Situating Leadership Theories and Models in the Indian Context

We found transformational leadership theory to be a commonly applied leadership theory in the leadership development literature in India. Singh and Krishnan (2005) utilized a grounded theory approach to identify country-specific attributes and describe transformational leadership characteristics of Indian leaders. In a later study (Singh & Krishnan, 2007), the authors developed, tested and validated a new scale for assessing transformational leadership to identify culture-specific attributes that were considered effective in the Indian context. They were able to identify transformational leadership characteristics that offered cultural divergence and convergence across national boundaries. They found that transformational leadership theory and its specific attributes as developed in the West had applicability in India and that this leadership theory demonstrated cultural convergence. However, in terms of fit and applicability in Indian contexts, transformational leadership attributes manifested themselves in culturally unique ways. Specific to the Indian context, Singh and Krishnan’s study identified nurturant-task characteristics that empowered followers as an important attribute of transformational leaders. The behavioral manifestations of transformational leadership in the Indian context suggest that individual consideration—one of the key characteristics of transformational theory—manifests itself in an Indian leader’s behavior as personal touch where the leader cares for subordinates’ personal and professional well-being. In addition, nurturant-task behaviors emphasize the enduring aspects of individual leaders and were also found to be the best predictor of leaders’ performance as measured by subordinate ratings of the leaders in the study.

Biswas (2009) provided additional evidence on the importance of transformational leadership as a leadership development theory in the Indian context. The empirical study involved leaders and managers from India and demonstrated the mediating role of HR in linking transformational leadership and organizational culture to employee performance.

In another study based on India, Palrecha et al. (2012) compared transformational leadership theory among 104 employees and managers in a rural organization in western India. Like the previous studies by Singh and Krishnan (2005, 2007), the individualized consideration dimension of transformational leadership was found to be important and significantly related to subordinate performance. In addition, the goal-setting and role-modeling dimensions of transformational leadership—known as the idealized influence leadership factor—were also found to be significantly related to subordinate performance. Thus, understanding the cultural contingencies of the organizational and country contexts is important when investigating leadership approaches that may be most appropriate in leadership development initiatives.

Because India has a unique mix of Western and traditional cultural influences that shape leaders’ behaviors in the organization, rational aspects of organizational work as they relate to organizational design and structure can be understood as being influenced by the colonial legacy (Gupta & Singh, 2015). Thus, structural manifestations of leadership capacity building in India draw from Western concepts of organizing and designing work in terms of roles, responsibilities and reporting relationships that are primarily based on individual expertise, educational attainment, competence and personal motivation/aspirations (Singh & Krishnan, 2007). However, what remains unclear is the extent to which traditional cultural values influence the design and organization of work that adheres to espoused organizational structure and formal hierarchy in the organization. Furthermore, given the limited literature, we were unable to identify specific contributions that discussed the influence of traditional cultural values in the way work was done, how leaders’ performance was assessed and how employees perceived their leaders to be effective. For instance, compared to Japanese management practices where there is sufficient evidence available in scholar-practitioner literature of how national Japanese culture influenced quality processes, similar work in India as it related to leadership or organizational development was not evident in the literature.

In further explicating transformational leadership characteristics that are unique or culturally divergent in the context of India, we offer addi?tional perspectives that are described as follows. Leaders in India are viewed as change agents, not only in the work environment but also in society (Palrecha et al., 2012). Thus, in addition to individual-, team- and organizational-level contextual factors, leaders perceived as effectively transformational in India must emphasize transformation of the society as much as the organization. Their transformative impact does not necessarily focus only on achieving economic success for the organization but also on sustaining social transformation that can benefit both employees and society at large. Transformational leaders thus have greater influence in social and relational networks in their communities outside of their organization in India. The idea that leaders in India must grapple with paradoxes, such as the need for hierarchical reporting as well as the need for personalized relationships with followers, conforms Seki and Holt’s (2012) assessment that Asians tend to be comfortable embracing leadership paradoxes.

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