When applying traditional leadership models, Adolf Hitler might be described as an effective leader, or at least as someone who demonstrated leadership skills by successfully rebuilding Germany after World War I. A retrospective application of path–goal leadership theory might also justify this position. Without question, Hitler initially inspired hundreds of thousands of followers to join his fascist movement in both Europe and the United States in the late 1930s. A retrospective application of transformational leadership theory might help explain Hitler’s success in this regard. Nevertheless, to refer to Hitler as a leader is insulting to the profession of leadership. Hitler is not thought of as a highly regarded leader in the study of leadership theory today; he is considered, at best, to have been a despot and a dictator. Certainly, a model must be created that allows for the differentiation of leadership and dictatorship.
To test this proposition, 170 commissioned U.S. military officers were asked to participate in a leadership test at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, over the period 2004–2006. The test was designed to test an individual’s perception of the definition of leadership based on a narrative. This narrative was read aloud to a class of graduate students (who were also Army, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard officers) in advance, so the entire class heard the narrative at the same time. After the narrative was read, the officers were asked to turn over a piece of paper that had been placed on their desk, and circle the answer choice they thought was most representative of the narrative.
Each class was divided in half so that the narrative was the same. One side of the class had a picture of Adolf Hitler on top of the page; the other side had a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., on the top of the page. The test was designed to see if the picture of a well-known and accepted leadership figure such as Martin Luther King, Jr., would cause the test takers to support the leadership narrative, whereas the picture of Adolf Hitler would bias the results