It's time for business to move away from an obsession with charismatic, transformational leaders and look for people who have a long-term, sustainable focus for organisations, says a management expert.

Suze Wilson of Massey University has examined the history of leadership thought and discovered the focus on bold visionary leaders that has existed for the past 30 years is problematic for employees, companies and the leaders themselves.

"It relies on the assumption that there's a problem with most people and they require a visionary leader to fix them," she said.

Wilson is this week releasing Thinking Differently about Leadership, a book based on her PhD study.


The trope of the transformational leader relied on "romantic thinking", Wilson said, when the reality is most companies require hard work, rather than boldness.

In an age of "personal brands" and a focus on glamour, Wilson said it wasn't as appealing to practise leadership that was built on ethics and responsibility.

"Culturally we live in a very hyped discourse, where everyone is supposed to think of themselves as brands and portray themselves in a very glamorous and successful light, but really we're quite ordinary," she said.

"I think we need to move away from it and bring things back down to a much more modest level."

Suze Wilson says most companies require hard work, not boldness. Photo / Supplied
Suze Wilson says most companies require hard work, not boldness. Photo / Supplied

Wilson said when leaders begin to "buy in" to the concept that they are able to bring about massive change and transformation it can lead to arrogance and narcissism.

The US presidential campaign of Donald Trump showed the dangers of this type of thinking, Wilson said.

"Trump tries to incite an emotional response, which is at the core of our contemporary idea of a charismatic leader."

The bold and heroic leadership traits that frame the concept of a charismatic, transformational leader are traditionally seen as more masculine than feminine, which doesn't help the movement for equal numbers of men and women in business leadership roles.


"To achieve that, we need to change the mould of leadership to better fit what women can bring, not make women fit a masculine mould."

The book will be launched on Thursday at Massey University's Manawatu campus.