Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How the T-Grinch Stole Leadership

Written by: on February 7, 2019

Dennis Tourish’s The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership is an audacious assault on what he calls the dysfunctional aspects of contemporary forms of leadership in the West attributed to the economic fall of 2008.[1] When I saw the egotistic price for his book on Amazon I promptly abandoned Kindle and went for a realistic E-book version through the GFU Library, free! Tourish has nothing good to say about most styles of leadership and bashes leaders, and even most of their followers, in a nonstop rant against transformational leadership (TL) for its predominantly authoritarian basis. I found one seemingly positive donation to leadership within his “sense-making” dialogue where both rank and file members may work together to co-create solutions.[2] This sounds a lot like a TL process or a pastoral counseling goal rather than a new leadership principle. Otherwise, I do not find a lot to like in this book. Nevertheless, in the spirit of Elder’s critical thinking tools and with her goal to improve leadership I will persevere to read-around Toursih and see if I can find anything useful for my spiritual warfare research.[3]

Speaking of evil schemers, I sense that Tourish has a strong dark side that seems to draw its strength from voices and forces that the Apostle Paul warns Christians to stand firm against.[4]  Reading around the book found plenty of peer-reviewed articles and book reviews that weighed in on this work. For example, Jaros’ says this book is like a “societal alarm-bell” that associates TL principles with everything bad, including cult practices.[5] Furthermore, he says Tourish associates Christian servant leadership with “leader omniscience” because he says the guiding spiritual values are discerned by the ministry leaders without “input from the followers.”[6] After reading the author’s “Neroish” position on Christian leaders and their spirituality in the workplace I wonder how my LGP8 pastor friends will react to Tourish’s leadership conclusions in this book?

What does leadership really mean? According to Tourish leadership is “a communicatively organized, fluid process of co-orientation and co-construction between myriad organizational actors, whose ‘essence’ varies of necessity between each occasion of its occurrence.”[7] I’m sorry, this guy is off his meds! Jaros calls this leadership description “unintelligible.”[8]

Gabriel records that Tourish rejects authentic and servant style leadership models as “wish-fulfilling illusions that seek to preserve the superior agency of leaders under different guises.”[9] He says Tourish calls authentic and servant leadership a “decaffeinated” form of TL that leaves a “bitter after taste.”[10]  Gabriel’s review of the final chapter of Tourish basically says that power is the basis of leadership in social systems. [11] Not surprising, after all, that an author of eight books on leadership is reduced to the power model, which holds essentially that he or she who holds the power rules. Brumback says about Tourish, “Eight books…How long, for goodness sakes, does it take an intellectual to understand leadership?”[12] “I wonder if he’s got a clue,” says Brumback when referring to Tourish’s “world is on fire” viewpoint about reckless leaders.[13]

During my perseverance into this work I looked deep into his chapter on Spirituality and leadership for anything positive and redeeming but was very disappointed to see Tourish go after a key value of marketplace ministry; spirituality in the workplace. His relentless attacks against leaders and or their followers for expressing their spiritualism at work is par for the Tourish evil TL putt-putt course found in this book. He calls spiritualism at work oppressive, invasive and unwelcome.[14] He uses a lot of big fancy words to make his claims, but it sounds and looks like plain old persecution. He reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ grouchy and eccentric Grinch because of his all-out assault on anyone and everyone from Who-leads-or-follows-ville. Like Dr. Seuss says, “It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.”[15]

This book is fascinating to me on several levels. First, I think Tourish is one of the people Taylor-Smith were talking about in their “immanent frame” doctrines where Tourish sees himself in an exclusive form of humanism where he can disregard the “God question” and construct his own version of social leadership that surpasses scrutiny and focuses on the “natural order.”[16] Second, I found it disappointing, but not unexpected, to see that none of the other leadership giants are calling him out for his literary assaults and adverse commentaries on their leadership works.  I doubt Elder would approve of Tourish’s critical analysis because he does not offer any viable solutions and does not try to improve leadership, but instead tries to burn it down.

I did find one neutral to positive review from De Villiers who gives Tourish a thumbs-up and calls the book “engaging and useful” for leaders who want to “circumvent the harmful effects” of their leader practices. [17] The review is soft on his cultish, omniscient, dictator, and authoritarian style remarks against TL and other forms of leadership.

In conclusion, I did find something useful about this book regarding spiritual warfare. It reminded me to put on the whole armor of God and to stand firm in His truth. I will follow His leadership model, which is life-on-life discipleship that multiplies and reaches around the entire world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Dennis Tourish. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. (London: Routledge, 2013) 5.
[2] Ibid., 11.
[3] Linda Elder and Richard Paul. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Kindle ed. (Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009) Kindle Location 29.
[4] Eph. 6:12.
[5] Stephen Jaros. “Book Review: The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective.” Management Learning 44, no. 5 (2013): 561.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Tourish, Dark Side, 212.
[8] Jaros, Book Review Dark Side, 563.
[9] Yiannis Gabriel. “Book Review: The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective.” Organization Studies 34, no. 9 (2013): 1409.
[10] Tourish, Dark Side, 203.
[11] Gabriel, Book Review Dark Side, 1409.
[12] Gary B. Brumback. “Dennis Tourish. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective.” Personnel Psychology 68, no. 1 (2015): 224.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Tourish, Dark Side, 66.
[15] Seuss. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Random House Children’s Books, New York, 1957) 7.
[16] James K.A. Smith. How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) 74.
[17] Rouxelle De Villiers. “Book Essay on “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective”.” Journal of Business Research 67, no. 12 (2014): 2513.


