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The theory of transformational leadership become popular since 1980s, but from this time to now, how the concept of transformational leadership has changed. Especially from the time of 1990s to nowadays.

Structure suggest:
The development/history of transformational leadership
Transformational leadership and what is means
Why the dark side
Dark side of transformational leadership (toxic, narcissistic, chrisma…). This part need more words than others.
Recommendation or future change




When the idea of transformational leadership was first introduced, there was a preoccupation with its potential to drive organizational change. Leaders who adopt this approach seek to inspire followers to contribute to organizational change by transcending personal interests to embrace a holistic vision of the organization. During the last three decades, many changes have unfolded in discourse on transformational leadership. However, it remains more attractive than transactional leadership because of its potential to motivate followers, enhance performance, and drive change in organizational culture and climate.


Like all other approaches, transformational leadership also has a dark side. Not many researchers have focused on this issue although they appreciate the need to avoid the dangers posed by charismatic leaders who suddenly bring narcissism and toxic leadership into an organization. Charisma is a constructive trait but it can drive transformational leaders towards narcissism. This happens because followers agree to shelf their interests, making them susceptible to the whims and wishes of the leaders. Such leaders may become preoccupied with an aura of invincibility and greatness, thereby getting distracted from the transformation agenda. The aim of this paper is to explore the dark side of transformational leadership by specifically examining three aspects: narcissism, charisma, and toxic leadership. Findings indicate that to avoid the lure of narcissism and toxic leadership, organizations should encourage leaders to interlace transformational leadership qualities with transactional leadership qualities.


Abstract 2

Introduction. 3

Literature review.. 5

Methodology. 9

The development of transformational leadership. 11

The meaning of transformational leadership today. 12

Why the dark side?. 13

Dark side of transformational leadership. 14

Narcissism and charisma. 15

Toxic leadership. 20

Recommendations for future change. 20

Conclusion. 21

References. 22



Transformational leadership is characterized by efforts to bring about change in organizational systems at both individual and social level. The ideal format of this type of leaderships entails creating positive change in followers with a view to enable an organization to achieve a specific vision. Transformational leadership enhances the followers’ morale, motivation, and performance through various mechanisms. Most transformational leaders seek to connect the sense of self and identity on the part of the follower to the objectives and identity of the institution or organization. They also act as role models for followers as a way of inspiring them. Other mechanisms include understanding the followers’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to take ownership for their tasks, and aligning them with tasks for optimal performance.

Literature on transformational leadership contains a lot of information on both its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it can inspire positive, lasting change in organizational climate and culture. Transformational leaders inspire organizational change by defining the need for culture change, concentrating on long-term goals, mentoring followers, creating new visions, demonstrating commitment to them, and changing the organization to accommodate these visions. To further appreciate this advantage, this type of leadership is often contrasted with transactional leadership.

Unfortunately, transformational leadership also has a dark side. Transformational leaders tend to become narcissistic (Resick, et al, 2009; Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Narcissism is characterized by self-absorption, arrogance, self-entitlement, fragility of self esteem, manipulation, self-centeredness, and outright hostility (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). These character traits are associated with many powerful, transformational leaders especially CEOs of large corporations (Resick, et al, 2009). The problem of charisma has also been identified in research on transformational leadership (Jung & Sosik, 2002). It is ironic that the problem of charisma arises from the very strength of the transformational leader. When an organization is experiencing problems, everyone may look up to the charismatic leader for solutions instead of contributing to problem-solving. Charisma creates the impression that the transformational leader has the answers to all problems. At that point, the leader may create what Padillaa, Hogan & Kaiser (2007) refer to as a toxic triangle characterized by conducive environments, a destructive leadership, and susceptible followers.

According to Higgs (2009), the available literature on transformational leadership tends to extensively focus on the positive side of transformational leaders while ignoring the dark side. Yet research shows that bad aspects of transformational leadership can impact adversely on the implementation of organizational change (Gong, 2009). Therefore, the aim of this paper is to focus solely on the dark side of transformational leadership. The paper analyzes literature on negative aspects of transformational leadership and why transformational leaders suddenly get carried away by toxic leadership, charisma, and narcissism. Finally, recommendations for future change are made based on this analysis.

Literature review

In transformational leadership literature, most emphasis is on its power to move organizations towards the direction of change (Tucker, Acworth & Russell, 2004; Judge, 2006; Judge, Piccolo & Kosalka, 2009). However, with time, some researchers have started expressing reservations in the form of possible dangers of relying too much on transformational leaders (Khoo & Burch, 2008; Popper, 2002; Tourish & Pinnington, 2002). They are particularly concerned that transformational leaders may at some point become too full of themselves to the extent of resisting the views of other members of the organizations. Even if the leader is willing to accommodate other people’s views, the air of invincibility that comes with the charisma of such leaders may create the impression that it is unthinkable to oppose their views.

The leadership style adopted by managers greatly influences how organizations are run. Transformational leadership is one of the most preferred leadership styles because of its potential to promote commitment to organizational goals by employees. Many other benefits relating to this leadership style have also been highlighted in research. They include improvement in organizational innovation (Jung, Chow, & Wu, 2003), organizational citizenship behavior (Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006), and organizational commitment (Avolio, 2004).

Innovation is a critical requirement for organizations operating in today’s competitive international business environment. Therefore, it is not surprising that transformation leadership has been embraced as the ideal channel through which the innovative abilities of employees can be nurtured (Jung, Chow, & Wu, 2003). It is impossible to motivate employees to be innovative without first getting them to embrace the existing organizational culture and to be committed to the goals of the organization. Once employees are empowered by top managers, they can get the self-drive to come up with innovative ideas that can bring about organizational transformation.

Organizational citizenship behavior is also identified as a crucial factor in the quest by companies to embrace transformational leadership (Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006). However, it is not clear which mechanisms can best explain the occurrence of such behavior (Piccolo & Colquitt, 2006). To understand the mechanisms involved, it may be necessary for focus to be on the quality of leader-member exchange. At the same time, factors such as intrinsic motivation, goal commitment, and job characteristics need to be put into consideration.

Transformational leadership also impacts positively on follower performance and development (Dvir & Eden, 2002). This issue continues to be highlighted in transformational leadership theory because of the growing need for organizations to seek solutions to the problems that keep arising ever so often. However, a major challenge arises from the lack of systematic research that explains transformational behavior from the perspective of follower development and performance. Nevertheless, there is a positive relationship between transformational leadership and performance. The next frontier for researchers should dwell on the establishment of a causal relationship between these two variables.

Other researchers tend to demonstrate the value of transformational leadership by comparing it to other types of leadership (Goodwin, Wofford & Whittington, 2001). For instance, Stone, Russell & Patterson (2004) compare transformational leadership with servant leadership. The main difference between these two types of leadership is the leader’s area of focus. Transformational leaders focus on the organization by embracing behavior that builds commitment towards its objectives among followers (Stone, Russell & Patterson, 2004). In contrast, servant leadership focuses on followers, such that the attainment of organizational goals is regarded as a subordinate outcome (Stone, Russell & Patterson, 2004).

In organizational behavior research, the terms “transformational”, “visionary”, and “charismatic” are often used interchangeably. In other situations, the terms are used in the context of different theoretical frameworks. Nevertheless, they all contribute to a strong convergence of findings in terms of effects on organizational effectiveness. In this regard, transformational leadership is considered more effective than transactional leadership. Transactional leaders focus on setting goals, exchanging rewards for all accomplishments, clarifying desired outcomes, and giving timely feedback as a way of influencing the behavior of followers. In contrast, transformational leaders broaden the range of their influence by elevating the goals of followers and inspiring them to be more confident in their quest to perform beyond expectations. This necessitates the existence of an explicit or implicit exchange agreement between the leader and the follower.


Transformational leaders portray charismatic behaviors, provide immense intellectual stimulation, arouse motivation, and take time to generate individual consideration for every follower (Brown & Moshavi, 2005). Such an approach to management enables these leaders to transform followers’ behaviors in such a way that their full potential is reached and the highest performance levels achieved. From this perspective, it is a good thing to emphasize follower development. This way, current organizational commitments are likely to be fulfilled. At the same time, followers are likely to be inspired to pursue greater future possibilities in the context of their positions as employees of the organization.

