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Many Leaders Dubbed As Charismatic Are Not Really Transformational, Here's Why

Transformational leaders are often charismatic individuals, “but are not as narcissistic as pure Charismatic Leaders, who succeed through a belief in themselves rather than a belief in others,” according to It is taken for granted that charismatic leaders are transformational, but nothing can be further from the truth. Although all transformational leaders have some form of charisma, not all these leaders use their gifts for noble intentions.

Traditionally, a transformational leader has been synonymous with a charismatic leader, according to the Bailey Group. After all, it’s that charisma that served as the see/touch/feel of an outstanding leader. The kind of man or woman who excited his or her followers with passion, ambition, and exuberance. That ability to work a crowd into a froth by articulating such an exciting vision of the future that there is no question as to whether it made sense or was strategically sound. The truth is, many leaders dubbed as charismatic are not really transformational at all.

According to Gibson et al., charismatic leadership is described as the ability to influence others based on a supernatural gift and attractive powers. They have a charismatic effect on their followers to an unusually high degree, and these followers perceive the leader’s beliefs as correct and accept him or her without questions.

Transformational leaders, on the other hand, is a style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group. Transformational leaders balance charisma with collaboration, confidence with virtue, and influence with transparency. With this approach, the leader identifies a collective vision that a group can recognize with and get excited about. Ideas take precedence, rather than the leader themselves. According to Air Force Colonel Mark Homrig, transformational leadership can be a sharp double-edged sword. Pseudo-transformational leadership “has a potential immoral and unethical dimension that could be exploited by an unscrupulous leader inflicted on naive and unsuspecting followers.”

According to Homrig, Hitler appealed to the values of the German people, was charismatic, offered a transcendent vision, and frequently encouraged his followers. However, his goal led to ruin rather than the betterment of his followers. Another example of negative transformational leadership was Jim Jones of the People’s Temple. He was charismatic and expressed a lofty vision that eventually led to the murder-suicide of over 800 followers in 1978, according to the PBS documentary, “Jonestown -- The Life and Death of People’s Temple.”

Their original charisma and go-to attitude elicit adoration among followers, who feel the leader was a superior role model. Like various scenarios, people are drawn to such individuals because they offer new and exciting ideas in which everyone wants to be involved. Interestingly enough, most of these leaders start with a bang but ultimately fall apart after people become wise to the outrageousness of their behavior and actions. It is hard to imagine how one person can convince so many individuals to be so hateful, but such is the pull of a transformational leader with the wrong intention.

Transformational leaders inspire people to believe that the impossible is possible, create change in individuals and social systems through a collective vision and work more for the betterment of the organization and their people. Their intention is always to improve. Transformational leadership like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, etc. all have those characteristics.

Transformational leaders can capture people’s attention effortlessly and influence the lives of many people. It is an effective way to elicit change and get things accomplished by enlisting the help of your people, but the intentions of the leaders are the problem, and that results in the negative side of transformational leadership.

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