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, 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. 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” A good chunk of the chapter looks at how business schools encourage what he refers to as, “hubris and narcissism”. 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”. 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. 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. 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”. 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.
 Denis Tourish. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective. (New York: 2013), Kindle Edition
 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.
 Tourish, “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective”. 96
 Ibid. 98
 Ibid. 14
 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
 Tourish, “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective”. 136
 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