Transformational Leaders or Paragon Leaders?

The accretion of “saintly” attributes – do mere mortals dare apply?

What can we can learn from an informal review of recent book titles or web sites about the secrets behind “leadership” – getting out front and going (somewhere, anywhere) in advance? Clearly, there are traits required to “getting out front” and bringing others with you. Depending on how high you can count, the number of leadership traits that are “time-tested” (the best kind, of course), range from five ( to a high of 23 ( The median seems to be about ten. Leadership skills and qualities were never noted on any scale less than “good” ranging to “vital” and “essential.”

Leaders may come in many “flavors,” but if we believe the adulatory literature, they have rapidly morphed over the years into super folks. Like many well-intended nonprofit organizations that experience “mission creep” by accepting too many public service responsibilities, in trying to grow more and better leaders are we seeing a similar process, let’s call it “virtue creep,” add layer upon layer of appealing behaviors, attributes and core values as essentials of “leadership”?

“as we all know…”

Whenever you read or hear similar sweeping generalizations and assumptions, the truth will be much harder to find. And, “as we all know…” leaders as often profiled in public dialogue, have become paragons of exemplary behavior based on fully developed sets of impeccable core values representing the most humanistic principles ever gathered into a fictionalized PLCOC (paragon leader code of conduct). Any number of authorities have advocated or reported lists of leadership principles that ring with righteousness. From these we learn that leaders are honest and forward-looking folks, inspiring, competent, intelligent, fair-minded, courageous and determined (Kouzes and Posner, 2007), and so it continues.

A recent informal compilation (see Figure 1) of responses from graduate students at a major university provides their nominations for exemplary leadership characteristics. Collectively, the students profiled a nearly perfect human being.

I am suggesting that because leadership is such an important – and highly discussed and debated – topic in public discourse, in order to grow better leaders we have added layer upon layer (“accreted” as John Lehman was fond of saying) of lofty, even heroic, characteristics and attributes, each compilation of which seems to have its champion – not to mention “best-selling” new book.

Next: Motivation by Deification or Too Heavy Lies the Mantle?

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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