“In the struggle to contain the dark side, to reclaim power and to gain wisdom, the first step is awareness.” 
In his book The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership, Dennis Tourish explores the negative side of a leadership model that he believes has become the primary model in most organizations. Written after “The Great Recession,” he is highly critical of powerful, charismatic leaders, arguing that, “power, it seems, breeds a sense of entitlement and an inclination to hold others to standards of behavior that we cannot live up to ourselves.”
He describes transformational leaders as having a tendency toward hubris and narcissism and the transformational model as one “which can too easily see a kindly uncle morph into an angry god.” Even though his work is ominous, Tourish’s warning to leaders is a valid one especially in light of the many public leadership failings he references. This book should be received as a word of caution, though not a refutation of transformational leadership.
In Chapter 2, Tourish is especially harsh on the transformational model, claiming the charismatic visionary leader is “inclined to perceive reality through the distorting prism of his or her vision.” He goes on to discuss the cultish environment created by these leaders that refuse to accept corrective feedback. He accuses the leader of exaggerated ideas of self-importance and the belief that he or she is absolutely essential to the success of the organization. Tourish seems to be convinced that transformational leaders are wholly selfish and doomed to immoral behavior.
I wonder what Tourish would say in response to Edwin Friedman in Failure of Nerve when he discusses the concept of the leadership self:
“Well-defined self in a leader – what I call self-differentiation – is not only critical to effective leadership, it is precisely the leadership characteristic that is most likely to promote the kind of community that preserves the self of its members.”
Friedman argues that the expression of self in a leader is actually what moves the community forward. Though Friedman’s is a different approach than Tourish’s, perhaps they find agreement in the concept that the leader is capable of both positive and negative organizational impact. For instance, if the lack of self-regulation by the leader causes destruction, it is the self-regulation of the leader that brings health and growth to the organization.
The title of this book, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership, indicates there must also be a bright side. I am not ready to throw out the transformational model altogether. Tourish offers helpful words of caution to all who lead. Temptation will come. However, I cannot accept that all visionary leaders are doomed to fail. Perhaps Tourish will produce another volume of work that includes solutions and hope for the transformational leader. Until then, I join with the Psalmist and pray, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:10).
 Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, 9.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 23
 Ibid., 25
 Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 163.