In the Martin Scorsese movie, The Wolf on Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Jordan Belfort (Paramount Pictures, 2013) exhibits characteristics consistent with transformational leadership, however his unmoral behavior, self-interested, and exploitive tendencies push his leadership to the pseudotransformational category. Jordan Belfort begins in a low-level position at a Wall Street Firm but then becomes unemployed. Jordan, with convincing from his wife, decides to take a position with a penny stock firm in Long Island. From there, Belfort takes his aggressive, visionary style, never settle attitude and begins his own company. Belfort possesses the ability to influence and elevate the emotional levels of people therefore he is able to create a monster business that transforms the lives of many people, producing millions in revenue. In the movie, Jordan Belfort says, “I was born with a gift to persuade people, to lead” (Paramount Pictures, 2013). His employees are devout and follow him through any and everything to develop the picture he paints. Jordan is able to build trust by conveying his image of self-confidence and personal example. Jordan Belfort is able to create personalized leadership through personal bonds with his followers by applying empathy at the social cues they exhibit in their emotional state. His employees are inspired and excited by Jordan, leading to increases in productivity and effort (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). The employees look to Jordan for answers, on how to run their daily business with clients. They do not think for themselves, they believe and rely on Jordan to lead them to their vision. Belfort’s ethics, morality, and ultimate arrest prove the shift from authentic transformational leadership to pseudotransformational leadership. Although many characteristics are mirrored, the main objective of transformational leaders is socialized, moral uplifting (Northouse, 2013) whereas the psuedotransformational leader has warped values and is self-consumed (Northouse, 2013). Taking his vision, his inspiration to followers, and the relationships he builds with trust and self-confidence we can view Jordan Belfort as an example of transformational leaders turn pseudotransformational (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). Belfort is able to transform a mix-matched, low potential group of men and women into a killer brand on Wall Street.
Jordan Belfort was a man that saw a larger picture of wealth on Wall Street and wanted a piece for himself. The lesson commentary states “…transformational leaders are future-oriented. They recognize the problems of a present system and offer a vision to overcome these problems” (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). The vision that Jordan Belfort had included wealth, prestige, and status through his own stock brokerage company. He had the ability to share his vision with such passion and drive. His vision, he knew, needed more than just him to achieve his goal of wealth therefore looked to others to join his vision. Belfort had immense self-confidence and led by personal example, building the image and trust of his followers, displayed by followers of transformational leaders (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). Though Belfort was not known to have any moral conviction or show any sort of personal sacrifice, he moved his followers with his actions, never doubting himself and his own personal goals. He also was sure to create an atmosphere in which he didn’t ever need to make personal sacrifices, though displaying the image that he would. His own personal goal of wealth came first however he displayed to his employees that their happiness and well-being came first.
His motivation to those that worked for him is a prime characteristic of transformational leaders. Jordan’s ability to excite people was his main motivational piece. By persuading friends and his parents to join his business venture, he was able to make his vision a reality. His influence was felt emotionally by the ones who joined with him. Transformational leaders have personalized leadership, they pick up on followers’ social cues and emotional states therefore share strong, personal bonds with them (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, as referenced in PSU WC, L. 10, p. 3). In Jordan’s case however, he used their strong relationships to gain personally while they also benefited. The emotion he elicited from people is another prime factor in his ability to achieve his vision. One of the first meetings where Jordan shares his vision is in a dusty old warehouse. He is talking to a group of friends, his excitement and anticipation can be felt with his upcoming venture. It does not take him but a few sentences to gain strong commitment and devotion of all the men to join as stockbrokers with his new company, “Stratton Oakmont”. The first employees in this meeting are drawn to Jordan’s vision, excited and willing to do whatever Jordan tells them is best, displaying follower characteristics of transformational leadership (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). Another scene in which Jordan exhibits his ability to excite is at a party with the entire office and many party guests. The firm is hosting a party in the early days of their success; Belfort grabs the microphone and tells the crowd how wonderful it is to be them, to be a part of their company. It is not merely that he says the words; he moves his entire being and is able to command the crowd to cheer and beg for more. The emotions involved with his leadership are again pronounced in this moment. Jordan possesses strong rhetorical skills, he has strong ability to “heighten followers’ emotional levels and inspire them to embrace the vision” (PSU WC, L. 10, p. 4). Jordan Belfort’s employees expect more of themselves because Jordan does as well.
The truth is that Jordan Belfort possessed no moral conviction or the need to make personal sacrifice, he exhibits strong characteristics that exude and produce transformation, however without the moral conviction his leadership is now categorized as transformational leadership because of the negative characteristics (Northouse, 2013). His leadership is saturated with vision and the ability to connect the vision emotionally with his followers. In turn, his employees adore Jordan and do whatever he tells them to do regarding the business. They grow their firm into heights of wealth that none of them ever imagined. Jordan Belfort had characteristics that made him into a transformational leader. The defining characteristic for transformational leadership is moral uplifting (Northouse, 2013). On this level Jordan Belfort now becomes a pseudotransformational leader, corrupting one stockbroker at a time.
Northouse, Peter G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sixth Edition. Sage Publications.
Paramount Pictures. (2013). The Wolf on Wall Street. Retrieved from http://www.thewolfofwallstreet.com/
The Pennsylvania State University. (2013). PSYCH 484: Leadership in Work Settings Lesson 10: Transformational Leadership. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp14/psych485/002/content/10_lesson/printlesson.html