysfunctional level. Such ?ndings are not that surprising, given the assessment of her many biographers that she had an extraordinarily complex character. As Masani observed: “While one part of her personality sought ful?llment in political leadership, the other craved the greater intimacy, peace and security of private life” (1975, p. 126). “

With her prominent Ambitious (Scale 2), Reticent (Scale 7), and Contentious (Scale 5B) personality con?gurations, Indira Gandhi matched a personality
composite that Millon (1996, pp. 411–412; see also Millon & Davis, 2000, pp. 278–279) has labeled the compensatory narcissist. This is a narcissistic (i.e., Ambitious) subtype infused with avoidant (i.e., Reticent) and negativistic (i.e., Contentious) features:

The compensating variant essentially captures the psychoanalytic [selfpsychological] understanding of the narcissistic personality. The early experiences of compensating narcissists are not too dissimilar to those of the avoiding and negativistic personalities. All have suffered “wounds” early in life. Rather than collapse under the weight of inferiority and retreat from public view, like the avoiding, or vacillate between loyalty and anger, like the negativist, however, the compensating narcissist develops an illusion of superiority. Life thus becomes a search to ful?ll aspirations of status, recognition, and prestige. . . . they seek to conceal their deep sense of de?ciency from others, and from themselves, by creating a facade of superiority. (Millon & Davis, 2000, pp. 278–279) Each of the three personality patterns—the Reticent, Ambitious, and Contentious—that produced a compensatory narcissistic pro?le, developed early in Indira Gandhi’s life. As Gandhi’s biographers discussed her childhood, the most common adjectives used to describe it were “lonely” and “insecure” (see Carras, 1979; Frank, 2001; Gupta, 1992; Malhotra, 1989; Masani, 1975; Vasudev, 1974), the essential ingredients for the fostering of the Reticent personality. As a very young child, Indira was indulged by her grandfather; however, his death, her mother’s tuberculosis when she was eight, and her father and mother’s frequent imprisonment meant that Indira grew up a lonely, solitary child largely in the company of servants. At the age of 13, all of Indira’s relatives were either jailed or away from home (Vasudev, pp. 66–67).

Her father’s sister, Vijayalakshmi, regarded Indira as a gangling awkward girl and made no secret of her disdain for her (Bhatia, 1974, p. 41). Even Indira’s father was capable of walling off his daughter. While he was in prison, the authorities punished Nehru by banning family visits for a month. Nehru retaliated by voluntarily foregoing visits for six more months which meant that Indira had to return to boarding school without seeing him for the rest of the summer (Hart, 1976, p. 245). A lonely adolescent, she might have felt rejected when her father seemed so prepared to deny himself her visits. As Masani observed: “From an early age, she had been alternately petted and abandoned by those around her. Now she was suspicious of emotional attachments and shy of wearing her heart on her sleeve: far better to be selfcontained” (1975, p. 33). At school, Indira was remembered as shy, aloof, and very unhappy. Indira’s mother, Kamala, with whom Indira was very close, died at the age of 35 when Indira was eighteen. Indira’s education was extremely disjointed—she was sent to 13 schools in 18 years, exacerbating her shyness, and she never developed the passion for learning that her father Jawaharlal so esteemed. As if to compensate for her shy, aloof nature, Indira fell in love and married Feroze Gandhi, who was the direct antithesis. Extroverted, warm, and demonstrative, Feroze proved to be singularly ill-suited to Indira and their relationship became increasingly estranged, the product of Feroze’s womanizing and Indira’s dutiful decision to act as unof?cial hostess for her father which meant a great deal of time away from her husband. Their eventual separation was another major source of sadness and despondency for Indira.

Other dimensions of Indira’s personality, such as the Ambitious pattern (Scale 2, score of 21), can also be traced from early childhood. Exposed to a highly politicized environment—both her parents spent time in jail—Indira’s ambitions were fueled by the struggle against British rule. As a child, she imagined herself leading her people to victory like Joan of Arc (Malhotra, 1989, p. 37). In 1938, Indira joined the Indian National Congress party and subsequently became its president in 1959, notwithstanding her father’s less than enthusiastic endorsement of the idea (Vasudev, 1974, p. 258).

