A resounding trait of transformational leaders relies on their charisma. They can charm the crowd with their unconventional promises, one that will supposedly change a country the way previous administrations have failed to do.
In the U.S., there is Donald Trump, who has managed to divide the country and even the world. There are those who support his rants as a “game changer” to “make America great again” (whatever that means for him), and those who cannot find reason in anything that comes out of his mouth. In the Philippines, there is Rodrigo Duterte, who has been on the news on and off again, whether it is due to his foul mouth, his tendency to insult others, and run down a lot of the poor (and the poor alone) with his war on drugs. In China, there’s Xi Jinping, there is his new China that brings debt to everyone else who makes the mistake of getting involved with them. And Putin, well, there you have it.
Perhaps one could say that, if done for good, there is a lot going for transformational leaders. They have a vision that is future oriented, so they don’t have to be held down by an immediate reality but can promise an ideal world that they can achieve once they are in position. They are also able to relate with their followers through rhetorical skills; sometimes charisma can really do wonders in this arena. Image and trust building is also important because they need to create a character that followers can hold on to, whether it is a strongman, a messiah, or a new hope. Finally, they also personalize their leadership, oftentimes tailoring it to their followers so they are able to relate and even sway emotions.
Even the characteristics of their followers would be good, if done for all things right. Some characteristics include identification to a vision that followers look up to, they have heightened emotions so there is susceptibility to being swayed, their willingness to follow their leader, and their empowered feelings as they work to support their leader achieve their goals.
Again, these characteristics can be powerful and transformative if they are in the context of a strong, fair, judicious, and harmonious government and nation. In the hands of strongmen leaders, there could be a problem.
This makes me wonder if the real issue of strongmen is that they hold such a strong and influential leadership style–that if they do decide to do something not-so-good about it, the effect is bigger than expected. Maybe this is why some followers are able to turn a blind or, worse, accept extrajudicial killings or babies being torn away from parents’ sides. Transformational leadership is powerful, but in the hands of the wrong leaders, it can be the same seed that grew previous dictatorships and hellish rulers.