The performance of transactional leaders may in most cases be overshadowed by that of transformational leaders in so far as the ability to project a clear vision of the organization is concerned (Schaubroeck, Simon & Cha, 2007). This is because for transactional leaders, the relationship with followers rarely extends beyond the need to achieve the agreed-upon objectives (Schaubroeck, Simon & Cha, 2007). Transactional leaders do not assume the responsibility for inspiring followers to achieve what is beyond the scope of immediate tasks (Schaubroeck & Lam, 2007).

Although researchers have spent a lot of time discussing how transformational leaders develop followers, there is a dearth of knowledge on how specifically this is done (Kark, Shamir & Chen, 2003; Schaubroeck & Lam, 2007). This situation led Kark, Shamir & Chen (2003) to conclude that there is hardly any evidence that transformational, charismatic, or visionary leadership does indeed bring about the transformation of individual employees, teams, divisions of organizations or even entire organizations despite claims that this normally happens. According to Kark, Shamir & Chen (2003), no evidence is available to show that these leaders exert long-term effects on the motives, preferences, desires, values, and self-esteem of followers.

In the absence of sufficient evidence regarding the ability by transformational leaders to impact on followers in a stable and long-term manner, three core developmental issues relating to this type of leadership have been identified: morality, motivation, and empowerment (Kark, Shamir & Chen (2003). It is hypothesized that motivation is often impacted positively by transformation leadership in terms of self-actualization needs. The impact of transformational leadership on empowerment is also positive because of the presence of the critical-independent approach, self-efficacy, and active engagement in organizational tasks. In the case of moral values, the effect is hypothesized to be positive because of the leaders’ tendency to internalize the moral values of the organization as well as their ability to promote collectivist orientation.

On the negative side, transformational leadership is criticized for creating an environment of invincibility on the part of leaders. Once a leader becomes overconfident, he may easily overlook certain aspects of management, thereby leading to negative outcomes. Moreover, it is often difficult to determine whether a leader is using transformational or transactional leadership. In fact, most leaders use both transformational and transactional leadership (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007). No study has been done to examine precisely how to draw a line between these two types of leadership. Available literature has only focused on the characteristics that one should look out for to know whether an aspect of one type or the other is being manifested. In recent times, researchers have tended to focus on the so-called “dark side” of transformational leadership (Boone, 2006; Judge, Piccolo & Kosalka, 2009). In this regard, ethical issues are often raised because of the tendency by leaders to manipulate followers. Other ethical issues relate to self actualization, the tendency to treat followers as means to an end, and openness to discuss the program being implemented by the leader (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007).

Based on this literature review, it is evident that transformational leadership can be beneficial but also has a dark side. Transformational leaders risk falling victim to certain pitfalls in the process of pursuing organizational change. Idolism and cult personality traits may lead these leaders to believe that they are invincible. Such leaders ultimately become preoccupied with the task of image management at the expense of solving the emerging challenges of the organization. The resulting narcissistic behavior may pave way for toxic leadership. Unfortunately, the relationship between these behaviors and transformational leadership has not been properly examined in literature. For this reason, this paper will look into the extent to which narcissism, toxic leadership, and charisma manifest the dark side of transformational leadership.


Literature on the dark side of transformational leadership dwells primarily on things that go wrong on the part of the leader’s personality and behavior. This explains organizational researchers’ preoccupation with aspects of narcissism, charisma, and toxic leadership. These negative aspects relate closely to leaders’ behavioral responses to organizational dominance and success. Therefore, any theoretical framework that sets out to discuss this dark side must be behavior-oriented. One such theory, which will be employed in this paper, is the leader trait perspective (Judge, Piccolo & Kosalka, 2009).

The leader trait paradigm is ideal for use in the analysis of the dark side of transformational leadership because it makes some useful assumptions regarding human nature while at the same time leaving room for contextualization. Three main theoretical perspectives underlie this approach: behavioral theory, evolutionary psychology, and socioanalytic theory. In behavioral genetics, personality traits are attributed to genetic sources, such that to some extent, leaders may be said to be born (Turkheimer, 2000).

In evolutionary psychology, the existence of certain traits in human beings is explained from a theoretical perspective (Buss, 2009). Theoretical aspects are also used to describe the efficacy and paradox of these traits. In terms of efficacy, the assumption is that traits are inculcated in humans when they become important to survival (Buss, 2009). In terms of paradox, all interactions between humans and their environment are assumed to be characterized by paradoxical aspects (Buss, 2009). For instance, a good trait such as charisma has the potential to bring about both positive and negative effects even in a single context within the same point in time (Buss, 2009).

