Transformational Leaders or Paragon Leaders?

Leadership Theory:
Evolving to find the secret to replicating success

A fundamental objective of science is to explain phenomena. These explanations are called theories. Creswell (2009) defined a theory as an “interrelated set of constructs (or variables) formed into propositions, or hypotheses, that specify the relationships among variables (typically in terms of magnitude or direction)…[theory] helps to explain (or predict) phenomena that occur in the world” (p. 51). From these data, other researchers can use specific variables to predict other variables (Kerlinger & Lee, 2000).

The purpose of creating this perspective is to explain and predict the phenomenon. One of the important functions of good theory is to identify the components of a “recipe” that would enable others to replicate the phenomenon.

Over the years, scholars and practitioners reinforced and expanded the foundations laid by Burns and Bass. Already, by 1985, Bennis and Nanus were reporting “decades of academic analysis have given us more than 350 definitions of leadership” (p. 4).

Today, there are at least eight major categories of leadership theories, including: “great man” theories (heroic, mythic, and destined to lead when needed); trait theories (suitable leadership qualities and traits are inherited); contingency theories (environmental variables help determine the leadership style best suited for the situation); situational theories (situational variables determine the most appropriate leadership style); behavioral theories (great leaders are made, not born); participative theories (idealized leadership factors the input of others in the group into decisions); management theories (also known as transactional leadership, emphasizes rewards and punishments); and, relationship theories (also known as transformational leadership, emphasizes motivation and inspiration through achievement of full potential and the greater good) (Cherry, 2011).

It may be significant that of these theories, most address Personal leadership dimensions and attributes, e.g., “great man,” “relationship,” “trait”. Only a few directly consider the organizational environment, and none address factors relating to the purpose of leadership: the change(s) driving the activity and behavior.

A recent assessment by Mahalinga (2011), suggests the proliferation and in some cases, duplication of leadership theories and perspectives. The author undertook to examine the influence of transformation leadership on organizational culture, with a focus on NGO effectiveness. Comparing transformational leadership with ethical leadership, servant leadership and level-five leadership, he concludes that many of their aspects and characteristics “are parallel” (p. 687).

Next: Leadership Theory, Adapt, Not Adopt

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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