Hitler: Leadership Analysis

Adolf Hitler has gone down in history as one of the most infamous despots of all time by orchestrating the horrifying events of the mid-20th century, which ranged from bloody internal German politics to the brutal military campaigns of World War II and the racially-driven mass killings of the Holocaust. However, these historical events also demonstrate that Hitler was a highly charismatic and effective leader who was able to motivate and manipulate large groups of people, thus creating a personality cult. This report will analyze Hitler’s leadership style and approaches to managing his country and cabinet ministers while in a position of power.

Comparative Analysis

The general consensus is that Hitler was a transformational leader, largely due to his overwhelming charisma, which helped create a cult of personality in Germany for many years. Hitler was a charismatic but unethical despot and hostile towards out-groups (social groups who do not identify themselves with a mainstream ideology). While Hitler’s actions were inherently dark and detrimental, they instituted transformational change in the country. When placed in a situation of conflict, transformational leaders act in a way that they believe benefits the whole organization rather than considering external interests, thus engaging in a violation of ethical norms (Effelsberg & Solga, 2013).

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In the early days of his political career, Hitler sought to create change for Germany while it was experiencing poverty, global isolation, and the pressures of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. Although Hitler already displayed characteristics of anti-Semitism and hatred as a young leader, he genuinely wanted to see much-needed changes in the country. By using his charisma, intellect, and ideology, Hitler had the power to motivate his followers to action. At first, only small groups defied the odds and experienced a failed coup (King, 2017). Eventually, his following grew, and Hitler used his transformational leadership to reshape Germany’s society, which experienced a return to prosperity.

Leadership theory defines a transformational leader as someone who utilizes a conflict or crisis to transform their followers and change their consciousness by appealing to higher ideals and moral values. In contrast, transactional leaders rely on the metaphor of the stick and the carrot, using resources to promote compliance through either positive or negative consequences and appealing to the followers’ self-interests (Nye, 2013). Based on these definitions, Hitler cannot be a transformational leader since he did not appeal to morality, but rather to the base emotions of fear and hatred. It can be argued that he chose a more transactional leadership style focused on systemic acquisition of power and ensuing control over Germany and Europe.

Transactional leaders utilize rewards for motivation and exert corrective action when subordinates fail. Therefore, judging by historical events, Hitler may have switched his leadership style once becoming Führer of Germany as he began to become increasingly withdrawn and less focused on transforming the country, but more on maintaining power over his party and staff. Some incidents suggest that Hitler valued loyalty extremely highly, rewarding those who demonstrated it, while brutally executing anyone who showed defiance. Therefore, Hitler had become a pseudo-transformational leader, a category for those who initiate changes but do so through unethical means or to pursue immoral objectives (Lin, Huang, Chen, & Huang, 2015).


Leaders can cause people to act through two distinct approaches, manipulation and inspiration. Manipulation offers significant returns over the short term and often relies on negative emotions such as fear. Inspiration is more difficult to implement and is a long-term strategy that is built on communication and positive influence. However, manipulation becomes unsustainable after a time as it is too costly to maintain, both in terms of resources and human psychology. Pseudo-transformational leaders like Hitler are characterized by abusing their influence and appeal to manipulate followers, often for personal gain or out of ideology. Since pseudo-transformational leaders lack authentic moral foundations, they are able to employ inspirational techniques and a cult of personality to manipulate individuals for their own self-interest. In the process, they control and dominate followers by showing little consideration for their needs and avoiding any intellectual stimulation, relying instead on blind obedience (Steinmann, 2017).

Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were effective manipulators, using a wide range of innovative media techniques to create propaganda on unprecedented levels. This influenced Germans by persuading audiences and appealing to emotions, changing adults’ perceptions while raising a generation of Nazi enthusiasts. While Hitler was implementing his racist ideology of a national community that sought to separate and force into submission any non-Aryan individuals, propaganda was carefully constructed to manipulate human psychology into supporting atrocious public policies and used as a tool to condition the German people. It was not motivation but rather indoctrination, since propaganda was built on the concept of Hitler’s cult of personality and German nationalism, which were ideologies of resentment that sought to place blame rather than propose effective solutions. Furthermore, intentional disinformation was used to turn the desperate and struggling German population against the Jewish community and the rest of Europe (O’Shaughnessy, 2017). Hitler used this type of motivation to stimulate anger, which allowed the Nazi leadership to commit atrocities on a massive scale, often with widespread support from the majority of the population.

