What is a leadership philosophy? (And how to write one)
Updated 21 August 2023
Great leaders use a variety of methods and strategies to maximise their impact and bring out the best in people. Developing a leadership philosophy is a valuable practice for shaping a leadership structure and positive ethos. Leadership philosophies are individual and vary according to leaders' values, goals and attitudes toward leadership. In this article, we define leadership philosophy, give examples of types of leadership theories and philosophies and offer tips for writing your own leadership philosophy.
What is a leadership philosophy?
A leadership philosophy is a structured approach to leading others, which is grounded in your own belief system. It centres on your set of values, principles and vision and guides your decision-making as a leader. Writing a leadership philosophy statement helps you define your beliefs and identify the type of leader you want to be, which enables you to focus on future long-term goals. Leaders use their leadership philosophy statement as a reference point for consistently guiding their team. Leadership philosophies include the following four key elements:
Theory: The leadership theory you write will establish your vision of a leadership position. It will also outline your aspirations as a leader.
Perspective: This shapes how you define a leader and his roles. It will change depending on each person's experiences with different types of leadership.
Guiding principles: These include the values that you prioritise to guide your leadership role. They are formed around your ideas about morality and what is most important to you in your leadership style.
Behaviour: This includes the actions you take to achieve your leadership goals. Your values, attitude and theory inform your behaviour as a leader.
A leadership philosophy is unique and individualised. The leadership philosophy statement can be a short, concise summary or a lengthy piece of writing, according to the needs and objectives of the leader. Leadership theories often provide the basis for philosophy statements.
Types of leadership theories
Leadership theories often come from years of research and study of the psychology of successful leaders. The theories lead to a better understanding of how managers and employees can improve their leadership styles. Successful businesses recognise the value of leadership theories in helping managers fulfil their potential, generate change and guide their teams effectively.
These theories are prominent among several leadership theories. Becoming familiar with them can give you insight into the basis of effective leadership styles. An awareness of the theories can help you form the core of your personal leadership philosophy. Consider the three key leadership theories below:
Great man theory
This theory is the earliest way of looking at leadership. It suggests that some men or women are born with a natural ability to lead. Their leadership skills are innate and they manage situations and people without requiring much specific training. Personal qualities facilitate their ability to lead. Clearly, they have an advantage although they can enhance their skill set with strategic leadership training courses.
This theory places more emphasis on behaviour patterns in leaders rather than on the notion of an inherent ability to lead. According to this theory, a leader can develop their leadership skills through practice. With time, the skills become embedded as habits, and the leader gradually gains new skills to apply to practical leadership situations.
This theory asserts that one single leadership style cannot apply to all contexts. It considers how circumstances influence situations and suggest that leaders must be flexible and willing to vary their approach to manage varying situations successfully. Understanding the complexities of this theory can help when implementing it in your organisation.
6 examples of leadership philosophies
Your leadership philosophy should be an authentic reflection of your actual values, and while you should not copy leadership philosophies, it may be useful to look at examples. Examples of leadership philosophy statements can raise interesting questions for reflection and guide you in writing your own statement. They might help you see which philosophies you can relate to and consider which components are worth including in your statement: Below are some examples of key philosophies:
1. Transformational philosophy
Otherwise known as 'relational leadership philosophy', this concept revolves around the idea that leaders that promote positive relationships with team members inspire others to become leaders. These leaders lead by example and share their strategies and ideas with their team. They set high standards for themselves as well as others in the team.
Example: 'I believe that communication is a crucial element of effective leadership. I intend to focus on listening to the input and opinions of my team members and encouraging honest communication between them. I aspire to lead by example, with integrity and share my strategies with my team as they progress towards their professional goals'.
2. Democratic philosophy
This theory prioritises teamwork and the team participating in important decision-making within the organisation. The leader consults the team members for ideas and opinions and also values their input.
Example: 'I value all team members and expect them to participate in decision making and planning. I share responsibility and listen to their ideas. I respect team members and try to inspire them. My attitude towards my team centres on empathy and consideration'.
3. Autocratic Philosophy
This is where the leader assumes the authority and decision-making of any situation. The leader does not consult team members for input or opinions and expects the team to carry out instructions.
Example: 'I consider myself to be in the best position to make decisions and direct the team. I expect my actions to inspire and lead the team. My actions are in the best interests of the company. I am decisive and act with authority'.
Related: What Is Autocratic Leadership?
4. Laissez-faire leadership philosophy
This concept centres on shared power between the team and the leader. The teamwork is on their own initiative, with little guidance from their leader. The leader focuses on issues at a higher level without closely monitoring the team's operations.
Example: 'I trust my team to know what is best and to make sound decisions to meet their own needs and the company's needs. I will give guidance when the team request it and will focus my attention on projects at a higher level'.
5. Transactional leadership philosophy
This style of leadership aims to motivate employees through a system of rewards. Leaders offer incentives and rewards to their team when they meet a specified goal or target.
Example: 'I believe my team will respond well to rewards. I motivate my team by offering specific rewards for completing projects and meeting objectives. I am available to offer guidance if the team requests it. I trust my team and behave with honesty'.
Related: What Is Transactional Leadership?
6. Strategic Leadership philosophy
Strategic leaders base their style on long-term future planning with the present circumstances in mind. They balance management of present financial stability with long-term financial forecasts. They assume responsibility for high-level projects and offer guidance and support to their team.
Example: 'I believe every team member has a specific duty. I aim to maximise the productivity of each team member. I will guide my team and manage company operations at a high level. I will behave with integrity, honesty, and fairness'.
Tips for writing your own leadership philosophy
Writing your own personal leadership philosophy can be a useful exercise. It motivates you to reflect on strengths and areas of improvement in your leadership and can provide a helpful framework. Use the tips below to create your own personal leadership philosophy:
Define your values and principles clearly. Brainstorm your core values and highlight the essential ones you would hope to share with your team.
Identify the leaders you admire. Consider the values they adopted in their leadership philosophies. Adapt their objectives and methods to what fits your own personal leadership philosophy.
Set realistic objectives for yourself. Think about what you hope to achieve as a leader. Include what you aspire to achieve and what you feel you should achieve in your role as a leader. Specify the action you will take to reach your goals and reflect on how your values support and complement your goals.
Identify your leadership style. Identify how to lead your team. Make your choice, but be consistent so the team will know what to expect.
Consider how those values and goals may impact the team. Be aware of the beliefs and goals they might share with you. Educate yourself on the individuals who make up your team.
Reflect on your past successes as a leader and think about situations that you did not manage as effectively as you had hoped. Learn from them. Think about situations that other leaders managed successfully, and adopt practices that might have positive outcomes in your situation.
Talk to your team and get their input on aspects of your leadership practice. Use questionnaires and suggestion boxes.
Reflect on your goals and values to form a vision statement. Write it out, aiming to keep it short, specific and concise so that you can memorise it. Two to three sentences should be long enough.
Reread your statement and edit it. Ensure that the language is clear and has an impact. It should motivate and inspire you.
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