DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

President Snow, Supreme Leader Snoke, Voldemort, or Theresa May? I wonder?

Written by: on February 7, 2019

By my calculation this is Denis Tourish’ eighth book on leadership, which is a spectacular accomplishment. Eight books on one subject is almost overdoing it, I think. And I have to say, the rather dramatic title, The dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective,[1] lends evidence to my belief that Tourish might have been straining a gnat in the publication of this book. In the abstract Tourish sets the scene by making a remarkable statement.

Most research into leadership presents leaders as heroic, charismatic and transformational ‘visionaries’. The leader, whether in business, politics or any other field is the most important factor in determining whether an organization succeeds or fails. Despite the fundamental mistakes which have directly led to global economic recession, it is often still taken for granted that transformational leadership is a good thing, and that leaders should have much more power than followers in deciding what needs to be done.

He then suggests that this view is the orthodox perspective in business leadership and his book is written to confront it. However, I have never read that this is indeed the pervasive paradigm. It certainly may be the view of certain famous individuals or schools, but I would need greater evidence that such a view is primary in any global sense.

Transformational leadership is one among many models of leadership that organisational leaders have been bombarded with over decades. The Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice that our cohort waded through at the end of 2018 was a good overview of leadership models and the economic socio-psychology behind them.[2] What intrigues me with Tourish, is his apparent distaste for leadership education to the extent he devotes the entirety of chapter 6 to it, “The folly and the dangers of leadership education in business schools”[3] A good chunk of the chapter looks at how business schools encourage what he refers to as, “hubris and narcissism”.[4] However the examples are more often the competing advertising of business schools to attract individuals in a competitive world. I see no instruments used to accurately measure the outcomes for students who go on to become CEO’s or corporate leaders by comparison to medical doctors, lawyers, politicians,  who are also taught that they are the cream of society. Likewise, there doesn’t appear to be any evaluation of the actual syllabi used in these schools.

History is a stark reminder that every age has been plagued by powerful leadership in the public, commercial, and spiritual spheres of life. Some of it has been negative some of it positive. The likes of Stalin, Churchill, Rosevelt, Ghandi, Mao and Pol Pot have all been studied and all led aggressively at different times and for different reasons with different ideologies. Yet Tourish seems to dislike ideology as if it is some sort impediment to good leadership in trying times. Yet according to Tourish that is precisely the context he is writing about. In the opening  pages he writes, “The world is on fire and it will take more than a spirit of sorrowful torpor (not sure what that is) to extinguish the flames”.[5] But judging from the four oddly chosen case studies he uses in Part II to illustrate the dark side of transformational leadership, I question if he any idea as to the size of the fire, its origins, or what to do about it. This is especially true when you consider the leaders above, and the current state of world affairs.

In chapter four he indicates that leaders use ideology to enhance their own power, but I’m not so sure. Certainly, if hubris and narcissism are the core a person’s reason for being, then it is a concern, but if ideology is an intellectualised set of beliefs about the world and its betterment, then it ought to be the driving force of all good leadership. A perfect example of that leadership struggle is unfolding in the UK with Great Britain’s attempted exit from the European Union. However, for some reason, Tourish picks on spirituality in the workplace as some sort of invasive control. I found this rather baffling, and perhaps that is because of my context. In New Zealand, spirituality would hardly be used as a leverage for leadership control in a business context. More often it is a used for public relations rather than leadership coercion. In a church context, the point is moot, because churches are by nature, spiritual.

In part two of the book Tourish picks on catastrophes, limited to the United States, to make his point. Enron confused me. It’s failure at the hands of leaders on the darks side was clear, but as we read in Polanyi’s book, economic morality is at the root of these failures, thus leadership was just the mechanism used.[6] Again, Tourish’ example of the far‐left Trotskyite movement in the 1980s and early 1990s made no reference to the equally dark leadership tactics by the Tory government of the time.[7] As for Jonestown, why? America, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe, China and Russia, all have tiny boutique movements led by narcissistic sociopaths, but they are all statistically irrelevant. More interesting would have been the role of those nations’ political leaders sending millions to their graves for the sake of self‐serving imperialism and the demands of multinational corporations, banking cartels, and the military/industrial complex.

Leadership is complex. I get that transformational Leadership has it’s dark side, but that dark side has little to do with mechanics and everything to do with the morality of one’s personal compass and the ideology subscribed to. In the wrap up Tourish agrees with the idea that power is ultimately a struggle over meaning”.[8] However, in our time sensitive culture where immediacy is important, power is more likely to be the capacity to control the means to certain ends. Meaning-making is a long term and difficult proposition, as both Stalin, Mao and Ghandi found.

All leadership has it’s dark side, I’m just not convinced Transformational leadership is any worse than others. This felt like an academic book for the books sake.



[1] Denis Tourish. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. (New York: 2013), Kindle Edition

[2] Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, (Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2010). There is a section covering Transformational leadership from page 68ff.

[3] Tourish, “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective”. 96

[4] Ibid. 98

[5] Ibid. 14

[6] Karl Polanyi. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001), Kindle Edition “But power and economic value are a paradigm of social reality. They do not spring from human volition; noncooperation is impossible in regard to them. The function of power is to ensure that measure of conformity which is needed for the survival of the group…” 266

[7] Tourish, “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective”. 136

[8] Ibid. 211



Nitin Nohria, and Rakesh Khurana, eds. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2010.

Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001. Kindle Edition

Tourish, Denis. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. New York: 2013. Kindle Edition

About the Author

Digby Wilkinson

I am currently the Vicar of the Tawa Anglican Church in Wellington, New Zealand. I have only been in this role since February 2018. Prior to this appointment, I was the Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, which made me the senior priest of the diocese working alongside the Bishop. I guess from an American perspective this makes me look decidedly Episcopalian, however my ministry background and training was among the Baptists. Consequently, I have been serving as pastor/priest for nearly thirty years. My wife Jane also trained for ministry, and has spent the last decade spiritually directing and supervising church leaders from different denominations. We have three grown children.

13 responses to “President Snow, Supreme Leader Snoke, Voldemort, or Theresa May? I wonder?”

  1. So, you didn’t like the book. 🙂

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Well, I read it. I was just constantly struck by things that annoyed me a bit; mostly the illustrative material. I understood what he was trying to do, but Polanyi’s book had more nuance and spent more time on the meaning behind behaviour rather than blaming mechanics of a particular leadership style. I think Tourish places the blame on a leadership model when it’s a great deal more complex psychologically and contextually. Behind the scenes illegality tends to breed fear, which breeds paranoia, which in turn breeds self preservation – and that’s a leadership model that is reactive rather than driven by ideology; not to mention destructive.

      • I understand and appreciate the critique. I thought he had the tendency to swing on either extremes to the point that I felt like there was no model to follow. He even attacks the servant leadership theory, which I think is strong, but does it without enough rationale.

        However, I do appreciate him pointing out the dangers of each model — which essentially all lead to an unintentional narcissist, dictatorial-type model. His solution is modest and that is persuasive, processual communication top to bottom and vice versa.

        What are your thoughts on that?

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      I literally laughed out loud at this comment, Harry!

  2. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Great post, Digby! I did appreciate many of the warnings given by Tourish, but I was frustrated by his generalizations at times. His cautions could be applied to any number of leadership models. Shouldn’t all leadership models be aware of the temptation to manipulate and wrongfully coerce followers?

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Digby, Once again your process for building your argument is impressive. Your scholarship and research skills come through in shining fashion. While not nearly as compelling as you, I think Tourish has something else driving him to attack leadership and leadership models with a vengeance. His pretext is weak and his proofs are self-serving. I actually liked his book for exhibiting how an academic can start off and simply get further off as one looks for proofs to substantiate one’s claim. Thanks again for your humor and your scholarship.

  4. mm Mary Mims says:

    Digby, you had me at President Snow! However, I can see some of the problems with the Transformational Leadership movement as we constantly study this at my government job. I do see too much focus on group think and management makes change for change sake without any explanation of why we are changing things. It is maddening; and if we question what’s going on, we are told we are not team players. If someone interviews for a position, they will get the job not based on experience, but “leadership qualities” such as “able to lead change”. I guess from my perspective, I think Tourish has a point.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      Hi Mary. I think the problem with Transformational Leadership as a model tends to be the organisations’ lack of clear process. The danger is always that people are shut out if they are seen to disagree, or they are stunted in their promotional paths. There are some assumptions that need to be addressed when critiquing this kind of model. Assumption one is that everyone needs to agree with the basic mission of an organisation. In business, that would be crucial. However, that doesn’t apply too well in church life. The nature of being a disciple is complex. Thus in business, people do need to be on the same page and if the four principles of Transformational Leadership are followed, then people do get their say because they are basically wanting the same outcomes. The second assumption is that everyone sees themselves as part of a team, rather than an individual hanging on to a job. This model assumes the former, not the latter. If those assumptions are not true, then mayhem will breakout in Transformational Leadership as a model. That’s why I think different settings or different times in an organisations lifecycle require different leadership models.

  5. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I always appreciate your thoughts Digby. I’m curious about how spirituality, in a broad sense, plays out in your context. I chewed on that chapter significantly. On the one hand, as a pastor I want to encourage people to not compartmentalise their faith and work at how their faith informs and shapes their whole life, including work. I am concerned when work places (who do not specialise in faith formation) work to shape their workers holistically and blur boundaries. While as a pastor I haven’t experienced this context, I do watch how various practices that have ‘spiritual’ roots (outside Christianity) are being implemented in my children’s school. For example yoga, meditation, indigenous traditional practices. I am in favour of learning about these things so they can treat them with respect, but at times I feel the conflict with our Christian faith. How concerned should we be if spirituality at work is truly becoming common? As pastors are we now at odds with bosses? On the one hand I wonder how prevalent SAW really is, on the other hand I’m watching it become commonplace in our public schools. And it does lead to a greater influence of the leader over the student who does not have the power to speak ‘up the chain of command’.

    • Digby Wilkinson says:

      I think you can only be at odds when you choose to stand in opposition to. Here in Godzone, Christianity is rather small now. There are history and memory and the remnant of Judeo-Christian values, but it’s a shadow of what once was. That being the case I am thrust into the world of inter-faith dialogue. It’s not a debate so much as a way of seeing the world as a follower of Jesus. SAW is a bit odd in NZ. There is a desire to be religiously inclusive but only towards global historic faith traditions and not the flimsy whims of individuals (that’s a Canadian thing). odd in NZ, Christian prayers are banned, but Maori Karakia (prayers) are all the rage. I’ll take that; a wee semantic shift and Jesus is back. There’s that old quote, “Thinking biblically, speaking secularly”. Worked well for the Apostle Paul.

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