Transformational Leaders or Paragon Leaders?

Shifting perspective from “person” to “purpose” and “environment”

A key to more effective, results-focused organizational “leadership” lies in broadening our construct to include more emphasis on “Purpose” and “Environment/Situation/Context,” as well as focusing on the “leader as person.” “Purpose” includes the intended outcome served by the change leadership process and behavior. “Environment” includes factoring in the competencies and resources needed to achieve the avowed purpose considering the organizational context, situation, circumstances and ambient in which it must take place.

Our perspective will sharpen if we first identify the change(s) needed, define the extent of the impact on the organization, and design a plan of action and deployment appropriate to the nature of the change. The collected and functionally aligned competencies (Knowledge, Skill and Ability) of those needed to play key, supportive and complementary roles during the plan’s implementation can then reflect the collective “leadership,” that will be required for success. The result will help define the leadership team that will be needed. Note: that in the popular literature especially, the predominant focus continues to be on the “hero leader,” when personal experience suggests that leadership teams are the most often involved.

Leadership authority John Kotter draws a strong distinction between “change management” and “change leadership.” The trade literature and the popular press often use the term “change management.” However, most fail to use it in a context that recognizes that change management includes those tools, processes, policies, and decisions intended to “keep any change effort under control” (Kotter, 2011, para. 1). Change leadership is more deeply focused on establishing an “engine” for the change process, and is therefore typically associated with large-scale changes.

The “big picture” for change leadership (“what needs to be different in order for our organizations to sustain effectiveness, efficiency and a transformational culture”), depends upon the process the organization uses – or not – to keep the organization over the long term attuned to and aligned with the environment in which it operates. Successful change leadership requires the organization have a core value set and management focus that emphasize understanding of the operating environment, aligned with the organization’s mission, purpose and current operations. These serve as the basis for and means by which the leadership team identifies the changes and adjustments the organization must consider in its work processes, results and outcomes in order to sustain mission fulfillment within its changing operating environment.

Purpose, Environment and Person Model: Conclusions, Consequences and New Directions

When we operationally define leadership as change(s) that improve the ability of the organization to fulfill its mission, then the definition – and requirements – of leadership in any given situation can be found within the definition of the change itself. This approach enables us to more accurately profile the competencies needed by our leaders in a particular change initiative. Visionary leaders may be essential when the change needed by the organization is at the strategic level. However, other competency constellations will be needed when the changes involve other areas of organizational operations, e.g., program planning, financial planning or resource development. Change engines come in various sizes and types depending on the loads to be hauled.

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Suggested citation:

Connors, T. D. (2019). Transformational leaders or paragon leaders? In Transformational organizations: NPO crossroads. Retrieved from BelleAire Press, LLC:

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