Psychology, 2010, 1: 59-63
doi:10.4236/psych.2010.11009 Published Online April 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes PSYCH
Dark Leadership, Charisma and Trust
Tuomo Takala
The Professor of Management and Leadership, University of Jyväskylä, School of Business and Management, Jyväskylä, Finland.
Received December 25th, 2009; revised February 3rd, 2010; accepted February 4th, 2010.
Trust, charisma and bad leadership are central concepts in the managerial psychology. The aim of this paper is try to
put forth shortly some ideas to research these phenomena, and connections between them, empirically. Charismatic
leaders have the power and th e ability to manipulate and misguid e people. To prevent this misbehaving, it is important
to promote processes of transforma tive ethical leadership. Thus, commitment, value-cong ruence, and communality are
in the play a key positions. Charismatic leaders could be weak persons with destructive narcissist power. Good man-
agement and leadership are also central factors influencing these processes. Destructive and narcissistic leaders are,
on the other hand, negative dark forces causing damage and harm in organizations. So, it is an important task to re-
search these elements. The nature of the paper is exploratory. A conceptual analysis is conducted in order to set up a
conceptual framework for empirical studies. The next phase of the research will be to gather relevant empirical mate-
rial: interviews, company documents and participatory observation experiences.
Keywords: Charisma, Leadership, Management, Ethics, Psychology
1. Introduction
We have seen that people live in a more and more com-
plicated, post-modern and globalized world. This ten-
dency of modernization and post modern ization still pre-
sents growing challenges for leaders in organizations.
The dilemma of narcissism is one of the most acute
problems in leadership behaviour in the Western world.
Why do bad and destructive leaders w ith or without cha-
risma exist? How is this evilness produced and repro-
duced in organizational behaviour? The culture of trust is
said to be the most important factor behind wellness and
wellbeing in organizations. Commitment is an inevitable
part of this culture. Good management and leadership are
also central factors influencing these processes. Destruc-
tive and narcissistic leaders are, on the other hand, nega-
tive dark forces causing damage and harm in organizations.
So, it is an important task to research these elements.
The nature of the paper is exploratory. A conceptual
analysis is conducted in order to set up a conceptual
framework for empirical studies.
The next phase of the research will be to gather rele-
vant empirical material: interviews, company documents
and participatory observation experiences.
2. Previous Research on the Dark Side of
Charisma, in the sense used by Max Weber [1], literally
means “the gift of grace”. It is used by Weber to charac-
terize self-appointed leaders followed by people who are
in distress and who need to follow the leader because
they believe him to be extraordinarily qualified [2]. The
actions of charismatic leaders are enthusiastic, and with
such extraordinary enthusiasm, fraternization and exu-
berant community sentiments can be pursued. For this
reason, charismatic heroes and prophets are viewed as
truly revolutionary forces in history [3]. Weber charac-
terized charisma as ‘specifically outside the realm of
everyday routine and the profane sp here, a direct antithe-
sis of rational and traditional authority. Inherently tran-
sient, volatile, and evanescent, charisma in its pure form
‘exist(s) only in the process of originating. It cannot re-
main stable, but becomes either traditionalized or ration-
alized, or a combination or both [1].
According to Washburn and Clements [4], Kets de
Vries [5] has identified several of those shadows that
leaders fail to recognize.
1) Mirroring is the tendency among leaders to see
themselves as their followers perceive them and to feel
they must act to satisfy the pro jections or fantasies of the
followers. A certain amount of mirroring is part of hu-
man existence. Our understanding of the world will al-
ways reflect some shared perceptions of what is real. But
in a crisis, even the best of us is likely to engage in dis-
torted mirroring. The impact of mirroring distortion is
most serious when leaders use their authority and power
Dark Leadership, Charisma and Trust
Copyright © 2010 SciRes PSYCH
to initiate actions that have serious, negative conse-
quences for the organization.
