A Definition and Types of Leadership and Philosophy

There are many definitions of leadership and what a leader is, and truthfully, there isn’t one correct answer. Every person has their own definition and it depends on their own experiences, goals and values that determine what a leader is, to them. This is why people have different leadership styles and practices; two people’s philosophies and beliefs on how to effectively lead could be totally separate and opposite in nature. Often we see leaders who lead through example and will be encouraging and other times leaders will be more directive and critical, less fun to work under, but still effective. Then there are leadership styles that range far in between these.

The fact that there are so many different ways for people to lead is what allows there to be volumes of books written on the subject, courses taught in schools, discussions to be had. If there were one way to define leadership and what it is meant to be, there wouldn’t be a need for discussion, it would just be taught as is. But since it is not clear, when learning about leadership, it is necessary to examine one’s own values and beliefs and determine how those coordinate within a leadership philosophy.

After this philosophy is formed, one can go about being an effective leader in adherence to one’s own guidelines on how to lead. That is not to say leadership philosophies are set in stone, they may change over time depending on how one’s goals and values change. For example, a younger leader might put more value on maintaining a friendly relationship with their followers whereas an older leader might value relationships less and have the goal of achieving a certain result. They might also have the goal of mentoring a follower to become a leader to one day take their place whereas a young leader won’t be so concerned with that; they themselves still need to learn quite a few things before teaching others. Overall, leaders are a wide-ranging and dynamic group, and each philosophy is unique in their own way.

As we’ve already stated, there is no one definition of leadership. However, there are some common elements that are exhibited in several different attempts to define leaderships which include: having a vision, communicating that vision with others, supporting and guiding those under you, empowering and motivating your followers, developing those under you, listening, giving constructive criticism, never giving up, not having an ego, sharing success, inspiring, etc. (Helmrich, 2015).

There are many more ways to describe a leader, but these are some of the core traits that leaders exhibit, as defined by leaders themselves. One of the better definitions, however was by Bob Mason, who stated, “Leadership is simply causing other people to do what the leaders want. Good leadership, whether formal or informal, is helping other people rise to their full potential.” (Helmrich, 2015). We can take this one step further and useDe Pree’s concept of redefining potential from Leadership Jazz.

A good leader is someone who can help others rise to their potential, redefine it and continue helping them again; they continually challenge their followers, and give them new challenges once they’ve succeeded. This culminates into my personal definition of leadership, which isn’t overarching of all situations, but serves as a simple but solid take on leadership: “a leader is able to effectively accomplish goals and instil a positive change in both their followers and themselves, while maintaining a balance of challenge and encouragement.”

A leader should always have goals to accomplish in mind pertaining to both the execution of their own tasks as well as the development of their followers. Sheehy states in Raising a Team Player, “for a goal to be good, it must be measurable and attainable.” (pg. 31). Having achievable goals gives you a directive and motivation to achieve them, and a sense of accomplishment when you’re successful.

Goals pertaining to your followers are also similar, while they are less tangible, they are still achievable and instill accomplishment. For example, a leader might have the personal goal to win a league championship in their sport, which is easily an attainable and challenging goal. However, when considering goals pertaining to their followers they have to be more geared towards development.

A possibility might include the leader’s goal for a follower to take his/her side the following season as an assistant captain. This takes time and nurturing, teaching the skills required to be a leader, and its not an easily quantifiable process. Nevertheless, a good leader should have goals for both themselves and for their followers in order to be successful.

A leader should have clear values that he/she bases their philosophy of leadership on. Without a basis for this philosophy, there is no weight to it; no damning reason to adhere to the principles of the philosophy. If you don’t actually value honesty, then why would you care if telling the truth was part of your philosophy of leadership? Values that go into the philosophy need to be solid and a firm belief. Some values that I hold personally are integrity, respect, professionalism and consistency. Some good values to base a philosophy of leadership on arethe traits set forth on Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, which exemplify the qualities of a successful athlete and leader.

Super leaders are leaders who attempt to make every individual a leader of themselves. Rather than having one person direct every individual on what to do and how to do it, the idea of super-leadership is that individuals will lead themselves, and with the guidance of a leader, can achieve the goals and challenges set forth through their own merits(Manc, 1989). A super leader is one who knows their strength is not in themselves, but in those who they surround themselves with; the team is the effective unit (Manc, 1989).

A leader is there to ensure the everyone is in communication and knows their roles, and maintains that communication while the goal is being achieved. The idea of a super leader is interesting, as it makes the most sense for a practical world. It is hard to accomplish fully, as there are many individuals who just are not able to lead themselves, but it is a good goal to have and to strive for. It falls in line with my personal definition of leadership, in that the leader is affecting their followers in a positive way, as well as themselves.

The concept also makes sense in that leaders attempt to make further leaders out of their followers, not just of themselves, but of others as well. Through mentoring they can teach followers how to be a super leader and further empower individuals to lead themselves.

The idea of super-leadership is similar to situational leadership, in that there is each situation requires its own kind of leadership. As discussed earlier, there is no one correct form of leadership, and situational leadership combined with super leadership looks to be the best way of going about a leadership philosophy; that is, each situation requires a unique way to empower the individual to lead themselves. Sometimes that way is through harsh critique, other times it is through small, attainable challenges to overcome.

As we have seen, there are many ways that leaders can formulate a philosophy of leadership, and it is always a unique way of leading. By making a clear definition of leadership based off values and goals you hold personally, you can adhere to the principles you set forth in your philosophy. Often times this will include developing followers into leaders, as we have seen with super-leadership, or, if not developing all followers, at least a select few for mentorship.

Leaders have a great task when directing their followers, as it is their responsibility to ensure things go according to plan, and goals are met. Even if it is not their direct fault, the leaders take the blame for the group’s inability to accomplish the task. This responsibility is why it is crucial for leaders to have a defined, clear leadership philosophy, so they know how to act and directions to give. If they did not have a philosophy to follow, they would be unsure how to lead which would put the accomplishment of the goal at stake.

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