About the Author


10 responses to “How the T-Grinch Stole Leadership”

  1. Mike,

    I wish I had had your perceptive approach and used the (free) GFU library!! I ended up purchasing the book on kindle. Kudos to you!

    I mention in my post that he tends to use the most extreme examples (eg. cults) to support his argument. However, if you consider this to be an overreach, I did find some redeeming aspects.

    In my view it seems he does have merit in recognizing that the TL model may have a dark side, especially evidenced in his extreme examples. But I can find less obvious examples in my world where focusing all the strength into one prime leader can introduce weakness into organizations. Do you believe that allowing “followers” a voice may be healthy?

    • M Webb says:

      Yes, I’m glad I used the GFU Ebook version. It was easy to use and just had to be hooked up online to have full access.

      Of course followers should have input as conditions and situations allow. It is of course a balancing act with tension on both sides and the leader in the middle weighing the needs of the mission with the needs of the people in view of the cross.

      Stand firm,

      M. Webb

  2. I, too, checked the e-book out of the library, but after reading it thought that perhaps I would buy it one day. I’m very intrigued by your response, which borders on a rant in and of itself.

    Given that Tourish is writing from a secular world-view, I did not expect him to be a fan of spiritual concepts or even have a right understanding of how spirituality in the workplace works. Of course he would be resistant to it! Tourish is bearing witness to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

    II Cor 2:15-16 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

    In short, Christians smell bad to non-Christians. Our presence brings Light and Truth into the workplace, and for those living in darkness, this is offensive. Beyond that, none of us can stand in the presence of Light and Truth without the covering of the Grace of Jesus Christ.

    And yet, even as a seculatist, I thought Tourish pointed to some key Biblical principals, like the importance of being mutually accountable and mutually submissive. The need to learn to receive criticism as a gift (Proverbs 15:31 Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.)

    While his examples came from extreme cases, it was not hard for me to relate to his criticisms. And I feel like his definition of leadership resembles what Paul talks about when he writes about the Body of Christ and each one using their gifts. The only difference being Christ is our head, and rather than orienting around a common goal, we orient around Christ. But as the needs and work of the Body changes, each one serves accordingly, mutually submitting to one another and the Spirit.

  3. M Webb says:

    Excellent points and thanks for pulling Paul into your comments. When I read Tourish’s position, remarks, and feelings on the Spirituality and leadership section I saw the evil one using him as a tool to tear down, divide, and destroy what good leadership remains. So I do not have much respect for his position or conclusions.

    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  4. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    Oooh, you are willing to mix it up a little bit with Tourish. Good for you! I hope you get some good discussion going…

    My problem with Tourish is that I had a hard time connecting his business world ideas with the local church. From what I read, he only references the church in “drinking the kool-aid of Jim Jones” examples. His extremeness didn’t help resonate with my church experiences.

    Talk to you Monday, and don’t hold back during the Zoom (grin).

  5. Dan Kreiss says:


    Yes – the library version was my reading location of choice too. Glad it was available to us.

    Wow – yours is a completely different perspective which I did not anticipate. I have read almost all of the other blogs in our cohort this week and while not all liked Tourish most made an attempt to consider what effect the push toward transformational leadership might be having on Christian leadership principles. I don’t think many of us are able to so clearly see through some of these texts to flag the gaps in theology the way that you consistently do.

    While viewing things through the lens of spiritual warfare do you think it possible that Tourish was also warning against a type of spiritual battle as well? The egocentrism that is the god of our age seems to me to be at the heart of a great deal of leadership and leadership training. This perspective is the antithesis of the humility demonstrated by Jesus. Do you think Tourish may have tapped into something connected to the spiritual battle without realizing it?

  6. Jean Ollis says:

    Mike, I had an idea of what to expect from your blog just from reading some of your other responses :). Clearly you are not a fan! Thank you for always speaking your truth and connecting your truth to the work of the evil one. However, you have extensive experience in the secular world. Can you connect any of the leadership narrative in this book to your secular world experiences?

  7. Shawn Hart says:

    Mike, I thought I was supposed to be the negative one. LOL. I can sense in you a disturbance in the dark side. I cannot help but notice your frustration from this reading, and honestly, I can understand why. The position of Tourish comes across highly opinionated and egotistical throughout the entire reading; furthermore, it is difficult to even find a desire to try to agree with him because of his personality. However, just for the thought of posing another perspective, I’d like to suggest why I wrote the post I wrote…

    In my 25 years of experience in the ministry, I have come across way too many egotistical elders, deacons, and yes…ministers. I have had professors with God complexes and church members that seemed to believe that God only listened to them. I had one preacher lie over and over about me because he did not like the fact that I was allowed to preach once a month, and resented the fact that they elders kept hiring other ministers. The reality is that even though I did not care for this week’s reading, I do believe that there is a drastic need for finding away to establish better guidelines for equipping leaders…especially in the church. Tourish just seems to demonstrate that though he has identified part of the problem, rather than fix it, he has added to it.

  8. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Mic, thanks for your brutal honesty. I really appreciated reading the raw truth of your view on Tourish. I didn’t read it myself and if you read my blog you’d notice I am a big fan of transformational leadership. When Jesus said, “Unless you take up your cross…” and “Anyone who puts a hand to the plough and looks back…” are fine examples of leadership. “I see this. We’re going this way. Follow me.” No lack of clarity there in terms of who is leading and who is following.

  9. Trisha Welstad says:

    Your post is really strongly worded against Tourish’s work and him personally. I too did not love the text and wondered if Tourish had an ax to grind. It seems his research is down on everyone with no attempt at solutions. I do wonder if there is some underlying frustration or brokenness that propels his work. What do you think? Also, do you think there are ways to honor a person while critiquing their work, even when their eighth book on the same subject?

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