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Concepts of Dark Leadership Essay

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


Dark leadership is the negative personality trait expressed through some of the organizations leaders’ behavior that mainly leads to the demoralization of a particular organization. Dark leadership can take different forms, but there are two distinct subtypes of dark leaders.

There are consistent dark leaders who always lack a healthy personal image and this is reflected in their attitude and behavior towards the staff of an organization (Raelin, 2003).

Induced dark leadership is observed in confident, outgoing leaders who under certain conditions like stress, tight deadlines, personal problems, crisis among others; take on a totally different personality that negatively affects the normal functioning of an organization.

This does not necessarily mean dark leaders are bad leaders, rather their leadership skills are blunted by their personality and this is consequently reflected in the performance of an organization.

Historical analysis

To better understand the concept of bad leadership it is important to introduce the personalities of a dark leader and a good leader in order to make a physical comparison of the two.

By contrasting Conrad Hilton as a good leader to Leona Helmsley as a dark leader we will proceed to look at both individuals in depth to have a clearer perceptive of dark leadership and how it can be managed.

Conrad Hilton was born in 1887 in New Mexico to a humble family and learnt business skills informally by working in his father’s store while still very young. He received his education in the military and served in World War II.

In 1919, he started building a chain of hotels by first acquiring the Mobley Hotel in Cisco, Texas. This was his starting point and he would eventually establish a prestigious chain of hotels known as the Hilton hotels.

Conrad Hilton initially focused on Texas as a starting point, between 1925 and 1939, he had built five high rise hotels most of them in Texas. In 1948, he formed the Hilton Hotels Corporation and established the Hilton International company two years later which dealt with traveling logistics and services like credit cards, rental cars, rental planes, travel booking among others.

The Great Depression saw Conrad Hilton face bankruptcy, loosing several of his hotels to receivership. He was employed by the receivers and was able to save money and buy back his hotels, which he renovated to raise the hotel standards for international tourism. (Conger, 2002) Hilton hotels were the world’s first international hotels, setting a very high bar for travel accommodation in the international market.

Leona Helmsley was born on July 4, 1920 in Marble town, and later moved to Manhattan. She attended Abraham Lincoln High School, before dropping out to peruse financial independence. She started by working in a textile factory before becoming a real estate salesperson in 1964(Dearlove, 2003).

She later became a condo salesperson in 1968 where she met Harry Helmsley who was a wealthy real estate investor. In 1972, they got married and started building an empire of hotel chains, condos and other businesses (Maccoby, 2004).

Among the businesses and hotels accredited to her include the Empire State Building, the Park Lane Hotel, Helmsley Palace Hotels, 230 Park Avenue and Helmsley-Spear.

Traits, motives and characteristics

Conrad Hilton a conservative businessman as well as a methodical person who did not make hasty decisions. He was cautious when he approached a new investment opportunity especially if it was still new to him.

He was a down to earth leader who preferred handling his matters practically and thus needed to be close to his businesses always. He had a strong desire to be useful and productive and this was his driving force.

While on the other hand Leona Helmsley was an intelligent outgoing person who loved to have the best of anything and everything. She had as strong drive for accomplishment and was more often than not engaged in activities to further her ambition (Maccoby, 2004).

Most notable was a strong underlying determination. She was also independent and had high levels of energy. Leona Helmsley can also be noted for her excellent communication skills.

Attitudes and styles

Conrad Hilton was an easy leader to do business with. He was of the opinion that his well being was correlated to his financial resources and so placed much security in material possessions.

He preferred to be in control of a situation, and would easily pass over a genuine opportunity based on the fact that he did not know the outcome (Dearlove, 2003). His leadership style was hands on, and would practically show his subordinates what to do in a given situation.

Leona Helmsley had a make it or break it attitude and approached leadership from that perspective. Her desire for results was immense and this resulted in her being considered a business tyrant.

She had a perfectionist attitude and wanted things to flow in accordance to her directives, and would react negatively if her orders were not followed even if the latter produced negative results.

Power and politics

Conrad Hilton was not greedy for power or stature. His only drive was to be successful and this saw him submit to status quo (Dearlove, 2003). He felt that engaging in politics was not his best strength complicated with the fact that he preferred to have control over situations whereas politics was relatively unpredictable.

Leona Helmsley loved power and stature. She desired to be praised and adored and this was one of the propellants that saw her work tirelessly. She however did not value politics which she felt would jeopardize her business empire.

Ethics and social responsibility

Conrad Hilton was a philanthropist who gave as much as he received. He had a good frame work that governed his staff, and made sure all under his leadership were well cared for. He was also a devoted and faithful catholic who honored and respected God and prayed earnestly.

Leona Helmsley on the other hand was arrogant and felt she owed nothing to society, rather the society owed her. She felt no need to pay tax and had no value for the common people. She had no religious ties nor was any form of faith she was loyal to. She was notorious for mistreating her staff, hiring and firing them at will.

Charismatic versus transformational leadership

Conrad Hilton was a transformational leader who built a hotel chain empire through hard work. His leadership was what set new standards in the local and international hotel management and presentation system, and was able to venture into the travel industry through the catering industry.

He expanded his four hotels in Texas, to an international chain that is literally on every continent. On the other hand Leona Helmsley was a charismatic leader, who used her orate skills to get ahead in business (Howell & Avolio, 1992).

