Subversion from the Top: How Transgressive Leaders Produce Change.

39 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2015

See all articles by Hamid Bouchikhi

Hamid Bouchikhi

ESSEC Business School

John Kimberly

University of Pennsylvania - Management Department

Date Written: January 1, 2013


We draw on various threads of scholarship and writing about transgression to examine a particular form of leadership, what we call transgressive leadership. Transgressive leaders are those who are expected by members to abide by sacred organizational norms but who deliberately violate them for the sake of what they believe to be the greater good of the organization. We investigate 1) the circumstances in which leaders feel compelled to violate deeply held values, norms, and procedures; 2) the transgressive acts leaders commit to produce change, 3) how those who feel betrayed express anger and seek to punish the transgressor; 4) how a transgressive leader legitimates violations and seeks protection from attacks by the betrayed; and 5) how transgressive leaders who overcome opposition may secure forgiveness and lead the organization toward a new normal state. The model of transgressive leadership we propose emerged in the wake of field work at the University of Notre Dame, where a new Dean of the College of Arts and Letters forced a paradigmatic, organizational, and managerial reorientation of economics after a long period of repeated and failed attempts by others to redirect the department.

Keywords: Organizational change, leadership, transgression

JEL Classification: D23

Suggested Citation

Bouchikhi, Hamid and Kimberly, John, Subversion from the Top: How Transgressive Leaders Produce Change. (January 1, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Hamid Bouchikhi (Contact Author)

ESSEC Business School ( email )

3 Avenue Bernard Hirsch
CS 50105 CERGY

John Kimberly

University of Pennsylvania - Management Department ( email )

The Wharton School
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6370
United States

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