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

Vader Effect: Beware of the Dark Side

Written by: on February 10, 2019

Vader Effect_Harvey

Transformational leadership in its definition is “a leadership style that involves generating a vision for the organization and inspiring followers to meet the challenges that it sets. Transformational leadership depends on the leader’s ability to appeal to the higher values and motives of followers and to inspire a feeling of loyalty and trust.”[1]

In John Maxwell’s The 17 Irrefutable Laws of Teamwork, he explains “the single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on transformational leadership. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develop them.”[2]

Often when reflecting on the legacies great transformational leaders names such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and whiting the past ten years Steve Jobs. Their contributions to society and the way we view leadership surpassed the average expectancy of this theory.  Transformational leaders such as leaders mentioned above encompass characteristics including “articulating a vision, setting a positive example, communicating high-performance expectations, showing sensitivity to individual followers’ needs, encouraging a team attitude, and providing intellectual stimulation.”[3]

They with their other to implement change. “Transformational leaders create a vision for their followers and guide the change through inspiration and motivation. They are excellent role models, and their followers emulate many of their actions. They also inspire through activating follower self-efficacy so that followers believe that they can go beyond expectations.”[4]


What happens when transformational leadership goes off course? What happens when the vision becomes misdirected personal pursuit where a loyal team follows the forbidden path to the dark side? The dark side of transformational leadership remnants remains long after the leaders have ceased to exist. Transformational leaders that given their position to the dark side can and have destroyed companies, nations, and even churches.

We have seen transformational leaders like Adolf Hitler almost eliminate a nation of people and without hesitation, others followed his leading. An influential leader yet he possed a hidden agenda which blackened pages of history and the impact of transformational leadership and allowed a deeper insight into the cause of the dark side.

Unfortunately, the dark side of transformational leadership cannot only affect the secular sectors but has entered into the church as well. We can see the effects of the dark side of transformational leadership in ministry through the lens of Jim Jones and the People’s temple where over 800 followers took part in a murder-suicide in 1978.

Good transformational leaders in the church are visionaries which empower their ministry teams to carry out the vision. They create teams of accountability and seek insight from those that walk alongside them. Good transformational leaders seek goals which benefit the ministry as a whole instead of individual endeavors. People want to follow because they know the leader’s heart, intention and feel the leader can be trusted.

The trust established with the leaders may be cognitive based ob the confidence in the leader’s accomplishments, skills, and reliability. Alternatively, the trust established may be affective in nature based on emotional closeness, empathy, and friendship. However, in ministry, trust is often both cognitive and affective. People will put aside their personal ministry to see the fulfillment of the collective body of Christ.

Vader Effect_Harvey


However, the dark side of transformational leadership provides an opportunity for the bait and switch. This is when a leader provides a collective vision yet has a hidden agenda that leads others who are willing to follow a misguided vision. For the sake of this blog, we will coin this the Vader Effect. Yes, it is another movie reference but its potent for this particular theory. Anakin was a strong leader with promise. However, the pending death of his love lead him to make a deal with a very influential leader who coerced him to the dark side. The leader convinced him to believe in a Vader Effect_Harveyvision that was manipulated to look promising, yet it produced an unfortunate end.


In ministry, the Vader Effect has grave consequences that can lead to mistrust of leaders, closure of ministry, and even people returning to a life a sin. The most common means which lead to the dark side of transformational leadership in ministry is insecurity, selfish ambition, the ineffectiveness of communication, lack of attention to detail, inability to adjust to change and inability to accept the effects of a negative response.

How can transformational leaders avoid the dark side?

“One of the most malignant and commonplace symptoms of leadership’s dark side is the way in which dissent from powerful leaders is constrained and often eliminated.”[5]

Do a self-check by looking at the following characteristics of a transformational leader in ministry based on 10 Characteristics of Transformational Leaders[6] article.

  • Internal motivation and self-management
  • Effectively make difficult decisions?
  • Check your ego and self-ambition. Ministry goals first over your personal gain
  • Organizational consciousness? Are you evoking change and decisions to create growth?
  • Listen to and invite new ideas to the table?
  • Adapt effectively to change in ministry directives?
  • Proactive decision maker


[1] The Transformational Leadership Style: An Essential Guide, (accessed February 7, 2019).

[2] Maxwell John, The 17 Irrefutable Laws of Teamwork (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 185.

[3] Penn State, “Famous Transformational Leaders,” Leadership PSYCH 485 Blog, March 17, 2017,

[4] Vera A & F Barth-Farkas, “Power and transformational leadership in public organizations.,” International Journal of Leadership in Public Services (2014):4, 10, 212-32.

[5] Dennis Tourish, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership (New York: Routledge, 2013), 88.

[6] Bill Hogg, “10 Characteristics of Transformational Leaders,” accessed February 7, 2019,

About the Author


Shermika Harvey

2 responses to “Vader Effect: Beware of the Dark Side”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey Shermika. I’m liking the Vader Effect.
    Transformational Leadership is incredibly popular and as you say, dates back some years. I do wonder if the negative aspects have arisen principally because it is so popular. The more people who try the model, the more likely institutions will suffer the consequences of poor motivation and process. In the handbook of Leadership theory we read a few weeks back, the charismatic leader is very much typical of the Transformational model, but the downside of the charismatic leader is their distaste for limiting effects of structure and good process. I do wonder if natural charismatic leaders like the idea of Transformative structure, but often cannot pull it off. Again, the size of an organisation increases the likelihood of abuse. As authority is delegated, the values, ethics and motivations of people are less obvious further along the leadership structure.
    Personally, I have a few issues with it in church life.

  2. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    I appreciate you addressing the ‘Vadar Effect’ with some accountability questions/checks, which would presumably be asked by an accountability partner/group. I do think that is valuable. I suppose the bigger step back I wonder if we need to take is how to re-imagine this role so their is more room for the leader to acknowledge their own ‘dark side’ so they can be cared for and celebrated for their strengths (maybe vision, charisma etc.) without feeling the need to hide their weaknesses. I’m asking the same question as a parent. How do I create safe space for my kids to tell me the truth, even when they know I won’t like that truth. The goal being, we are all better in an honest household. If we do accept transformational leadership as useful in some contexts, what role should transparency take? What should/could/would the public/private divide look like? Should every aspect of a leader’s life be public? Thanks for sharing Shermika!

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