My introduction to pseudo-transformational leadership came in the spring of 2006. I was recently promoted in the Army to the rank of First Sergeant (1SG). 1SG is the senior enlisted advisor to the Commander of a Company, usually consisting of around 100 soldiers. In the interest of brevity, the easiest means to define the senior enlisted advisor role in civilian terms is with an analogy. At every level of the military, the Commander is the CEO and the senior enlisted advisor is the COO. At the Company level that rank is 1SG. At Battalion and higher the rank is command sergeant major (CSM). My experience with a pseudo-transformational leader was with the CSM of my Battalion when I was a Company 1SG.
Pseudo-transformational leadership can be compared to transformational leadership through the outcomes of four common components, idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Christie, Barling & Turner, 2011). Transformational leaders express idealized influence by setting a strong moral example for their followers and build a collective vision along with the values of the followers (Northouse, 2016). Pseudo-transformational leaders build a shared vision as well. Their moral example, however, is tainted by their own self-interest (Christie, Barling & Turner, 2011). During a deployment to Iraq, my CSM pulled me aside for an in-depth conversation about a new patrol mission being assigned to my Company. On the surface, the conversation would seem like a mentorship session and in line with transformational leadership.
The conversation began with my CSM showing concern for the danger and complexity of the mission. The patrol was going to be a continuous presence in the villages surrounding our camp indefinitely. There would need to be a four vehicle, 16 Soldier detail on patrol at all times. Splitting the shifts in to eight-hour patrols would require near half of the company on patrol every day. A task that seems reasonable until it is understood that my Company was the Battalion support company, whose primary responsibilities included all maintenance, logistics, ammunition, management, and fueling operation for the Attack Helicopter Battalion. Accomplishing the mission without failing at the Companies primary mission would not be feasible over an extended period of time. The discussion focused on this and my CSM gave advice on work-rest cycles and offered to augment the Company with soldiers from some of the other companies. The CSM spoke encouraging words, as he often did, and I felt motivated about the mission. Then his true intentions were revealed. The conversation ended in a manner that explained the uneasy feeling I always had around the CSM. He was extremely charismatic, a characteristic of both transformational and pseudo-transformational leaders (Northouse, 2016). However, there was always a sense of something being just a little off.
The CSM asked me if Bravo Company would be able to handle the mission. I replied that with the extra help from augmenting soldier yes. He then stated that was not what he asked and repeated the question. Confused, I replied with basically the same answer. The CSM got angry and said he was not asking about the soldier augmentation. He said, “can you handle the mission.” I responded, “yes.” Angrily, he asked why I did not say that in the first place. Again, I was confused and asked for clarification. He said, “are you not Bravo Company?” “I am the Battalion and you are the Company.” I replied by saying I did not think I “was” the Company. I was a member and leader of the Company. I could see he felt he was the embodiment of the Battalion and I dis not feel the same about my relationship to the Company. I then was chastised for nearly an hour about how I did not understand leadership and what it all meant. I will never forget that conversation because it was then that understood two things. One, that CSM did not actually care about the organization or anyone in it. His desire to make the organization exceptional was completely selfish. If he led a successful organization, it made him look good. And two, I never wanted to be that kind of leader.
The second factor is inspirational motivation. In transformational leadership the leader motivates the organization to go beyond their self-interests to achieve team goals (Northouse, 2016). Pseudo-transformational leaders do the same thing; however, they are deceiving the organization about their true intentions (Christie, Barling & Turner, 2011). Throughout the entire deployment to Iraq, the organization accomplished seemingly impossible tasks in no small part due to the motivational speeches and direction of the CSM. The pilots were recording record breaking flying hours that was considered to be impossible for the helicopter maintainer to keep up with. But they did. The fuelers and ammunition specialists kept the helicopters in the air and armed as the Battalion flew nearly three times as many missions as the previously deployed Battalion. The twenty-four-hour patrols taking over half of the soldiers in the support Company I was in, were successfully curtailing enemy activity while not effecting the units primary support mission accomplishment. Like transformational leadership the organization was inspired to achieve greatness. Unfortunately, what was unfolding was actually was pseudo-transformational leadership, because the leader’s intentions were entirely self-motivated.
To a point, the CSM even created intellectual stimulation. Everyone in the Battalion thought creatively about how to perform the unit tasks in a manner that could keep up with the workload. The CSM encouraged this level of problem solving throughout the organization, which is in line with transformational leadership (Northouse, 2016). However, his ideas were never to be challenged even if his ideas were detrimental to the organization’s success. There were multiple occasions where me and the other 1SGs of the organization had to hide the actions and processes our soldiers were taking from the CSM to both aid in mission accomplishment and guard against the CSM’s wrath. Pseudo-transformational leaders do not accept critique or opposing views from their own (Christie, Barling & Turner, 2011). As mentioned earlier, my disagreement of how the senior enlisted advisor to an organization was not the embodiment of the organization itself was a clear example and let me know not to question the CSM’s opinions.
The final factor is individualized consideration. Transformational leaders act as coaches and mentors who understand the needs of their followers and guide them in their growth and development (Northouse, 2016). Pseudo-transformational leaders exploit their followers and use them simply as a means to obtain their own personal goals (Christie, Barling & Turner, 2011). The CSM’s goal was self-promotion. His concern for the members of the organization only extended as far as the immediate needs of organizational success. Guiding the organization to higher levels of self-actualization was not on his agenda. Despite all of the unit’s success during the deployment two things happened at the end of it that show the lack of concern for the organizational members the CSM had. First, just about every senior leader within the organization that was eligible filed for retirement and left the Army entirely. This high rate of turnover is an indicator of the soldier’s lack of desire to continue employment in the organization as a result of their leader’s lack of concern for them. The second result was seen in the lack of appreciation for the work the soldiers performed by the CSM. Despite the many outstanding accomplishments of the organization, military awards were given at lower rate than normal and the promotion rate of the soldiers lagged behind other organizations. The CSM looked good in the eyes of his superiors and moved on to higher positions. The remaining members of the organization’s leadership were left to pick up the pieces of a tired, overworked, and underappreciated group of Soldiers.
Unfortunately, this example of pseudo-transformational leadership is not uncommon in the Army. I have witnessed it multiple times throughout my career. If I had to theorize on why it is so prevalent, I would say it is because senior leaders are only in a position for two years before moving to another. Two years is often not enough time for the superiors of a pseudo-transformational leader to recognize the selfish intent of the leader. Instead the exceptional short-term performance of the organization is highlighted. It is only when the pseudo-transformational leader leaves that the hidden destruction within the organization is revealed and too often the blame is placed on the new leader who has just assumed the role. Furthermore, the pseudo-transformational leader that is not identified will continue to get promoted and will in turn perpetuate their leadership style on others as the CSM tried to due to me during our conversation described at the beginning of this blog. Luckily, I rejected the CSMs style. In fact, I believe no other leader was more influential on me establishing my leadership style as a servant leader than that CSM because I saw the lack of ethical values his style conveyed and I wanted to do the exact opposite.
Christie, A., Barling, J., & Turner, N. (2011). Pseudo‐Transformational Leadership: Model Specification and Outcomes 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(12), 2943-2984. Retrieved from http://web.business.queensu.ca/faculty/jbarling/Articles/2011%20Christie%20et%20al.pdf
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage.