Transformational leadership has recently gained a lot of popularity and obscured other leadership theories. One of the reasons of popularity of this concept, it complements the characteristics of charismatic and Confucius leadership theories. According to the proponents of transformational leadership, a transformational leader creates a learning environment, promotes a desirable behavior and stimulates followers intellectually. It is argued that transformational leadership carries a new vision and creates a sense of purpose among the followers. They are the source of bringing cognitive and cultural change in an organization by virtue of followers’ blind trust in them, which give them further unfettered power to make the decision. The transformational leaders are seen as the right persons who can put the devotees and disciples on the right path and the organization, as well. Transformational leadership is an ideal, which everyone praises and wishes to act as a transformational leader because it is seen as the highest point of leadership, which, of course, provides full liberty to take any decision in the name of the organization without any accountability. In this article, it will be argued that transformational leadership is a myth and there is no guarantee that an organization flourish and find the right path under the transformational leader.

transformational leadership HitlerWhen we assess the political leadership of state organizations, it does not give a very promising picture of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership, at the political scene, is not a scarce commodity. There are many leaders who can be termed as transformational leaders in each country. Thousands of people follow them and believe in them, but they fail to bring any positive change in building the state. Analyzing transformational leaders from various countries show that the transformational leaders brought more devastating results than positive for the state organization. Aldof Hitler of Germany, Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan, Mujib-ur-Rehman of Bangladesh, Ayat Ullah Kohmini of Iran were among a few in the list of transformational leaders in the world. They all had strong backing from people and their acolytes, indeed, blindly believed in them. All of them introduced certainly new learning, nonetheless, they could not really bring the required cognitive and cultural change. They could not turn their slogans into reality, where common people will be benefitted (Some might claim that Jinnah and Mujib had created new countries on the map, however the argument is not valid because the formation of a new country was not the real goal). Nor could they put the state organizations on the right path. Another drawback of the transformational leaders is, when they go away from the scene, they leave the organization in a bad shape and there is a vacuum of leadership. The reason is that they are never interested in nurturing the leadership where a second layer leadership is ready to forward the agenda. The disciples and the opportunists start to grab the power and wish to act like those transformational leaders.

It is interesting to question, why there is no willingness to implement the agenda and why there is a vacuum of leadership. Because, transformational leaders build their following on slogans. They carry with them promises, but no concrete programs. In order to galvanize, people they create a dream and treat means as an end. Finding talented lieutenants is not a goal of transformational leaders because they are scared to be challenged. Thus, the closed and lieutenants of transformational leaders are submissive and of mediocre intelligence. They reach to the position due to flattery than caliber; they spend time in making happy the leader than planning and designing implementable plans for the organization.

Transformational leadership is not an innate but a learned quality. Imran Khan of Pakistan is one of the examples, who slowly turned himself into a transformational leader. He has put in deliberate efforts to learn the attitude, develop the oratory skills and developed right slogans, which have helped him to increase his popularity among masses and to find the devoted followers. Likewise, a success of transformational leaders very much depends upon the context and timings. There are many religious leaders in the history who can be termed as transformational leaders, but miserably failed when they entered into the arena of politics and vice versa. Similarly, a success of a transformational idea depends upon Zeitgeist (meaning the spirit of the time and general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time). For example, it was a time in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent when division of India was unacceptable to the Muslim leadership on the concept of two-nation theory, which later became premises for the division.

Transformational leader - Abraham LincolnTransformational leadership has become so attractive concept because it provides unfettered power to the leaders. Transformational leadership might be good only for a short period to achieve a short term and a specific goal, but to accomplish the mission the vision in the long run, organizations need transactional leaders who are vested with limited authority by the organization to execute the day to day business following the set rules and regulations. Unlimited transformational leaders can create chaos in organizations than bringing any gain to it. Leaders like Abraham Lincoln were more than transformational leaders who knew what to do to transact the business of the state organization. They developed the system so that there should not be a vacuum of leadership when they passed away.


25 July 2014

Nadeem Yousaf

A case against transformational leadership