Indira’s Contentiousness (Scale 5B, score of 20) and her determination to challenge the status quo may well have been nurtured by her mother’s experiences as a semioutcast from the more sophisticated circle of Nehru’s sisters. As a child, it pained her deeply to see how shabbily her mother was treated, and she protested the unjust arrangements in her home (Carras, 1979, p. 89). Her relationship with her father also acted as a stimulus for the Contentious pattern her personality developed. As a leader in the Indian struggle for independence, Nehru was frequently away from home, and Indira found it dif?cult as an adolescent to openly challenge or disagree with her eminent father (Frank, 2001, p. 69). Another domain in which Indira’s Contentious personality pattern revealed itself was in her moods—she was frequently distraught and despondent. Her mother’s illness, her parents’ imprisonment, her mother’s subsequent death at an early age, as well as her own bout with tuberculosis, were instrumental in the general moodiness she exhibited. Although she took on the responsibility of acting as her father’s hostess, she resented the demands on her time and wrote of feeling like “a caged bird” (Frank, 2001, p. 254).

Indira was also a Dominant personality (Scale 1A, score of 19). She was determined not to allow others to control her life, as had her mother. She de?ed the Mahatma and her father on a number of occasions, particularly in her choice of a husband. In 1959, immediately after she became party president, she again challenged her father on the Kerala issue. A communist government in Kerala had created signi?cant unrest by introducing a bill to subject parochial schools to state controls and accountability. Mass agitation was launched to unseat the government. When Nehru refused to intervene on the grounds that the government had been duly elected, Indira told a journalist that her father had spoken as Prime Minister, “As Congress president, I intend to ?ght them and throw them out” (Vasudev, 1974, p. 276).

Indira Gandhi’s first years as Prime Minister were marked by great inner uncertainty and, consequently, by indecision and vacillation in her leadership. Most people were not surprised; indeed, it con?rmed the general impression that although she was inherently reticent and retiring, she had been thrust to the center of power by the memory of her father and the divisions among the Congress politicians who survived him. However, the 1967 elections were, according to Bhatia (1974, pp. 197–198), a turning point in Gandhi’s political career. Through her extensive campaigning, she found that she could reach the masses effectively and that their response to her was much more positive than to any of her rivals. From this point on, her self-con?dence began to develop and the Ambitious, Dominant, and Contentious patterns in her personality pro?le received greater expression.

Successful in the struggle to control the Congress Party by 1970, Indira Gandhi was largely transformed into a politician whose personality traits of ambition, dominance, and contentiousness were to be far more in evidence than the shy, aloof, aggrieved, and accommodating dimensions of her personality. The acquisition of power and the sense of accomplishment it engendered seems to have facilitated Gandhi’s suppression of the introverted dimensions of her personality pro?le and permitted a greater expression of the ambitious, dominant, and contentious aspects. Nowhere was this more in evidence than her decision to declare a State of Emergency in 1975, which effectively suspended civil liberties, the functioning of parliament, and the freedom of the press.

But to understand the impact that Indira Gandhi’s personality patterns had on her leadership behavior, we must turn ?rst to the question of leadership style in general, and then to Gandhi’s in particular.

Leadership Style

Background to the Study of Leadership Style

The study of political leadership style has been the focus of a number of different scholars. (See, for example, Barber (1992); Etheredge (1979); George (1980, 1988); George & George (1998); George & Stern (1998); Greenstein (1993/4, 1994, 1995); Hermann (1977, 1994, 1995); Hermann & Preston (1995); and Renshon (1994, 1995; 1996a,b), who have looked at the American presidency, and Kaarbo (1997) and Kaarbo & Hermann (1998), who have explored prime ministerial leadership style in various European countries.) Attempts have been made as well to explain particular types of leadership style with such antecedents as motives and needs by Walker (1995); Walker and Falkowski (1984); and Winter (1973, 1988, 1992, 1995); character and belief systems by George and George (1964, 1998); Hermann (1977); and Renshon (1995, 1996); operational codes by George (1979, 1980); and Walker (1977, 1995); and personality variables by Immelman (1993, 1998); Simonton (1988); and Winter (1995).

