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The disadvantages of transformational leadership

Updated March 23, 2017

Transformational leaders achieve change by motivating followers to set aside individual or short-term interests to work together toward a group goal. Specifically, transformational leaders use one or a combination of individualised consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealised influence, according to Roger Gill, author of "Theory and Practice of Leadership." Although the style sounds appealing, organisations looking to implement a transformational approach should first weigh its pros and cons.

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Assumes Follower Motivation

Transformational leadership does not incorporate situational dynamics and assumes that followers want to work together toward a larger goal. Transformational approaches are not as effective in situations where followers do not have the skills or experience necessary to complete a task or are not motivated to perform without an immediate and tangible reward.


The results of transformational leadership take time. Transformational leaders must invest time and energy building trust and convincing followers to believe in a shared vision. Organizations hoping to achieve instant results by installing a transformational leader are likely to be frustrated and disappointed.

Depends on the Individual

Much of the power of the transformational style rests with the values and personality of the leader. Other theories, such as contingency or situational, explain that leaders can align their style to the needs of the group to improve effectiveness. Transformational leadership might be out of reach for those who lack inspirational communication skills and charisma even if they possess the skills and experience necessary to be in charge. Similarly, the transformational leadership theory assumes one leader, which ignores the fact that many organisations and campaigns employ a framework of leaders to motivate a group to reach a goal.

Lacks Application Details

Transformational leadership theory explains the "what" but lacks details about the "how." Little information is given about how a leader should articulate and communicate her vision and empower followers. In addition, explanations of strategy and mission are left out of the theory, according to Gill.

Potential for Abuse

Transformational leadership is powerful, but not always used morally. Although examples such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are often associated with the term transformational leadership, not all who inspire or empower fit the definition. Adolph Hitler and Osama Bin Laden are examples of "pseudo-transformational" leaders. True transformational leadership includes ethics, character, values and a commitment to the common good.

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About the Author

Eryn Travis has over 15 years of freelance-writing experience. She has written for "Aviation News Today" and was the managing producer and host for the cable TV news show of the same name. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Maryland and is finishing up a master's degree in communication studies from West Chester University.

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