Lesson on gurus

Allan Massie (Perspective, 9 April) is dead right that there is a “cult of leadership” today which promotes lucky senior executives and football managers into transformational leaders able to solve every problem.

Given that the ability to lead people is only one useful attribute of successful people, we might ask why we don’t promote “planning-ship”, “diplomacy-ship”, “making decisions-ship” and other such essential skills.

It has long been suggested by psychologists that people look for supposed “charismatic” individuals who can lead them out of a problem when times are tough.

The psychologist Wilfred Bion, who was a young officer in the First World War and had many opportunities to observe effective and problem groups at work, suggested that in a dysfunctional group people can fall victim to a “messiah syndrome” where someone in the group will be expected to perform miracles to rescue the rest, rather than helping the group to work together to tackle the problem rationally.

My erstwhile colleague at Robert Gordon University, Professor Dennis Tourish, who is now at Royal Holloway College, London, has written an important book called The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership which exposes the dangers behind the uncritical cult of leadership.


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It should be required reading for any organisation looking to bring in a charismatic “leadership guru” to solve all its problems.

(Dr) Mary Brown

Dalvenie Road