While every scholar seems to have his or her own de?nition of leadership style, the underlying concepts appear to be similar—how the leader carries out the responsibilities of his or her of?ce; more speci?cally, the leader’s work habits, and how they relate to those around them. After reviewing various studies of presidential leadership style Hermann and Preston (1994) distilled ?ve common leadership style variables—involvement in the policymaking process, willingness to tolerate con?ict, motivation for leading, and preferred strategies for resolving con?ict. Kaarbo (1997, pp. 561–563) adopted and modi?ed these ?ve variables and added two variables from the literature on organizational leadership style— relations with members of the cabinet and task orientation.

Leadership Style: A New Synthesis

This study adapted ?ve of the variables (motivation for leading, task orientation, cabinet management strategy, information management strategy, and relations with the party) developed by Hermann and Preston (1980) and Kaarbo (1997, pp. 561–563), and added another ?ve variables that examine the prime minister’s relations with personnel, opposition parties, the media, and the public, and his/her investment in job performance. These have been grouped into three spheres of activity: ?rst, the leader and his/her motivation, task orientation, and investment in job performance; second, the leader and the executive—cabinet and information management strategies; and third, the leader and relations with other personnel, caucus, the party, the opposition, and the media (see Table 4). The ?rst leadership style variable centers around the question of a prime minister’s motivation for leading. A survey of the literature has suggested that a variety of needs and incentives induce individuals to assume leadership positions in politics (see Kaarbo & Hermann, 1998, pp. 251–252).

The leader may be motivated by pragmatism (a belief in an obligation to the party to shape government policies along incremental lines); by personal validation (the wish to be popular and to be accepted); by an ideological agenda (a coherent system of political beliefs that shapes government policy); or a desire for power (dominance and control). The amount of energy and time that a prime minister brings to the of?ce is another variable of leadership style (Barber, 1972/1992). It demonstrates whether the leader places limits on the extent of the commitment to the of?ce or whether there is a tireless outpouring of energy. Prime ministers may be interested primarily in the process of government, the building of concurrence, and the development of good relations among the members of cabinet, or they may be more goal oriented, focusing on speci?c ends and their implementation. The way in which the prime minister organizes the composition of and manages the decision-making process within the cabinet is another facet of leadership style.

How are policy dilemmas resolved? To what extent is there involvement in the policy process? Who becomes part of the locus of decision making is also something the prime minister decides. In these activities, the prime minister’s style may run the gamut from being largely uninvolved, to a consensus builder, to an arbitrator, and ?nally, to a strong advocate. Although information in a cabinet setting is usually channelled through the various ministries, prime ministers will differ as to how they choose to review such information and how they relate to their close advisers. The same, of course, is true for presidents in a presidential system (George, 1980, 1988; George & George, 1998; Hermann, 1978, 1987; Hermann & Preston, 1995; Kaarbo, 1997). They may want all the facts about the problem or situation and do the interpretation themselves, or they may only be interested in seeing summaries and policy options. Of interest here is how much input the prime minister wants into the way problems and issues are framed and get onto the agenda.

In managing the ?ow of information that comes to the of?ce, does the prime minister use a system of individuals to ?lter information and minimize direct involvement, or is close scrutiny more likely? Closely related is the question on whom the prime minister relies for information. Does the prime minister prefer to receive policy relevant data from his cabinet and senior civil servants, or is there a reliance on other sources?

Method for Assessing Leadership Styles

Information concerning Indira Gandhi’s leadership style during the period that she was Prime Minister was gathered from primary (speeches and letters) and secondary (biographies and journal articles) sources. Although biographies were also used to assess personality patterns, the potential problem of shared variance in this case is more apparent than real. First, Indira Gandhi’s personality was assessed only from the biographical material that dealt with her life before she became Prime Minister, while her leadership style was evaluated only from the materials that described her behavior after she became Prime Minister. Thus, a clear time differentiation exists. Second, the variables that were used to measure personality patterns were very different from the variables used to assess leadership style, thus minimizing the problems of circularity.