She presented herself in an intelligent and dignified manner, attracting various opportunities (Deutschman, 2005). She stuck to real estate as the source of her business, and only managed to expand slightly into management.

Comparison between Conrad Hilton and Leona Helmsley

Both leaders had an underlying need for accomplishment, and this saw both of them propel their businesses to greater heights. They were also intelligent, decisive leaders, who were energetic and committed to their respective fields.

Conrad Hilton was however a bit conservative in his approach to new business venture, while Leona Helmsley accommodated new ideas and dynamics to her business.

Also Conrad Hilton begun by specializing in one genre of business but saw the need to diversify as opportunities presented them (Conger, 1990). Leona Helmsley begun by specializing, but remained committed to the real estate genre through out her business life.

Both leaders did not have the urge to venture into politics, which they felt would jeopardize their business and dilute their commitment to their business. While Conrad Hilton was a business leader, Leona Helmsley was at most times supervising or watching her subordinate staff.

Strengths of Conrad Hilton and Leona Helmsley

Conrad Hilton’s expansionist mentality was his main provider of fundamental outlooks for his business. He had an urge to grow and expand and this trait was a definite strength (Conger, 2002).

His down to earth nature always gave him a clearer perspective of things since he could interact freely with his staff and clients (Clements & Washbush, 1999).

His commitment to his project was also a gift for it ensured that he was not willingly going to give up. Conrad Hilton was also a decisive and methodic leader who used tact and reason before undertaking any business venture.

Leona Helmsley on the other had had excellent orator skills that helped her create rapport with any interesting business prospect she met. She was also decisive in her methods and was one of the causes that gave her a prolific business empire (Kellerman, 2004).

She was intelligent and committed to her work and had a desire to succeed and be independent. She was adventurous and always willing to put new ideas into practice.

Weaknesses of Conrad Hilton and Leona Helmsley

Conrad Hilton had the fear of the unknown, he always preferred to be on top of situations and this saw him miss out on various opportunities through out his life time. When it comes to Leona Helmsley, she a problem when it came to treating other people.

She was a perfectionist and wanted due process to adhere strictly to her rules (Deutschman, 2005). During times of crisis she lashed out at staff members and had total disregard for the poor and needy.

Causes for success

Conrad Hilton succeeded simply because he was determined to succeed. He had no privileged background; neither did he have any formal education on business and leadership.

His down to earth mentality was vital in his road to success for it exposed him to the current market needs. His determination can be seen during the great depression when he almost went bankrupt, but managed to revive his business by buying back his hotels (Conger, 2002).

Leona Helmsley had good oral, social and interpersonal skills that saw her navigate though life to eventual success. These skills were developed when she was a sales person. Another cause for success was her husband Harry Helmsley who was an affluent businessman.

He was able to pull back Leona Helmsley after she lost a sufficient amount of investment after a court ruling that saw her lease out most of her property for three years (Kellerman, 2004).

The vision for effective leadership

This is the overall perspective of a business leader culminated to the desires he/she has for a business, incorporating the true morals and values of the leadership and the business as a whole. It is the image which business would like its leader to portray.

Leadership plan

A leader should reflect the overall image of the organization and at all times be conscious he is the face of the organization whether away or at work. The leader should have strong moral and ethical values and as such should be straight- forward and hard working.

The staff looks up to the leader for guidance and direction and therefore the leader should be bold, decisive, intelligent and polite to the staff members.

Negative sentiments conveyed through verbal or behavioral means should not be tolerated, a leader is the captain of the organization and negativity will only bring contempt, disorder, counterproductively and demoralization.

The leader should steer the organization like his own and therefore make appropriate decisions for overall success. Above all the leader should be willing to sacrifice his career for the prosperity of the organization.


Kelliman in his 2004 book was of a similar opinion when it comes to bad leadership. He stated that dark leaders have the same building capacity as good leaders. Maccoby supported dark leadership for it had powerful advantages over the good form of leadership.

To the contrary, Clements & Washbush argued that dark leadership is hindrance to an organization and as such should not be condoned.

Conger counters stating that even good leaders can be bad, it is a matter of personality and this is supported by Dearlove and Deutschma. Raelin considers the importance and effect of charisma in leaders, supplemented by Howell and Avolio.


Clements & Washbush (1999). The two faces of leadership: considering the dark side of leader-follower dynamics. New York: Macmillan publishers.

Conger (2002). Danger of delusion. The qualities that make leaders great can also cause their downfall. Success and self-confidence often breed narcissism and a sense of infallibility. London: oxford university press.

Conger (1990). The dark side of leadership. New York: Macmillan publishers

Dearlove (2003). The dark side of leadership. New York: Macmillan publishers

Deutschman (2005). Is Your Boss a Psychopath? Washington DC: knight publishing house.

Goleman (2004). What makes a leader? London: Oxford university press.

Howell & Avolio (1992). The ethics of charismatic leadership: Submission or liberation? New York: ladybird co.

Kellerman (2004). Bad Leadership, What it is, How it Happens and Why it Matters. Manhattan; flybird co.

Maccoby (2004). Narcissistic leaders: The incredible pros, the inevitable cons. Detroit: bookrange.

Raelin (2003). The myth of charismatic leaders. California: Macmillan publishers

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