How To Develop A Leadership Philosophy (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 13, 2021
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Take a moment and think about how you’d talk to a new person and introduce yourself in any situation; maybe it’s a work event or your first class of the year. Now think about how your best friend would approach the same situation. It would be different from how you decide to talk to that person, right?

Just like anything else, people have different ways of tackling the same situation. While approaching a new person is an easy example, some processes are more complex, and hard to tell how you’d respond. This can be the case when it comes to putting your leadership skills to the test and work as a leader.

As it turns out, there are a few main leadership philosophies that most people follow to determine their leadership style. You might know of these leadership philosophies and decide to model your leadership off of them, or you naturally developed your leadership style, and it matches one of these methods.

No matter what stage of your career you’re in, what industry you’re in, or what your career goals are, knowing the leadership philosophy you follow is an important tool. Your philosophy can help you develop your leadership skills or even tackle tricky leadership challenges. The most effective leaders form their own leadership philosophies and use them to guide all of their work.

We’re going to give you a rundown on leadership philosophies, so you can figure yours out and go above and beyond when you’re tapped to lead something.

What Is a Leadership Philosophy?

Leadership philosophies are based on several things, including character, beliefs, emotions, and principles. To create an outline of how someone acts as a leader, you can follow a leadership principle on a personal level, referring to how you are as a leader, or a company or organizational level, meaning an organization encourages employees to lead in a certain way.

Leadership has different ways of approaching and tackling different situations. Each person views it differently and acts as a leader in different ways. Using leadership philosophies is a way to distill those differences down and make sense of the ways people can act as leaders.

Though it seems technical or advanced, leadership philosophies are more like guidelines than rules set in stone. You can relate to multiple leadership styles and switch up your leadership since the philosophies don’t have to be adhered to. Think of it as a way to classify types of leadership and a method to help you frame how you approach leadership.

While they’re not formalized in nature, you should formalize your leadership philosophy and write it down. Sometimes a potential employer will ask to know your leadership philosophy, but it’s still mainly a tool for you. Taking the time to sit down, think, and write about your take on leadership can prepare you for tackling a leadership role in the future.

You can use it as a reference when you need to figure out how to approach a challenging leadership problem.

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Why Should You Review Examples of Leadership Philosophies?

Like anything else, learning through examples can help you understand what you’re trying to do and how to do it. It can be tough to learn how to tie your shoes without having someone show you, just like leadership philosophies can be hard to write without an example.

Not only will you better understand the format of leadership philosophies when you review examples, but you’ll also get a chance to see how other people see leadership. You might find points you agree with or some that you hate, and they’re all valuable.

You can choose to model your personal philosophy after others or decide that you want to do the opposite of what someone else did.

Having access to other peoples’ leadership philosophies can help you formulate your own better than if you were on your own. Taking inspiration from others can help you decide how you want to be as a leader. It’s like thinking back to a leader you admire and trying to capture what you love about them in your own leadership style.

This doesn’t mean you should take your leadership style from someone else. It’s actually the opposite. You should strive to create a unique leadership philosophy that feels like your own, but of course, you can take inspiration from other people.

Leadership Philosophy Examples

Leadership philosophies can be many things. You can write one that is uniquely your own, or you can consult some common leadership philosophies that many people follow, or at least draw lots of inspiration from.

We’re going to go over a few well-known leadership philosophy examples, so you can get a feel of what different ones look like. You can deviate from these and develop something new, or you can choose to incorporate elements of one or a few in your personal statement.

There’s no wrong way to lead, and these are just a few common examples of leadership philosophies:

  • Solution-based leadership. You can look at a challenge as a problem or an opportunity to find a great solution. People who see it the second way can be solution-based leaders who look for good solutions instead of worrying about the problem at hand.

    Think of it as the glass-half-full approach. You can encourage your team to seek as many solutions as possible and create opportunities for innovation. No matter your challenge, seeing a problem as something to solve can help motivate your team, whereas a negative approach could stress you and your team out and lead to unproductive meetings.

  • Democratic leadership. If you believe in hearing every voice in the room, democratic leadership might be for you. As the leader, you can consult everyone and weigh their opinions equally before making a decision. But, since you’re in charge, you can ultimately decide the next step.

    Democratic leadership centers on hearing from everyone and weighing different points of view, even if you don’t end up picking the route with the most support.

  • Transformational leadership. Setting goals, finding paths to success, and working collaboratively with a team are central to transformational leadership. These leaders want to help their team grow and evolve as everyone works together.

    Often, transformational leaders spend less time working with the team on the tasks needed to complete a project, but rather thinking ahead and planning out what steps need to be taken to reach the end of a project and provide direction for the team.

  • Learning leadership. Some people like to approach leadership as an opportunity to learn. Instead of acting like a leader who got there because of their existing knowledge, they approach every situation as a chance to learn more and expand their horizons.

    If you think most of the opportunities to learn can come from working with new people and tackling challenges together, you might like learning leadership. This style is particularly useful in environments that change quickly since it’s a very adaptive style of behaving and leading.

  • Laissez-faire leadership. If you like being hands-off and leaving people to do what they do best, laissez-faire leadership might be your style. Typically, these leaders act as a final “okay” or a resource for help when team members get stuck, but they don’t hover or force people to do things their way.

    This leaves time for the leader to address higher administrative tasks and let the team work however they feel is best.

  • Transactional leadership. Sometimes people work harder when they know they’ll get something good at the end. This is the basis for transactional leadership, which uses rewards to motivate people to work toward a common goal. Think of things like bonuses, promotions, raises, and other rewards for employees who contribute to a project or goal.

    This type of leadership can be very effective with the right people, but it also risks alienating some people who aren’t goal or reward focused.

  • Autocratic leadership. Almost the opposite of laissez-faire leadership is autocratic leadership, where the leader wants to oversee most, if not all, of a team’s work. People who are control freaks tend toward this style, but that’s not a bad thing.

    Autocratic leadership can be very effective in ensuring everyone knows their responsibilities and is working cohesively toward the common goal. This leadership philosophy can be useful in industries or companies that tend to be strict or highly regulated since it puts control and authority in one person’s hand.

Tips for Writing a Leadership Philosophy

  • Find your leadership style. Along with leadership philosophies, leadership styles are important in understanding how you lead.

    Leadership philosophies are unique to you, and you craft them yourself, but leadership styles tend to be broad categories and ways of leading that you can identify with and adopt. Knowing your leadership style can help you form your leadership philosophy.

  • Think about how you work currently. To start, you should consider how you lead presently or how you’ve led in the past. Your most effective leadership philosophy will be one that feels natural to you, so starting with what you already do is a great start.

  • Think about your future. How do you want to be perceived as a leader? Thinking about the future of your leadership and skills is a good way to get on a path that will lead you there. Consider how you would like to lead in the future and how you want to work with your team.

  • Talk with other leaders. Getting advice from other leaders is a great way to think about your leadership values. Ask them about how they lead and what general principles they bring to all of their leadership roles.

  • Consider your goals. Think about where you want to be in the future and how you can get there. Your leadership goals should fall in line with your broader career and life goals, so make sure everything is consistent.

  • Think about your personal values. At the end of the day, leadership philosophies are extremely personal and reflect who you are. Turning to your values is a good way to incorporate your beliefs into the way you lead others.

  • Find leaders you admire. Just like looking at leadership philosophies can help you determine your personal perspective. Looking at the leadership styles of leaders you admire can help you find what you like.

    Look at prominent figures and take them as a leadership model. Think about what you like about them and incorporate those characteristics in your leadership philosophy.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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