Leadership Style Inventory

The assessment framework developed for this part of the study consists of 10 categories and subcategories that qualitatively assess the dynamics of leadership style. The goal was to produce an index that captures the quantitative proportion of each of the qualitative measures within each category. Thus, for example, in the category of motivation for leadership, four qualitatively different reasons were examined: pragmatism, personal validation, ideology, and power.

Then the proportion of each of these four variables was calculated so that the strength of each as a percentage of the total could be assessed. This was done for each of the remaining nine categories and subcategories in order to produce a leadership style pro?le of Indira Gandhi. Given the size of the data base, about 35% of the data was extracted and coded independently by two investigators with agreement on 85.8% of the items, while the remainder was coded by a single researcher. A total of 1,273 items that pertained to the 10-category leadership style inventory were coded.

Indira Gandhi’s Leadership Style

This section examines the empirical evidence of Gandhi’s leadership style: motivation for leading; task orientation; investment in job performance; management style, both with the cabinet and in the realm of information gathering; and her interpersonal relations with her associates, the caucus, the extraparliamentary party, the opposition, the media, and the public. Results showed that she was motivated primarily by pragmatism and power, focusing on goals rather than process. With her cabinet, she functioned largely as an advocate for her goals and preferred to rely on independent sources of information. In her dealings with personnel, the party caucus, the extra-parliamentary party organization and the opposition parties, she was largely demanding, domineering, competitive, controlling, and oppositional. She was capable of being both accessible and friendly to the media as well as being hostile and closed, depending on the time period. It was only with the public that Indira demonstrated a consistent pattern or openness and warmth (see Table 5).


In the area of motivation we ?nd that, notwithstanding a brief ?irtation with socialism, Indira Gandhi was a decidedly nonideological leader. Only 7.4% (24) of the items on motivation mention ideology as a reason for her policy choices. Nor was she particularly motivated by the need for personal validation. Again, only 7.5% (25) of the coded items on this subject refer to this dimension. Political pragmatism was a far more important motivator than ideology or personal

Task Orientation

The empirical evidence indicates that Indira Gandhi was overwhelmingly concerned about task implementation and little concerned with the issue of building concurrence among her cabinet. Rather, she treated many of her cabinet colleagues as potential challengers, and if any grew too powerful,
she saw to it that their powers were curbed, even if it meant dismissing capable individuals. Of the 82 items coded on this dimension, 91.4% focused on goal implementation.

Cabinet Management Strategy

Indira Gandhi’s dealings with her cabinet demonstrated overwhelmingly (95.5% of the 88 items coded) that her preferred role was to act as an advocate, rather than a consensus builder, or arbitrator between various government ministers. But advocacy only partly captures the extent to which she dominated her colleagues; she dismissed those who might have challenged her and placed her favorites in senior government posts. Her advocacy was, in fact, an authoritative, peremptory exercise of power.

Information Management Strategy

As part of her overall activist stance as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi demonstrated a high degree of involvement in the management of information, preferring to search out what she wanted to know, rather than waiting for it to be presented to her. Of the 35 items coded on this topic, 85.7% displayed Gandhi’s high-level involvement in the process. Information was sought largely from independent sources and of the 120 items coded on this subject, and 87% revealed a preference for independent sources of information; Gandhi relied on her ministers only 13% of the time.

Relations with Personnel

Indira Gandhi’s dealings with her aides, advisers, and members of other branches of government were coded for the degree of involvement and the type of behavior exhibited. In general, there were few references to the degree of involvement; only 29 items were coded and, of these, 96.5% were coded as high. In contrast, 100 items were coded for the type of involvement: 11% were coded as collegial/egalitarian, 6% as polite/formal, 16% were attention-seeking/seductive, 39% were demanding/domineering, and 28% were manipulative/exploitative.