In socioanalytic theory, the ability to predict success and attainment based on individual differences is examined (Hogan & Holland, 2003). Based on this notion, two assumptions are made. The first one is that people always operate in groups . The second one is that these groups are always structured based on status hierarchies. This phenomenon motivates people not only to get along but to also get ahead. The degree of motive tends to be greatly influenced by one’s personality.

Based on the leader trait perspective,  this study takes the form of a qualitative analysis of peer-reviewed journal articles. In this analysis, one of the main sources of information is empirical studies. These studies contain primary data obtained through research undertaken by researchers. In organizational behavior literature, it is also important to put into consideration critical analyses because they shed light on reasons for the existence of the dark side of transformational leadership, its development, and its implications for the meaning of this type of leadership today. They also contribute to theoretical development by highlighting the flaws in reasoning that may have been overlooked by empirical researchers.

The development of transformational leadership

The transformational leadership theory became very popular during the early 1980s. The main theme at this time was its role in aligning the interests of members with those of the organization. Emphasis was on higher moral development. Since then, one question that is yet to be fully answered is on why transformational leadership is considered more effective than transactional leadership. Since the 1980s, the assumption is that any leader who wants to be effective in a changing marketplace must become transformational, charismatic, and a formidable force in efforts to flatten organizational hierarchies.

During the 1990s, the concept started undergoing some changes. For instance, suggestions were made to replace the term “charisma” with “idealized influence”. The nature of leader-member exchange also started being examined in critical detail (Lee, 2005; Ilies, 2007). The debate also shifted towards ways in which personal and moral development affects transformational leadership. At the same time, the idea of training employees and leaders regarding transformational behaviors gained prominence. New frontiers of analysis such as organizational behavior and sex differences also emerged during the 1990s. During the early 20th century, several studies showed that women leaders were more likely to be transformational than their male counterparts (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Kark, 2004).

Most importantly, the notion of the dark side of transformational leadership was introduced (Resick, Whitman, Weingarden & Hiller, 2009). This issue remains unresolved in the current debate. Conclusive evidence regarding the reasons why transformational leaders may engage in activities that easily reverse the gains made earlier on is yet to be obtained (Padillaa, Hogan & Kaiser, 2007; Higgs, 2009); Khoo & Burch, 2008). This is perhaps because the rationale for transformational leadership as opposed to other leadership styles has not been clarified in the first place. Nowadays, transformational leaders are not glorified the way they used to during the early 1980s (Özaralli, 2003; Sivanathan & Fekken, 2002; Dvir & Shamir, 2003). The sustainability of the change that they bring to the organization is being questioned mainly because of the way in which they narcissistically manipulate followers into idolizing them (Allix, 2000). Moreover, when such leaders finally leave the organization, it becomes extremely difficult for a replacement to be found (Allix, 2000).

The meaning of transformational leadership today

            Today, transformational leadership still occupies a dominant position in the ongoing efforts to tie in disparate research findings into a coherent leadership theory. It is one of the perspectives in need of analysis in terms of antecedent conditions and consequences (Sarros, 2008). The objective is to establish the idea of “new leadership theory” (Sarros, 2008). Unlike in the past when trait, behavioral, and contingency approaches were being relied on, today’s research approaches focus predominantly on inspirational and emotional effects of transformational leaders on followers (Bryant, 2003; Küpers & Weibler, 2006; Kelloway, 2000; Toor, 2009; Sankar, 2003;). This approach has culminated in the idea of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (Antonakis, 2003).

Currently, efforts are being made to weave together disparate findings of past research into a single theory known as full-range leadership model. This is a multidimensional model, such that transformational leadership is merely one the components therein.  This approach boldly questions traditional conceptions of leadership including the transformational approach. For instance, the model points out the existing uncertainty regarding the source of viable visions in transformational leadership. To this extent, a vision is interpreted simply as a prescriptive mental model that reflects the leader’s beliefs about how an organization should do to function optimally. Although visions differ, they are all tied together by the pursuit of better organizational performance. Therefore, future research must focus on what it really means for an organization to functional optimally. These are the concepts around which the meaning of transformational leadership is being sought.