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Motivational Style

While some scholars may argue that Hitler was in fact motivational since the Germans willingly embraced his ideology and believed it to be the way forward, Hitler achieved this through an aspect of leadership theory known as storytelling, which diverges from traditional approaches and attempts to construct and convey power through social interaction and well-established public narratives. Storytelling is inherently manipulative rather than motivational as it creates a clear and rehearsed public image and thematic ideology, but many factors are fragmented or hidden from public discourse, resulting in disinformation. Storytelling from a position of power, which provides a high level of validity, creates a discursive reality where the leader influences the social state by moving it in the desired direction (Takala & Auvinen, 2016).

Hitler’s motivational style was inherently based on his superb skill as an influential orator. He sought to use the power of persuasion through his numerous speeches to motivate his followers. Leadership through persuasion can be effective since it greatly increases one’s ability to get things done, as a persuasive leader establishes credibility, public favor, and an emotional connection. Hitler’s rhetoric combined with his charisma enabled him to persuade people to follow him as he displayed confidence and an image of someone with answers to Germany’s problems during a time of significant economic upheaval (Macias, 2015). His rhetoric was central to the Führer’s cult of personality, which inspired his followers through charisma. Hitler used motivation to create drive both within his inner circle and the German population. In the waning days of the Third Reich, when Hitler lost the ability to motivate even his loyal inner circle, strong ideologists such as Goebbels, who created the propaganda network, openly expressed a loss of faith in Hitler. Hitler’s motivational style through storytelling became inconsistent and satirical, which affected all his followers.

Emotional Intelligence

Most psychologists agree that Hitler had a high level of emotional intelligence as he recognized the power of emotions and spent significant time perfecting his ability to communicate, down to the smallest nuances of body language. Unfortunately, this demonstrates a darker side of the appeal and benefits of emotional intelligence, as unethical and inherently evil individuals can be very effective at it. In his early days as a politician, Hitler honed his emotional skills, gaining effectiveness at controlling his emotions in order to manipulate others (Grant, 2014). However, Hitler also had a strongly anti-social side to him, as most despots do. He was indifferent to suffering, supported inhumane cruelty, and displayed overall insensitivity. Considering that he helped orchestrate many of the atrocities, this is a demonstration of sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies, which is an inherent sign of poor emotional intelligence. It can be argued that Hitler’s emotional intelligence was not authentic, but learned as a skill to blend in. In private, especially towards the end of the war, Hitler became highly secluded and showed a poor understanding of emotional intelligence in communication with his inner circle.


The analysis of Hitler’s leadership style and communication traits demonstrates that he was a powerful leader who was able to gain influence and change the narrative to achieve personal goals and win the public’s affection. The investigation determined that Hitler was a pseudo-transformational leader who transformed Germany but used unethical means to do so, while also employing the rewards tactics of transactional leadership. Furthermore, Hitler built his leadership through manipulation and disinformation, utilizing both his skill as a persuasive orator and a perfectly implemented propaganda machine to gain a mass following and spread his ideology. Finally, it can be argued that Hitler had high levels of emotional intelligence, as he was aware of and able to control emotions and build strong networks of personal relationships.


Effelsberg, D., & Solga, M. (2013). Transformational leaders’ in-group versus out-group orientation: Testing the link between leaders’ organizational identification, their willingness to engage in unethical pro-organizational behavior, and follower-perceived transformational leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 126(4), 581-590. Web.

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Grant, A. (2014). The dark side of emotional intelligence. The Atlantic. Web.

King, D. (2017). The trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the rise of Nazi Germany. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Lin, C.-S., Huang, P.-C., Chen, S.-J., & Huang, L.-C. (2015). Pseudo-transformational leadership is in the eyes of the subordinates. Journal of Business Ethics, 141(1), 179–190. Web.

Macias, A. (2015). Why Hitler was such a successful orator. Business Insider. Web.

Nye, J. S. (2013). Transformational and transactional presidents. Leadership, 10(1), 118-124. Web.

O’Shaughnessy, N. (2017). Marketing the Third Reich: Persuasion, packaging, and propaganda. London, UK: Routledge.

Steinmann, B. (2017). Pseudo-transformational leadership. In D. C. Poff and A. C. Michalos (eds.), Encyclopedia of business and professional ethics (pp. 1-7). New York, NY: Springer International Publishing AG. Web.

Takala, T., & Auvinen, T. (2016). The power of leadership storytelling: Case of Adolf Hitler. Tamara: Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry, 14(1), 21-34. Web.

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