Party Caucus

Indira Gandhi’s relationship with the party caucus—and more particularly her cabinet colleagues—was overwhelmingly contentious from 1966 until 1970. From 1970 on, as power shifted from the Cabinet to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, her relations with the party caucus became manipulative/exploitative. Later, power would shift even more to the Prime Minister’s house next door (Frank, 2001, p. 354). The party caucus and the cabinet increasingly assumed a rubber stamp function and the cabinet no longer operated as a center of policy making. Of the 59 items that were coded in this category, 3.4% were uninvolved, 8.5% were cooperative/harmonious, 52.6% were competitive/oppositional, and 35.6 % were controlling/overbearing/manipulative.

Extra-Parliamentary Party Organization

Indira’s relations with the party organization largely mirrored those with the party caucus. Of the 113 items coded on this topic, 62% were competitive or oppositional, and 23% were controlling, overbearing, or manipulative for a total of 85%. In only 3.5% of her dealings with the party organization was Indira uninvolved, while she exhibited a spirit of cooperation only 11.5% of the time.

Opposition Parties

Given the nature of her competitive and controlling relationships with both her caucus and the Congress party organization, it is hardly surprising that Gandhi would manifest the same type of behavior with the various opposition parties. Of the 94 items that were coded on this subject, 38.3% were competitive/ oppositional, while 50% were controlling/overbearing.


Gandhi’s relations with the media vacillated between being accessible, informative, and friendly to being uninformative, inaccessible, and unfriendly. Of the 89 items that were coded on this topic, 49.4% were coded as open and 50.6% as closed. Virtually all of the items coded as open occurred prior to the imposition of Emergency Rule (1975), while the vast majority of the items coded as closed took place after.


In her relations with the public, Indira Gandhi’s leadership style was extremely open. The Indian crowds seemed to energize her, and she felt a special bond with the Indian masses who loved the combination of her aristocratic background and her simple down-to-earth manner. Of the 105 items coded on this issue, 100% demonstrated an open style.

Theoretical Links between Personality Pro?les and Leadership Styles Although human beings tend to exhibit more than one signi?cant or predominant personality pattern, it is perhaps most useful to begin a discussion on the links between personality patterns and leadership style with a delineation of some pure types. Given space limitations, I chose to focus on the four most important personality patterns I discussed earlier—those that reached a score of 19 or more in Indira Gandhi’s personality pro?le. Once we can theorize about the contribution of Dominant (Scale 1A, a score of 19), Ambitious (Scale 2, a score of 21), Contentious (Scale 5B, a score of 20), and Reticent (Scale 7, a score of 21) personality patterns to leadership style, we are then in a position to examine Gandhi’s actual leadership style and to explore the ways in which a combination of personality patterns impacted upon it.

Dominant and Ambitious Leaders

For the very ambitious leader, narcissistic components may also produce an enhanced emphasis on the need for personal validation as a motivation for policy initiatives. Both the Dominant and Ambitious leaders are more likely to be goaloriented rather than process-oriented. Motivated by power and/or ideology, they are less interested in maintaining good relations between their colleagues and more interested in accomplishing goals. For these reasons, their investment in job performance is more likely to be tireless, rather than circumscribed. Not for them relaxed, laissez faire approaches.

Both these types of prime ministers are also more likely to act as advocates within their cabinets rather than as consensus builders or arbitrators. Given their personalities that stress dominance or self-promotion—as well as the nature of their goals and the energy they bring to bear on their implementation—they are also more likely to exhibit a higher degree of involvement in managing informa-tion and to prefer to obtain their information from a variety of independent sources, rather than relying merely on the cabinet and the civil service. In the area of personnel management, we would expect Dominant and Ambitious leaders to be highly interactive with aides, assistants, and staff, and the treatment of their subordinates to be extremely demanding if not domineering, and perhaps even exploitative. Ambitious leaders are also more likely to engage in attention seeking behavior with their aides. In their dealings with members of their caucus, the extra-parliamentary party organization, and the opposition, both Dominant and Ambitious leaders are unlikely to be uninvolved or to behave in a cooperative and harmonious fashion. Given the status of these constituencies as the wellspring of both continuity in and challenges to their leadership, we would expect relations to be oppositional and competitive and even controlling and overbearing.

