Are Pseudo-Transformational Leaders Making an Unwanted Comeback? A Look into the Potential Dangers

We have seen the likes of them. The charismatic, incredibly self-centered, narcissistic leader that promises you the moon, the stars and all the space in between. They are able to transform large crowds but in the most negative of ways. They are self-absorbed, exploitive and power-hungry, warped with fales moral values. Any names coming to mind yet? Well, we might have thought that the most recent demagogue was the likes of Saddam Hussein, a prolific, autocratic ruler entrenched in darkness. Some may say he was the victim of circumstance, which very well have been true given the complicated history of involvement and handling of other countries and his own upbringing. But nonetheless he still intentionally and avoidably murdered many thousands, led vicious attacks, oppressed and suppressed his own people, and employed some seriously questionable leadership methods- not exactly what we as humans want in our leaders. Psychologist Bernard Bass originally coined the term, pseudo-transformational leaders, in 1998 to deal with the negative side of leaders who were transformational.

You could go a bit further back and note the complete and utter psychosis of Adolf Hitler in his plight to takeover the world through the annihilation of those with Jewish decent and any others that did not fit the bill of his so-called “aryan race“. A sick and twisted leader that amassed support through charisma and manipulation, a.o.; his actions were far more than irrational, yet he was able to amply carry on for almost a decade.

Unfortunately, these types of leaders, those neurotically and demonically obsessed with their own personal interest above all or anyone, seem to indeed be making a comeback – or as one Hip Hop artist lyricised – “don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years”. The one time I wish this sentiment were not true. They art of getting followers to transcend their own self-interest for the sake of the leader, the country, the organization is being used against the collective good and not for positive intent.

Those in powerful pseudo-transformational leadership positions seek only to control and wreak havoc on progression, unity and the will and right to peace. They do well more than “go against the grain” – they destroy the it. Their seduction of the dark side has taken the charisma component to a new level by negatively influencing followers and brainwashing them into submission.

The buck did not stop at Hussein. As much as we may have wanted it to, there has been a re-emergence of cynicism and fake news dominating a variety of nations around the world, caused in part by the next generation of pseudo-transformational, narcissistic leaders. This is particularly worrying when these leaders start to fake, intellectual commentary or utilize fear-mongering tactics to convince their groupies to continue to idolize them and follow their every move, word and action. Pseudo-transformational leaders rely on the ignorance of the simple-minded follower, whose lack of education and openness make the perfect combination to influence as the leader pleases, for their own personalized interests, most times unbeknowst to the follower. These kind of leaders unfortunately threaten the welfare of followers because they conveniently ignore the common and greater good for all.

And it won’t get much easier considering the pluralistic, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous pressures of the world we currently live in. Many find it difficult to be their true selves and so try to accommodate. Followers look to leaders more and more for direction, helping them find meaning in their own lives. But what most haste to realize is that these pseudo-transformational leaders are simply taking advantage of them in this confused state, as master manipulators of trust and loyalty which can have dire consequences. Deception is their actual, skilled main play. Unrecognized to most of their followers. Take a further look at Wall Street and the global banking crisis of 2008, with corruption so deep that it led to a worldwide recession. Or the devastating effects on the lives of those who live in a dictatorial, authoritative, anti-meritocratic regime. Common sense is seemingly and quite purposefully thrown out of the window in exchange for carefully scripted prose drafted to rein in as many followers as possible, like zombies in the cliched and all too familiar apocalypse.

To paraphrase former First Lady, Mrs. Obama in a recent interview she gave on a podcast – childish, cyncial leadership begets cynicism. As leaders with a platform there is an obligation to model because it resonates with those listening. Resonating reason, empathy, and compassion should lead the way as personal feelings should not be something you expect others to take care of. We need to use communication and stories to connect us, not divide us. But, some leaders prey on fear to get more power and make everyone afraid of each other.

We have psychologists, scientists, and sociologists to get deep into and analyze the understandings of why and how some people turn out the way they do and can have the ability to commit the atrocities they do. But we all inherently know the difference between right and wrong. Prety much very single being on this planet knows exactly when they are doing something good and when they are not.

It is crucial that we recognize these pseudo-transformational leaders and see them for exactly who they are. Pursuing their self-interests in disguise of motivating others by manipulating the emotions of their base, having ultimately lost their moral compass in exchange for control and power. More and more of these kinds of leaders are among us now and we must make an intentional, active choice to standup for humanity and unite our race of human beings instead of manipulating and destroying them. Nothing good can come from those who seek to fool and use us. This is a case where resisitance is not futile, but rather catastrophically urgent for all of us. Let us be smarter than them and outwit their incredulity. Let us be critical and pragmatic of these leaders from a place of persistent and radical concern.






5. Wick, G. (2021). The Dark Triade (2nd Edition). Novel Experientia Ltd.




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