Why the dark side?

There are many reasons why it is important to examine the dark side of transformational leadership. Any type of leadership is bound to have some benefits but also a number of drawbacks (Buss, 2009). It is possible for an organization that is headed by a transformational leader to encounter numerous problems that derail growth. According to Allix (2000), this phenomenon begs the question: is transformational leadership about democracy or despotism? By posing this question, Allix (2000) seems to suggest that it is wrong for ideas and concepts relating to this leadership approach to be blind to the fact that transformational leaders are capable of being autocratic and dictatorial at some point during their tenures at the helm of the organization.

Unfortunately, traditional assumptions have led to the glorification of these leaders. Such a mindset should be overhauled. One of the ways of doing so is by accounting for the performance of various organizations that have at one time been led by transformational leaders. Instances of autocratic behavior among the leaders in such organizations should be juxtaposed against existing theories of leadership to determine the factors that lead them to behave despotically. At the same time, a paradigm shift in the current thinking about the relationship between followers and leaders should be created. In a situation where this relationship emphasizes on moral and educative aspects, it is difficult for many researchers to imagine a situation where transformational leadership may have a dark side. Instead, it creates scenarios where certain leaders are preempted to be moral, ethical, and democratic by virtue of possessing transformational qualities.

Dark side of transformational leadership

Transformational leaders who succeed in turning round organizations are also said to be prone to certain dangers. One of them is that they may believe that they have achieved a lot to the extent where they are transcendent and invincible (Ilies, 2007). Such delusions may distract them from seeking solutions to the next challenge. Such leaders may become preoccupied with the task of managing their image of greatness and an aura of greatness instead of seeking solutions to new challenges.

Charisma is also a major problem in the context of transformational leadership. It is difficult to define this concept except through emotional attachment between the leader and the follower (Barbuto, 2005). Yet it forms one of the platforms through which transformational leadership is explained. To believe that a transformational leader must be charismatic is to assume that people want leaders that they can revere and idolize. Such an assumption ignores the fact that no leader is perfect. Transformational leaders who are idolized put followers in a position where they prefer to support the goals of their leader rather than their own. Other than raising ethical issues, such a phenomenon may set up the leader to failure in his efforts to inspire everyone to contribute to organizational performance.

Problems of  toxic leadership are also commonly associated with transformational leadership. This problem is normally discussed in the context of destructive leadership behavior (Einarsen, Aasland & Skogstad, 2007). Toxic leaders lack integrity because of their engagement in dishonorable behaviors such as hypocrisy, manipulation, sabotage, and corruption. However, the concept of toxic leadership needs to be examined in detail to determine how it is related to transformational leadership. The tendency to manipulate followers into subordinating their own interests in the pursuit of the common good may be the first step in the direction of toxic leadership.

Narcissism and charisma

Narcissism is a major problem for transformational leaders. As a personality trait, its main characteristics include self-absorption, arrogance, hostility, and entitlement (Campbell, Goodie & Foster, 2004). Narcissists exhibit a very high degree of self-love (Glad, 2002). They believe that they are special in a unique way and that they deserve to be praised and admired (Harwood, 2003). Narcissists consider other people inferior to themselves, often demonstrating this through their hostile, insensitive, and self-enhancing behavior. Such leaders often interpret information based on a self-serving bias while at the same time making decisions based on their impact on their reputations.

Narcissism is a unique behavior by virtue of the awkward interpersonal interactions that characterize it. It is strange that a transformational leader who has all along worked hard to inspire and empower followers abruptly exhibits lack of empathy by manipulating conversational patterns in a manner that emphasizes their accomplishments and interests. Once people start exhibiting such behavior, they no longer qualify to be referred to as transformational leaders.

The current body of research on the negative effects of narcissism is limited but it is growing (Judge & Bono, 2000); Ma & Karri, 2005; Agle, 2006). In this research, a number of negative effects of narcissistic behaviors among leaders are identified. According to Blair, Hoffman & Helland (2008), narcissism impacts negatively on interpersonal performance and integrity. Dijk and De Cremer (2006) found out that narcissistic managers tend to be self-serving and that they are more inclined to allocate scarce resources of the organization to themselves. The researchers also found that narcissistic leaders tend to pursue enhanced self-ratings in terms of attractiveness, leadership qualities, and influence. Understandably, such leaders tend to be viewed negatively by their followers (Dijk and De Cremer, 2006). This reveals itself through a reduction in the prevalence of organizational citizenship behavior and lower job performance (Dijk and De Cremer, 2006).

