Authentic leadership is just the rebranding of transformational leadership with some of the caffeine taken out – Interview with Professor Dennis Tourish


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Today’s interview is with Dennis Tourish who is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at University of Sussex Business School. Dennis joins me today to talk about the problems plaguing modern academic management and leadership research, challenges facing the modern organisation and leaders, progressive business and the problems with current leadership thinking.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Customer experience is more than f***ing metrics – Interview with Sydney Brouwer – and is number 338 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Dennis:

  • Most academic management and leadership research is ignoring the really big questions and problems that we currently face.
  • A large part of this problem comes down to the system that academics exist within, how they are assessed and the criteria that journals use to judge submissions.
  • Goodhart’s Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
  • Sometimes big words are used not to convey a discovery, but to cover up its absence.
  • Ideas have consequences particularly when you consider some of the big corporate scandals that have come out in the last number of years.
  • Dennis’ recent paper: The Triumph of Nonsense and Management Studies.
  • Transformational leadership feels like a cult.
  • Authentic leadership is just the rebranding of transformational leadership with some of the caffeine taken out.
  • Authentic leadership is still fundamentally the same product. Essentially, they encourage the worship, particularly of the CEO, as the only or the dominant change agent. This cult of the leader encourages dependency on the part of the followers but also then encourages the leader to accumulate more and more power in the mistaken belief that they have to know everything, decide everything, control everything.
  • But, the world is too complex for that to be able to work effectively.
  • Authentic leadership is just not believable especially when you consider the bewildering and ever extending list of things that these leaders are supposed to do.
  • This fascination and reliance of the need for ‘hero’ leadership is exacerbated by shareholders, in the form of pension funds and the like, who demand short term results from this individual focused on shareholder value.
  • We’re moving towards some kind of post bureaucratic, flatter state of organisations.
  • But it’s paralleled in other organisations with, if anything, a growth in distrust and a reliance on surveillance.
  • Potentially, we are starting to see the rise of Stalinism in the modern organisation.
  • There is an illusion that you can control everything and everyone.
  • For example, there was a recent example where some surveillance equipment was installed under the desks of Daily Telegraph journalists, without their knowledge, but it enabled them to record when they were at their desks on when they were away from their desks.
  • This can only reduce intrinsic motivation, which is so central for creativity, engagement and everything, engagement and everything else. And ultimately it takes away from people’s own desire to do the job well and for its own sake.
  • So, if your leadership mindset is that you have to control everything then you are going to make full use of all these techniques for surveillance etc without being fully enough aware of the unintended consequences that flow from that.
  • Leaders need to have a root and branch rethink of what their job actually consists of.
  • Leaders should count up the number of decisions they make in a day and reduce them because they need to embed decision making authority in in the hands of people who are directly addressing day to day problems.
  • To enable that, we need to improve people’s level of training and competence on whatever the issue is and make sure that everybody is clear about what the overall purpose of the organisation actually is.
  • Organisations tend to send out mixed messages to their staff. On the one hand, they say you’re highly trusted and important. On the other hand, you are scrutinised, observed and measured to death.
  • Two things that leaders should consider:
    • One, reducing the number of decisions that they make it; and
    • Two, ask yourself: How many times a day do you get away from official channels to just interact with people at the coalface of the organisation to see the world through their eyes. You need to become your own organisational anthropologist.
  • Dennis’ Punk CX words: Embrace ignorance. Embrace uncertainty.
  • Dennis’ Punk CX brand: The Big Lemon in Brighton.

About Dennis

Dennis TourishDennis Tourish is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at University of Sussex Business School. He is the editor of the journal Leadership. His main research interests are in research misconduct, the overall state of management research, critical leadership studies, organizations that are cults, and leadership development. He has co-written or co-edited eight books, including ‘Management Studies in Crisis: Fraud, Deception and Meaningless Research‘, published in 2019, and The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership. In addition, Dennis has extensive experience of consultancy and executive education with a range of public and private sector organisations. He has been interviewed frequently on radio and television about his research, including on SKY News, BBC News, ITV News, and BBC World News. He regularly speaks at professional conferences.

You can find out more about Dennis here.



Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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