Transformational leadership is one of the most common and most preferred leadership styles. It is seen as a style that inspires and motivates each member of the team to work in unison toward a common goal. Often seen as the exact opposite of transactional leadership, the least preferred leadership style, transformational leaders change the status quo with a new, better vision. They have characteristics that are perfect to lead a team – considerate, confident, positive, and productive. But is transformational leadership really all it is praised to be?
Disadvantages of transformational leadership
We have all heard countless speakers giving motivational talks on leadership. Most of them often seem to stress that transformational leadership is good, while transactional leadership is bad. But is it really just black and white? Critics recently point out that there is definitely a gray area in leadership styles.
So, as flawless as it may seem, transformational leadership is not free of criticism. In fact, it is widely agreed that transformational leadership can be harmful if it goes too far, proving that too much of anything is never good. It is safe to say that leadership is a spectrum, rather than its different styles merely being “good” and “bad”.
Here are some of the most common disadvantages of transformational leadership that are easy to miss amidst all the praise this method garners
1. Possibility of abuse of power
Transformational leadership has a lot of advantages that make it not only attractive but also feasible to adopt. Although it has proven to be successful and has catapulted many companies to great heights, this is only possible if the leader works for the common good. If he/she is self-serving and only uses others to achieve their personal goal in the name of transformation, then they are clearly abusing their power.
This is a common criticism. A transformational leader is admired by their followers. They look up to them as some sort of a role model. If the leader makes immoral or unethical judgments and decisions, those under them will suffer a collective blow.
2. Freedom given to employees may backfire
A transformational leader is open to independent thinking and encourages their employees to be creative and think out of the box. They often go so far as to conduct workshops where they motivate their co workers and those under them to generate ideas for the improvement of the company.
There is a lot of freedom given to the employees in terms of work culture, thinking, structure, guidelines, and deadlines. Although this may work well in most cases, it can backfire if it is taken for granted. Employees may be increasingly laid back and productivity will suffer greatly.
3. Transformational leaders may miss out on details
Planning long term is a key feature of transformational leadership. The leader has a long-term vision that they share with their employees and the entire team works together to achieve this goal.
But critics point out that these type of leaders have a tendency to leave out important details out of the picture. These challenges to detail can lead to their downfall if there is no one to assist or help the leader in tackling all aspects of their long term plans. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that a transformational leader has someone with a transactional focus in order to balance out the working of the team.
4. Transformational leadership often lacks a structure
One of the most prominent criticisms of transactional leadership is its rigid and stringent structure. But in the case of transformational leadership, it is the lack of a clear structure that is seen as its weakness.
There needs to be the perfect blend of firmness and flexibility when it comes to structure. In most cases of transformational leadership, the lack of any sort of structure at all can be a serious issue. The employees and even the leader himself/herself can take advantage of the lack of structure, compromising on the unity and efficiency of the entire team.
5. Goals of transformational leaders may be far-fetched
Transformational leaders are people who rely on enthusiasm, passion, and determination to achieve anything. They believe that they can achieve whatever they want if they have these qualities, and they make sure to pass these on to their followers as well.
But, sometimes, this very positivity can be a reason for them to turn a blind eye to real problems they could face or are facing. They may not be willing to acknowledge the reality they are facing, especially if it is a 'not so desirable' one. This reliance on emotions instead of logic and reasoning could be extremely harmful to the entire team.
6. Only organization itself benefits
In transformational leadership, heavy importance is given toward the betterment of the organization. The leader continually inspires and motivates the employees to contribute to the improvement of the team.
Although this may seem like no problem at all on first glance, critics have pointed out that this sort of system does little benefit to the workers themselves. There is only one flow of influence – from the leader to the employees, and only one element that benefits from the method – the organization itself. This leaves little room for personal development even though it may not always seem like it.
7. Transformational leadership can easily lead to burnout
A transformational leader has a set vision that is long-term, and he/she motivates himself/herself and all those under them to work toward it. They are also open to new ideas and suggestions and embraces change. All these are all positive attributes, but only if they are carried out with consideration for the workers.
If the leader puts excessive pressure on the employees and makes them go above and beyond for the organization, it will eventually lead to employee burnout. Moreover, employees will feel dissatisfied with their work and feel like they are being taken advantage of.