To date, narcissism and leadership literature has tended to answer one overarching question: are leaders allowed to become narcissists? This question is often permutated in such a way that an air of uncertainty is expressed in regards to narcissistic behaviors that are accepted and those that are not (Choi, 2006). At the same time, discussions on this issue tend to create the impression that all leaders who portray narcissistic behavior are doomed to fail (Cohen, 2004). Indeed, it is not surprising that this notion often attracts negative connotations. Nevertheless, one may have to admit that the quest for glory at a personal level can motivate narcissistic leader to seek positive transformation. However, the main problem in the long run is that these leaders leave damaged relationships and systems in their wake.

Whether one views narcissistic leaders through positive or negative lens, one thing that attracts near-unanimous agreement is the view that charisma greatly contributes to the ascendancy and popularity of such leaders (Harvey, 2001). Some researchers even consider charisma as the only major positive character trait of such leaders (Price, 2003; Judge, Piccolo & Kosalka, 2009). Based on this view, it seems that there is an overlap between positive and negative aspects of leadership between charismatic and narcissistic leaders. For instance, just like narcissism, charismatic leadership is also said to have a dark side. Similarly, both charisma and narcissism are predictive of crucial positive aspects of performance among US presidents (Barling, Slater & Kelloway, 2000; Harvey, 2001). However, unlike in the case of narcissism theories, most charismatic leadership theories go beyond the description of trait-outcome linkages among leaders to address a dynamic analysis of how leaders and followers relate to each other (Harvey, 2001).

Charismatic leaders emerge mainly when devoted followers grant authority to an individual that they consider transcendent and exceptional (Hogan & Hogan, 2001). Indeed, charismatic leaders tend to be exceptionally gifted in terms of both intellectual and social skills. Such leaders are most likely to emerge in times of crises because they get opportunities to devise radical solutions, to attract followers, and to promptly validate the beliefs of their followers as far as their abilities are concerned (Hogan, R & Kaiser, 2005). In other words, charismatic leadership emerges as a point of intersection of the situation, the individual leader, and the followers.

In efforts to provide a valid discussion of charisma in relation to narcissism, it is imperative to consider two subtypes of charismatic leadership: socialized and personalized (Smith, 2004). In a socialized relationship, the collective relationships of followers with a specific group are maintained primarily through a broad set of social values. Therefore, the relationships between followers and the leader are mediated by notion that the charismatic leader represents the values and identity of the group. Leaders who belong to this category tend to build trust, demonstrate lack of self-interest, portray sensitivity to the needs of individual followers, and build a strong collective sense of vision and mission. According to Jung & Avolio (2000), productive narcissists are thought to be perfect candidates for the position of socialized charismatic leaders.

Personalized charismatic leadership relates to the negative connotations of narcissistic leadership in a more vivid way. In this case, followers identify with the leader on the basis of his personal attributes as opposed to identifying with the ideas and values that he represents. In such relationships, followers’ sense of self tends to be less integrated. This makes it possible for the leader to manipulate the relationship by projecting his power, idealizing his vision, and influencing them to obey him blindly. Ultimately, the followers become dependent on the personalized charismatic leader (Howell & Shamir, 2005).

From the outset, narcissism looks like one of the personality traits inherent in personalized charismatic leaders. One may also argue that by default, relationships that thrive out of personalized charismatic leadership behavior tend to create an illusion of influence and empowerment for the leader while at the same time bringing about negative consequences for followers. These consequences start to become apparent through an increase in the transformational leader’s delusions of omnipotence and a growing desire for absolute power. Following the onset of quest for absolute power and self-aggrandizement, the leader effectively neglects the transformation agenda.