Outside the parliamentary arena, we would expect that Dominant prime ministers do not enjoy harmonious relations with the media as they would want to control and dominate it; their relationship, therefore, is more likely to be characterized as hostile and uncooperative. Relations with the media will be more problematic for Ambitious leaders. They may attempt to cultivate the media to fuel their ambitious plans. If, however, they are criticized, their wounded narcissism may distance them from the media and result in strained relations. Dominant and Ambitious leaders can be expected to be active rather than passive in their relations with the public. Given either their strong-willed, outspoken personalities in the ?rst instance, or their self-assured, self-promoting personalities in the second, such leaders are unlikely to want to have others articulate or defend their policies for them.

Contentious Leaders

The core diagnostic feature of Contentious leaders is their nonconformity. They are outspoken, unconventional, and frequently unhappy with the status quo. Since they are quick to challenge rules and authority, they are more comfortable when they themselves are the authority. Therefore, they are more likely to be motivated by power and ideology and less likely by pragmatism. Given their individuality and independence, Contentious leaders are unlikely to exhibit much concern with or interest in the machinery of government or care about concurrence building. Rather, they are more likely to be goal, rather than task, oriented. Like Controlling and Ambitious leaders, Contentious leaders will be likely to invest a substantial amount of energy and effort in their jobs. Since they frequently feel put upon and consequently behave in a complaining, obstructive fashion, they will make strenuous efforts to alter the dynamics of their environment in the belief that other people will then be more responsive to their demands. In their dealings with their cabinets, Contentious leaders will be more likely to act as advocates, since they are determined, resolute, and even willful personalities. Such leaders are also skeptical, doubting, and critical; they are more likely to prefer to be directly involved in the search for and analysis of policy-relevant data and to use a variety of sources to assuage their doubts.

The degree of involvement with personnel is likely to be high—a function of their complaining and obstructive personalities; in addition, the type of
involvement will most likely be of a demanding/domineering nature. In their relations with their party caucus, the extra parliamentary, party organization, and opposition parties, Contentious leaders are more likely to exhibit competitive/oppositional behavior. With the media, such leaders are unlikely to be open; lacking trust and being skeptical, they are more likely to be uninformative and unfriendly. In their relations with the public, Contentious leaders may exhibit a mixed pattern of behavior. If they resent the demands on their time, they may prefer to allow their designated spokespersons to do the job for them, an arrangement that gives them the opportunity to complain about their ostensible inadequacies. Alternatively, their dealings with the populace are more likely to be active, rather than passive, if their dissatisfaction with their own of?cials’ handling of public relations forces them to become more involved.

Reticent Leaders

We expect that those leaders who demonstrate a high score on the Reticent personality pattern will have a leadership style pattern that differs markedly from those of the Dominant and Ambitious personality types. Since the Reticent leader is characterized by social inhibition and withdrawal, this personality type can be expected to demonstrate similar patterns of leadership behavior. The circumspect, inhibited Reticent is unlikely to be motivated by power, ideology, or self-validation, which require a greater sense of self. Issues of pragmatism—keeping the government together and handling day-to-day business—require less assertive leadership and, thus, are likely to be more appealing to the Reticent personality pro?le. For the same reasons, these personality types are more likely to be processoriented rather than goal-oriented, preferring to invest only a certain circumscribed amount of effort in their jobs. Because Reticent leaders are more likely to be insecure and ill at ease, they are less likely to take on the role of consensus builder, arbitrator, or advocate within their cabinets. We would expect the Reticent personality to be relatively uninvolved. In the management of information, the somewhat withdrawn Reticent leader is more likely to manifest a low degree of involvement and to prefer to rely on the cabinet and the civil service for information. Relations with aides are also likely to follow the same pattern. As be?ts the ill-at-ease Reticent, the extent of the involvement will be low and is likely to be characterized by a polite/formal manner.

In their various party relations—with their caucus, the extra-parliamentary party organization and the opposition, the Reticent personality can be expected to have little or no involvement. This type of leader will tend to be closed, rather than open with the media and more passive than active in their contacts with the public.