2) Narcissism in leaders reflects a distorted view of the
self. Narcissists need power, prestige and drama, and
they enjoy manipulating others. These qualities draw
them to positions of leadership, but, at more extreme
levels, the results are disastrous. They can become intol-
erant of criticism, unwilling to compromise and fre-
quently surround themselves with sycophants. While
these people appear to be ideal choices for leadership
positions, they may fall victim to the distortions of their
narcissistic tendencies that are reinforced by their posi-
3) Leaders can suffer from an inability to differentiate
and verbalize emotion, or what can be called emotional
illiteracy (or “alexithymia”). These individuals do not
respond to their emotions, and are easy prey for the dis-
tortions of others’. “In the case of these individuals, the
general human tendency toward mirroring seems to have
been carried ad absurdum” [5]. Emotional illiterates
closely resemble the stereotypical bureaucrat of “organi-
zation man”. They may be viewed within certain organi-
zations as ideal candidates for leadership positions.
While they are controlled, structured and dispassionate,
they lack the emotional abilities to empathize, energize,
foster creativity and respond appropriately to conflict.
They contribute to a mediocrity that drives out excel-
4) Leaders at times fall victim to the fear of letting go,
even though they know they no longer fit the demands of
the job. This may result from strong ego identification
with a leadership position. In this case, the loss of posi-
tion and power suggests a condition of nothingness,
which is countered by great intentness, single-minded-
ness and persistence. Another factor contributing to the
fear of letting go is the “Talion Principle,” or the fear of
reprisals. While in leadership positions, ind ividuals are at
times forced to make decisions that have unpleasant
consequences for others. People who give vent to the
paranoid fear of retaliation hang on to power and even
resort to pre-emptive act i on agai nst ot hers [4].
The fear of nothingness can lead to the “edifice com-
plex.” The fear that their legacy will be destroyed moti-
vates them to hold on to power as long as possible and
may be expressed in generational envy, inducing them to
block younger people’s careers. All of these foster ac-
tions, which are potentially destructive to organizations
and their members. It is important to realize that not all
these counterproductive behaviours emanate from leaders.
Contrary to what might be suggested by transformational
leadership theory, inspired and empowered followers can
take actions that produce decidedly negative conse-
quences for the leader. For example, followers who have
strongly authoritarian personalities are likely to conform
unquestioningly or they may react to the charismatic
qualities of the leader by mimicking or idealizing. Addi-
tionally, followers may seek to ingratiate themselves
with leaders in order to be valued and rewarded. Such
reactions can deprive leaders of important feedback and
alternative perspectives [4].
3. The Features of the Narcissistic Leader
and Trust
Burke [6] sees that focusing on two basic categories of
bad leadership, in effective and unethical, identifies sev en
types of bad leaders that are most common. Type, here,
refers to a pattern of leader and follower behaviour that is
maintained over time:
1) Incompetent – lacks the will or skill to create effec-
tive action or positive chang e
2) Rigid – stiff, unyielding, unable or unwilling to
adapt to the new
3) Intemperate – lacking in self-control
4) Callous – uncaring, unkind, ignoring the needs of
5) Corrupt – lies, cheats, steals, places self-interest
6) Insular – ignores the n eeds and welfare of tho se ou t-
side the group
7) Evil – does psych ol o gi cal or phy si cal ha r m to others
The first three types of bad leaders are incompetent;
the last four types are unethical. Incompetent leaders are
the least problematic (damaging) while unethical leaders
are the most problematic (damaging). One must also con-
sider both means and ends. Ineffective leaders fail to
achieve the desired results or to bring about positive
changes due to a shortfall in means. Unethical leaders
fail to distinguish b etween right and wrong. Ethical lead-
ers put followers needs before their own, exhibit private
virtues (courage, temperance) and serve the interests of
the common good [6].
Narcissistic leaders are vulnerable to these kinds of
dangers. The organizational and social contexts here
should be understood as regulative to the ex tent that they
provide (symbolic, discursive, material, etc.) input that in
various ways affects identity work. In psycho-dynami-
cally oriented literature it is often suggested that indi-
viduals defend their identity against threatening aspects
of the social context. Through a variety of defensive
mechanisms, perceptions of reality are distorted or de-
flected, leaving a valued identity unaffected by actual
social interactions. The point here is not to elaborate on
various defensive mechanisms, but rather to highlight
that self-identity in some instances can become loosely
connected to actual social interactions. Based on this we
suggest that self-identity may assume characteristics of
fantasy; that is, an idea or a belief that is no t significantly
affected by actual behaviour [7].
