Criticisms And Arguments Against Transformational Leadership Management Essay

A person can have many distinctive qualities, leadership is among those qualities, not everyone possess such quality, which made this quality special and extraordinary. In the field of business, a decision often comes down to success and failure, leadership is one of the most important quality for a managerial person to have. As Thomas J. Watson, Jr. had put it: “I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be very often traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.”

Leaders that can bring positive or beneficial effect to a group or enterprise are consider as a transformational leader, they are energetic, passionate, not only they focus on the systems and the structure of a business, they also focus on the individual employee to do well and to be successful as well. According to Cox (2001), leadership is divided into two categories: transactional leadership and transformational leadership. The distinction between the two, according to James McGregor Burn’s work on political leader (1978), are those ones who uses the policy of rewards to motive and earn his/her employee’s efficiency and loyalty, is called transactional leader; and those ones who gets involve with his/her employee, also possess determination and committed towards success as well as motivates its employees in exchange for their high performance, also their loyalty. However, in this ever changing world, business leaders needs improve his/her skill and ability in order to coordinate with the change. In this particular essay, the main focus will be on the transformational leadership and some of the arguments and criticisms against it, as well as some counter arguments in favor of the transformational leadership; along with supporting explanations, facts and various examples.

Arguments against Transformational Leadership Theory:

Study results shows that Transformational Leadership have its positive effect on organizations, improve its work productivity, performance and as well as the creativities, according to Bass and Avolio (1994), it can be found in every aspect of an enterprise, because sometimes transformational leaders are the type of leaders needed for an company to survive, according to Burn (1978):” recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower… looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower”. A transformational leader in an organization often break through its frame of organization culture and thrive, which made transformational leadership one of the most renewed and popular leadership theory in modern days, nevertheless, its resplendency is not without oppugns.

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There are many criticisms against the theory of transformational leadership, one of the criticism is transformational theory is very difficult to be trained or taught, because it’s components are too comprehensive; on the other hands, one of the argument against transformational leadership is that supporters might be handled by leaders. Among them all, one of the important key criticisms against transformational theory is accusing it to be only for the selected individuals, which may lead to abusing of power. As Colonel Mark .A Homig (2001) have stated that:” Transformational leadership is a double edged sword”. Which means that, when a transformational leader over done his part in terms of leadership, his/her innate defect in personality or even later life experience can turn him/her into another type transformational leadership, the one on the opposite side-Pseudo transformation leadership. According to Mark. A. Homig: “… has a potential immoral and unethical dimension that could be exploited by an unscrupulous leader inflicted on naive and unsuspecting followers.” For example, Adolf Hitler was elected as the leader of Germany, he came into power during Germany’s economic inflation and depression in 1920s, he did pull Germany out of its economic depression, however, after first couple of years “honeymoon” between him and the country, his follower later become so obsessed with him and followed him blindly into his conquest for his so called “Lebensraum” for Germany, which brought one of the worst disaster to Europe. Other example is Shoko Asahara, founder and leader of Aum Shinrikyo, also known as Aleph, a Japanese cult that is responsible for the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The second key argument against transformational leadership is the un-clarity of its definition and components, since the definitions of the four components (Inspirational, Intellectual, Idealized, and Individualized) associated with transformational leadership are overlapping each other. According to Brayman (1992), the transformational leadership looks more suited to be a set of personality characteristics rather than special requirements.

There are other various arguments against transformational leadership as well, like the ones associated with ethics, according to Avolio and Howell (1992), qualities that makes a great leader can lead to unethical act, as the first key point in this section stated, such leader can make his/her follower to make unethical decisions and even commit crimes as well, according to Yukl.G. (1998). One example for this case is Hitler. Within this essay, the focus will be on the above arguments, in the following section, and in-depth analysis will be done.

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Supports for the Transformational Leadership theory:

Two of the key arguments against transformational leadership theory primarily focus on the un-clarity of its concepts, and accusing it to be misleading. However, if we take a closer look at the details and examine the core components of the transformational leadership theory, one can easily notices the arguments against transformational leadership is losing its roots. Based on Benard. M, Bass (2006)’s book on ‘Transformational leadership’, the qualification of transformational leaders are those who has great personality qualities and the ability to influence others in exchange for their loyalty, it focuses on the processes between the leader and followers. Therefore, those who uses negative examples of transformational leadership such as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini to fault the transformational leadership theory’s core concept is false, because idea or the overall construction of the theory of the transformational leadership is solid, and does not varies when people interpolate it differently.

Arguments such as the requirements for transformational leadership are sets of personality traits, and it cannot be taught or learn, Oscar Arias (cited in blog: leadership, 2010) have stated: “More than knowledge, leaders need character. Values and ethics are vitally important. The basics of leadership can be taught. What is desperately needed is more responsible leadership — a new ethic to confront the challenges of our day.” Based on an interview and commentary essay done by Jonathan P. Doh (, many educators believes that transformational leadership can be taught, in fact all types of leadership can be taught and learned. Here are some of the quoted interviews from that report:

Jay Conger (Professor of Organizational Behavior at the London Business School and Senior Research Scientist, Center for Organizations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles) have :”Yes, most definitely. Here work experiences, bosses, special projects, and role models, education all play a role in leadership development. Using an analogy with sports, not everyone can become an outstanding player despite coaching, yet most will benefit and improve their ‘game’. A few will go on to become stars or outstanding leaders given coaching, extensive experiences, and personal drive.”

Also from Kim S. Cameron (Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management at the University of Michigan Business School.) said that: “Some people have an inclination to learn some competencies faster or better than others, of course, and some people reflect more charismatic or likable characteristics than others. But many great leaders are not those that appear on the covers of Time and Fortune. They have learned to achieve spectacular results in their own circumstances. Think of parents. Can people learn to become better parents, or are we just born either competent or not? Everyone would agree that effective parenting can be learned and improved. So can effective leadership.”

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Leadership can also be taught, according to Jay Conger, Kim Cameron, and Steve Stumpf (cited in Jonathan P. Doh’s interview essay), have all agreed that leadership can be taught, but only to a certain extent. The reason behind this is the three dimensions of leadership: skills, perspectives and dispositions. Just like in school, everything can be taught to students, but there are always some students do better than others, in terms of adapting knowledge, and the ability of applying the knowledge that they have learned. Skills can be taught, and perspectives can be trained, however, dispositions such as ambitions, mental capacity, etc.….is difficult to teach. Bottom line is, leadership can be taught and learned through education and training.

There are a lot of examples of leaders that proved valuable to a company, just to name of few in this essay. Steve Jobs is one of the perfect example, he was fired from apple and later came back, and turned Apple into one of the most profitable technology company in the world. Another example is Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines (merged with United in 2010), and he joined Continental Airlines during its bankruptcy, during that time, company was losing $55 million dollars per month, he, however, not only eliminated the debt they had at that not, but also increased Continental Airline’s stock price from $2 a share to $50 a share.


In conclusion, Transformational leadership theory have proved its value throughout the modern days, even if there are some criticisms, it still not enough to effect the core concept of transformational leadership theory. Counter arguments in support for the transformational leadership theory, have proved its aptitude in work performance, quality and earn their loyalty. Key arguments have been vindicated in this essay, even though, motive of a leader sometimes is questionable, but this does not change the core construction of the theory; transformational leadership theory or any leadership theory can be learned or taught, only difference is how well one can adapt and apply the knowledge of leadership. Transformational leadership is surely one of the most popular theory, and most likely will become the resolution for today’s organization, as today’s enterprises facing many tough challenges such as creativity, sustainability, and uniqueness.

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