The sheer ability by individuals to change tact to become personalized charismatic leaders full of narcissism makes transformational leadership look like a very big gamble for any organization (Parry & Proctor-Thomson, 2002). This is simply because it is catastrophic for a leader who has turned things round and has become a crucial pillar of an organization to change the course and pursue absolute power instead of solving emerging problems. Incidentally, the changes that these leaders go through tend to be a mere reaction to the zealous support and idealization reinforced by followers. This danger is further compounded because it is not clear how a transformational leader will respond to praises from followers until such a leader has achieved several feats, thus becoming an integral component of an organization.

Moreover, it is not clear whether leaders are similar in their methods, drives, and outcomes with the only major difference being the existence of in-born egocentric personality traits. Such an argument would satisfactorily explain the existence of narcissistic leaders. In contrast, the notion that some leaders tend to be driven primarily by situational factors to turn into egocentric individuals effectively explains the rationale for the existence of personalized charismatic leaders. Either way, it is dangerous for an organization to be led by a transformational leader who can easily get carried away by the quest for power and the pursuit of image preservation in the process of bringing about change in organizational culture and climate. The fear of such leaders may be enough to discourage directors of companies from hiring managers who claim to possess transformational leadership characteristics.

Toxic leadership

The notion of toxic leadership is intricately intertwined with the concepts of narcissism and charisma Kets de Vries, 2006). Narcissistic and charismatic leaders may become toxic to organizational progress because of their tendency to pursue personal goals at the expense of the common good. However, toxic leadership extends further than this to encompass the participation of susceptible followers, colluders, and conducive environments. Most transformational leaders fall into the trap of toxic leadership simply because the organizational environment is conducive and at the same time followers have heaped more praises on them than they can handle (Offerman, 2004). Even the most focused transformational leader may find it extremely difficult to overcome the lure of this intersection of factors.


Toxic leadership cannot exist without the participation of destructive leaders (Tosi, 2004). A central feature of such leaders is charisma. However, this does not mean that every charismatic leader is destructive. Nevertheless, the reality is that even the most charismatic leaders are known to have made big mistakes. For example, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a mistake that led to the Gallipoli disaster (Padillaa, Hogan & Kaiser, 2007). According to Padillaa, Hogan & Kaiser (2007), destructive leaders tend to be typically charismatic. For a charismatic leader to be constructive, he must come up with a vision that emphasizes benefits to various social institutions. In contrast, destructive charismatic leaders seek to articulate visions that primarily go towards enhancing their personal power.

Recommendations for future change

This paper makes the following recommendations for change:

  1. Organizations should encourage leaders to interlace transformative elements with transactional leadership qualities to avoid the lure of narcissism and toxic leadership.
  2. Researchers should devote more time and efforts towards establishing a causal relationship between transformational leadership and performance.
  3. Researchers and organizational practitioners need to embrace the behavior-oriented approach in their efforts to understand why transformational leaders become narcissistic and toxic, thereby derailing organizational progress.
  4. Organizations need to overhaul the traditional assumptions that have led to the glorification and idolization of transformational leaders.
  5. Organizational practitioners should discount the popular assumption that leaders are moral, ethical, and democratic merely by virtue of possessing transformational qualities.


Transformational leadership has revolutionized the way organizations are led. However, this concept is no longer in vogue like it used to be during its glory days of the early 1980s when it was introduced in organizational behavior literature. This leadership has both its bright and dark sides. It is extremely difficult for an organization to harness the intellectual and social skills of transformational leaders while at the same time avoiding the emergence of the dark side of transformational leadership. A possible solution may be to blend aspects of transformational and transactional leadership. Even in this case, organizations should be ready to experience both positive and negative aspects of leadership.

In every organization where transformational leadership is exercised, three indicators of negativity worth looking at include narcissism, charisma, and toxic leadership. The link between narcissism and charismatic leadership that is described in literature provides insights into the problems that may make transformational leaders ineffective and popular. To avoid being narcissistic, transformational leaders must avoid creating an idol image out of their personalities, intelligence, and leadership abilities. Terms of both intellectual and social skills terms of both intellectual and social skills it is a good thing to influence followers and to lead them towards a common vision of the organization. However, the followers also need space to come up with their own ideas about how to change the organization. Transformational leaders who do not give followers an opportunity to contribute to the vision of the organization are likely to be narcissistic. Finally, followers also contribute to narcissism by transformational leaders by accepting to be intimidated by the charisma of transformational leaders.


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