Choi characterizes the qualities of the narcissistic
leader as follows. For the narcissistic leader, the world
Dark Leadership, Charisma and Trust
Copyright © 2010 SciRes PSYCH
revolves on the axis of self, and all other people and is-
sues closely orbit them. They present various combina-
tions of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feel-
ings of inferiority and overdependence on external admi-
ration and acclaim. Narcissistic leaders also tend to
overestimate their own achievements and abilities while
stubbornly refusing to recognize the quality and value of
the same in others. Another characteristic is their ten-
dency to exploit in interpersonal contexts, in which oth-
ers are taken advantage of in order to indulge their own
desires. Because narcissistic leaders tend to use others to
advance their own goals, they are notorious for being
unable to empathize with those they lead. This enables
them to pursue their own ends without restraint [8].
Tourist and Vatcka [9], in their ENRON study, have
argued that many of the dynamics found within Enron
resemble those of organizations generally regarded as
cults. In particular, it described the existence and the
downsides of charismatic leadership – a compelling and
totalitarian vision, intellectual stimulation aimed at
transforming employees’ goals while subordinating their
ethical sense to the needs of the corporation, individual
consideration designed to shape behaviour, and the pro-
motion of a common culture which was increasingly
maintained by pun itive means. The one exception is th at,
as the general literature testifies, cult members donate
most of their money and possessions to their chosen
cause. They endure great hardship. Enronians, by con-
trast, were well paid, with the promise of much greater
wealth to come. On the other hand, most saw their re-
tirement savings wiped out in Enron’s collapse, lost eve-
rything they had invested in its shares and received
nothing more than a US$ 4000 severance payment when
it filed for bankruptcy, while top managers were paid
exceptionally generous retention bonuses. Overall, the
organizational culture strongly resembles that of many
well-known cults, as does the behaviour of Enron’s lead-
ers. There have been many attempts to portray the Enron
scandal as a one-off or at least a rare occurrence.
Arnott [10] put forth that trust, which is a belief in the
reliability of a third party, particularly when there is an
element of personal risk, lies at the heart of the marketing
concept. Any successful relationship, from friendship
and marriage to partnerships and business transactions, is
dependent to a greater or lesser extent upon the degree of
trust between the parties. The interest of management
researchers in the topic only began in the mid-1980s with
investigations into the interpersonal relationships be-
tween buyers; although, published work on trust was still
running at less than five papers per year. This changed
with the works of Moorman et al. [11] on the trust rela-
tionship between businesses and marketing research
agencies, Morgan and Hunt [12] with their commitment-
trust model of relationship marketing, and McAllister
[12], who categorized trust on the basis of two dimen-
sions: 1) the cognitiv e; and 2) the affective [9].
One can present empirical data that demonstrates that
trust is present in all psychological contracts, but that it
may differ in nature, and this has implications for the
transactional or relational nature of the psychological
contract. Understanding the bases of trust that operate in
the psychological contract and the implications of their
manner of operation may well have practical implications
for the management of the employment relationship. For
example, an employer is unlikely to be able to develop
and benefit from affective trust if there are frequent
breaches of cognitive trust. Cognitive trust and transac-
tional obligations appear to operate as hygiene factors
that must be adequate before the relationship can move to
a more relational/affective level [14].
Shamir and Lapidot [15] state that the social-psych-
ological literature on trust in organizational superiors
implies that it is an interpersonal phenomenon, based on
the superior’s behaviours and on the subordinates’ per-
ceptions of the superior’s behaviours and qualities. The
sociological literature, in contrast, implies that trust in a
superior is a property of the system in which the supe-
rior-subordinate relationship is embedded. They see that
trust is both an interpersonal and a collective phenome-
non and focus on the linkages between three levels of
trust: the system level, the g roup level, and the individu al
level. They use a longitudinal quantitative analysis of
cadets’ trust in their team commanders and a qualitative
analysis of critical incidents of trus t building and erosion
to develop and suppo rt three propositions. First, trust in a
superior reflects the subordinates’ tru st in the system that
the superior represents. Second, subordinates employ
criteria derived from systemic properties such as collec-
tive identities and values to evaluate the trustworthiness
of their superior. Third, team processes play a major role
in the social construction of trust in a superior and in
translating systemic considerations into criteria for
evaluating the trustworthiness of superiors. They con-
tinue that for all these reasons, it seems reasonable to
suggest that future studies of trust in organizations, and
especially of trust between leaders and subordinates,
should pay more attention to the collective aspec ts of the
phenomenon. Theoretical models of trust should be ex-
tended beyond the current emphasis on interpersonal
processes to include systemic considerations and group-
level processes as well.
