A Case Study of Nana-ji Deshmukh's

Bringing the MEANING back into the Process of Leadership:
A Case Study of Nana-ji Deshmukh's Self-Reliance Campaign in Chitrakoot

Extant leadership research tends to be fragmented with individual studies focusing on limited aspects. But scholarly conversations on leadership have by far seen leadership as “the focus of group processes, as a matter of personality, as a matter of inducing compliance, as the exercise of influence, as particular behavior as a form of persuasion, as a power relation, as an instrument to achieve goals, as an effect of interaction, as a differentiated role, as initiation of structure, and many combination” (Bass, 1990: 11) but there is little research that discusses the process of leadership (Burns, 1978).

We argue that shifting the focus on the way meaning is created, sustained and changed would provide a powerful means to understand the fundamental nature of leadership as social process (Smircich and Morgan, 1982).

In this paper, we focus on the process of evolution of the phenomena of leadership. The study presents a single case study which investigated the campaign where intended efforts by the leader with the help of followers mobilized the collective to achieve rural self-reliance. The findings suggest that leadership begins with the leader developing a global meaning which acts as the center of influence. Followers then build proxy agency around the leader to fulfill their needs and by forming various attachments. Further, resources and practices are restructured around the meaning to bring out the change.

Drawing from the case study of Self Reliance Campaign conducted in a backward rural region in India by DeenDayal Research Institute (henceforth DRI) under the leadership of Nanaji Deshmukh, we identify the three processes that constitute leadership each focusing on the three distinct actors involved viz: meaning making process (for the leader), meaning receiving process (for the followers) and meaning realization process (for the collective). We further expand the process by proposing that meaning making involves the processes of conflicting, reflecting, anchoring; meaning receiving involves - linking, relating, evolving and meaning realization involves mobilizing, instituting and restructuring. Through these processes we attempt to explain how leader, followers and the collective evolve in the leadership process.

In sum, the case describes the complex dynamics of leadership around the anchor of meaning. An attempt is made to develop a theory on the process of how a leader, followers and the collective evolve together to produce leadership. The inquiry conceptualizes the leadership process as the process of leader’s meaning making through conflicting-reflecting-anchoring, the process of follower’s meaning receiving through linking-relating-evolving and the process of the collective realizing the meaning through mobilizing-instituting-restructuring.

A central contribution of this study is an emergent theoretical framework for leadership phenomenon. Our process model brings back the focus on ‘meaning’ which has been missing in current leadership theories. It identifies the ‘global meaning’ of leader as being at the center of the leadership process. The study further analyses how ‘meaning’ gets transmitted in leader-followers interactions and builds the proxy agency of followers on the leader. We also capture how followers produce dynamic outcomes based on tussle between sense of insecurity and sense of significance. At the collective level, the study finds how resources are mobilized and practices are shaped around the leader’s meaning to bring about change.

We believe that while earlier leadership theories tend to be limited or local in their scope, the present one’s comprehensive examination of a leader becoming, transforming one’s followers, and ultimately making an impact in one's context would galvanize the field of leadership studies.

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