Mixed Personality Profile Leaders

What happens, however, when leaders exhibit mixed personality pro?les? One may be able to theorize about the leadership style of leaders with only one or two important personality pro?les that largely predict similar behavior (i.e., like the Dominant/Ambitious or the Reticent/Retiring personality pro?les); hypothesizing about leadership behavior when faced with a leader with a number of salient and con?icting personality patterns is more complicated. A solution employed in the case of Indira Gandhi was to measure the combined weight of the most important personality patterns that were hypothesized to predict leadership behavior and to analyze the results. Of the four most important personality patterns, three—the Ambitious, the Contentious and the Controlling with a combined score of 60 (21, 20 and 19, respectively)—predict a relatively consistent set of leadership behaviors, whereas the Reticent personality pattern with a score of 21 predicts a nearly opposite set of leadership behaviors. Thus one would expect that Indira Gandhi might exhibit a mixed pattern of leadership behaviors, but with a greater emphasis on those behaviors that are linked to the Ambitious, Contentious, and Dominant personality pro?les.

Indira Gandhi’s Leadership Style and Personality Profile

The empirical analysis of Indira Gandhi’s leadership behavior in the 10 selected categories revealed that in eight of the 10, the leadership style patterns strongly matched our theoretical expectations for the Ambitious, Dominant, and Contentious personality pro?les. Indira Gandhi emerged as strongly goaloriented, tireless in the exercise of her job, an advocate within her cabinet with a preference for receiving information from independent sources. As well, the type of involvement she exhibited with associates, the caucus, the party organization, and the opposition, which was largely competitive and controlling, also ?tted expectations for the Ambitious, Controlling, and Contentious leader. Gandhi’s dealings with the public also matched the theoretical expectations for the Ambitious, Dominant, and Contentious personality pro?les. There were two areas in which Indira Gandhi’s leadership pro?le exhibited a more equivocal picture. In the area of motivation, our theoretical expectation was that Dominant, Controlling, Ambitious, and Contentious personalities were more likely to be motivated by issues of power and ideology. In the case of the Ambitious pro?le, the desire for personal validation was also anticipated to be important. In the case of Indira Gandhi, we found that while power was a significant motivator, ideology and popular approval did not play a major role. Instead, pragmatism, which is theoretically linked to the leadership behavior of the Reticent personality pattern (as well as the Retiring, Aggrieved, Accommodating, Outgoing, and Conscientious pro?les), also emerged as a very important source of motivation.

That Indira Gandhi’s motivations did not ?t my theoretical expectations can perhaps be explained by an implicit assumption that there would be a one-to-one relationship between personality pro?les and motivations for policy choices. Thus, as a primarily ambitious, contentious, and dominant personality, Gandhi should have been much more strongly motivated by power and ideology. This could suggest the fact that in a democratic society, with opposition parties that are in a position to challenge the government, a leader who successfully retains power for a considerable period of time, as Gandhi did, may have curbed those aspects of her personality and instead, exhibited a greater degree of pragmatism in her leadership behavior.

A second area in which my theoretical expectations were not borne out concerned the media. Rather than strongly demonstrating a closed (inaccessible and unfriendly) stance vis-a-vis the media, the results suggested an almost equal division between a pattern of open and closed behavior. However, when these results were examined more closely, I found that Gandhi was far more open to the media prior to the declaration of a State of Emergency in 1975 and increasingly closed from 1972 on. From 1966 to 1972, she was trying to acquire and consolidate her power in the struggle with the Congress Party bosses. In those circumstances, she viewed media coverage both domestically and externally as assisting her in these endeavors. During 1975–77, she was ?ghting to hold onto power and suppressed the media, which she then saw as undermining her efforts. After her defeat at the polls in 1977, she returned to power in 1980, but remained closed and inaccessible to the media which she continued to view as hostile. Another intriguing ?nding was how little impact the Reticent pattern in Indira Gandhi’s personality pro?le seems to have had on her leadership style. One explanation may be that since this personality pattern accounted for only 26.9% of the four patterns that were ranked at 19 or more, the other 73.1 % that are re?ected in the Dominant, Ambitious, and Contentious patterns that produced a personality pro?le of “compensatory narcissism” that overwhelmed the impact of the Reticent dimension in Gandhi’s personality pro?le.