4. Conclusions
The brief presentation set forth above suggests several
points. The dark side of charisma and managerial failures
stigmatize organizational life nowadays. Therefore, it is
more and more important to try to develop means to give
us concrete devices for improving leadership practices.
Fear, threats, egoism, narcissism, brutality and cultism
are such things that will cause fatal damage to organiza-
Dark Leadership, Charisma and Trust
Copyright © 2010 SciRes PSYCH
tional trust and commitment. Leaders who betray their
followers may miss out on opportunities to be trustwor-
thy forever. Leaders can lose trust only once. However,
in work-organizations employees act to earn their living,
and thus affective or emotional commitment may lay
more in the background compared with other social or
private life organizations, such as in the family. A human
being is a gregarious actor, and trusting on his compan-
ions is fundamental to survival.
Signals of trust could be:
- altruism
- benevolence
- fairness
- respect
These elements could pave the way to ethical leader-
According to Valumbwa et al. [16], authentic leader-
ship theory likewise contains distinctive components that
are not considered by ethical leadership theory. Specifi-
cally, the focus on self-awareness, relational transpar-
ency and balanced processing all represent features of
authentic leadership not captured in operational defini-
tions of ethical leadership. As is the case with ethical
leadership, there is some conceptual overlap between
authentic and transformational leadership. Transforma-
tional leadership is composed of five components: attrib-
uted charisma, idealized influence, inspirational motiva-
tion, intellectual stimulation and individualized consid-
eration. However, attributed charisma has been described
as representing the leadership’s impact and reflecting
follower attributions, and not necessarily leader behav-
iour. Leaders with idealized influence tend to place fol-
lower needs over their own needs, share risks with fol-
lowers, and demonstrate devotion to a set of underlying
principles and values. Such leaders are “role models for
followers to emulate; can be counted on to do the right
thing; and display high standards of ethical and moral
conduct” compared to values of efficiency and profes-
sional integrity and may require change efforts.
Charismatic leaders have the power and the ability to
manipulate and misguide people. To prevent this misbe-
having, it is important to promote processes of transfor-
mative ethical leadership. Thus, commitment, value-
congruence, and communality are in the play key posi-
tions. Charismatic leaders could be weak persons with
destructive narcissist power [17]. Maybe, for example,
models of authentic/servant leadership and care-ethics are
the right means for better life in organizations. I agree
with Choi who put forth that taken together, charismatic
leadership is not equally applicable to all situations.
Some situations have a higher degree of receptivity to
charismatic leadership, which in turn, raises the co ncerns
of the fit between charismatic leadership and contextual
factors. Thus, an awareness of the contextual influences
on the effectiveness of charismatic leadership has impor-
tant implications for leadership practices [8]. The con-
texts should be taken into account carefully in the deci-
sion of the placement of leaders who have charismatic
characteristics [17]. In addition, the training of charis-
matic leaders should also be guided by the consideration
of contextual factors [18]. Therefore, the consideration of
contextual factors will allow organization s to reap greater
benefits from the motivational effects of charismatic
Charismatic leadership [8] is comprised of three
components: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment.
These key components stimulate the followers’ needs
for achievement, affiliation and power. These motiva-
tional effects of charismatic leadership then act to im-
prove the followers’ role perceptions, task performance,
job satisfaction, sense of collective identity, group co-
hesiveness, organizational citizenship behaviour and
self-leadership. In addition, the motivational effects of
charismatic leadership will be moderated by various
contextual factors [8].
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