A second possible explanation for the largely insigni?cant impact of the Reticent personality pattern on Gandhi’s personality pro?le may be related to the time period in which the materials for the personality pro?le were extracted. All the materials coded were extracted from biographical accounts that began in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and during her political career prior to her becoming Prime Minister. Interestingly enough, most of the coding that demonstrated her Reticent personality pattern was drawn from childhood and adoles-cence and could well have been suppressed by the time she was a young adult and began to play a political role. If personality is only consolidated in late adolescence, the calculation of the Reticent pattern in her childhood and early adolescence may have given greater weight to the overall results, producing a stronger pattern of reticence than what actually existed by late adolescence and adulthood. A third potential explanation involves the impact of role responsiveness (see Goldstein & Keohane, 1993, p. 3). Although Indira Gandhi demonstrated some Reticent personality traits when she assumed the of?ce of the Prime Minister, the demands of the job and the initial hostility she encountered from the Congress elites—the Syndicate—seem to have galvanized the Ambitious, Dominant, and Contentious dimensions of her personality into action. “Compensatory narcissism” allowed Indira to appeal over the heads of the Syndicate and establish a strongly personal and very effective relationship with the masses that bolstered her self-esteem and fueled this aspect of her personality.


This paper began with the primary purpose of investigating the relationship between personality patterns and leadership style. Looking beyond the traditional focus on American presidents, I chose to study a female leader in a parliamentary system of government. The goal was to develop hypothesized linkages between various personality patterns and leadership style behaviors. Methodological tools appropriate to these tasks were either modi?ed or created. Then, these tools were applied in the context of a single-case study—that of Indira Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, in order to examine the extent to which her personality pro?le and leadership style matched our theoretical expectations. For the most part, psychodynamic personality studies of political leaders have been insightful, but idiosyncratic and, thus, incapable of precise replication. In contrast, a psychodiagnostic analysis, i.e., the use of the MIDC personality inventory, allows for personality to be formally charted and scored across a comprehensive range of matters, such as expressive behavior, interpersonal conduct, cognitive style, mood, and self-image. As well, the application of a systematic measurement tool—the MIDC—permits a comparative analysis of multiple leaders.

In their examination of presidential leadership style, some scholars began with inventories of leadership style archetypes and then described those presidents that best seemed to exemplify them. (See, for example, Barber (1972/92) who developed a theory of presidential leadership style that encompassed active and passive and positive and negative behaviors and George and Stern (1998) who categorized presidential management styles as competitive, formalistic, and collegial). Others began with the presidents themselves and then examined their unique leadership behavior.

Apart from the relationship demonstrated between Gandhi’s personality pro?le and her leadership style, her personality pro?le, itself, presented an intriguing picture. Certainly, Gandhi appears to be an anomaly when compared with male political leaders in terms of the seemingly contradictory dimensions of her personality pro?le (see Immelman’s (1998, 2000, 2002) personality pro?les). Should one expect female leaders, more than their male counterparts, to manifest a wider variety of personality patterns? Not only did Indira Gandhi exhibit Dominant, Dauntless, Ambitious, and Contentious patterns, comparable to her male counterparts, but Reticent, Retiring, and Aggrieved personality patterns not usually associated with men in leadership roles. I should have a clearer idea of whether or not the complexity of her pro?le was sui generis, after I explore the personality pro?les of other female prime ministers. If their personality pro?les resemble that of Indira Gandhi’s, then it may be gender that is playing a role. Alternatively, if Gandhi’s personality pro?le is markedly different from that of other female prime ministers in terms of its complexity, it may be that diverse cultural values can explain some of the differences.

To explore the impact of both gender and culture more meaningfully, the personality patterns and leadership styles of other female prime ministers from different cultures need to be examined, using the same rigorous and formal methodological approach. To this end, my research will continue with studies of Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain.


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