Leadership philosophies - and the experts who have studied them - particularly help us to understand how a leader comes to power and stays in power.

In this respect a leadership philosophy involve much deeper references to society, human behaviour, politics, civilization than leadership models or styles.

Leadership philosophies are not 'designed' to be applied like a model (process/toolkit) or a style (tool/systematic approach). But philosophies do enable much greater insight (than models and styles) to the wider causes of, and effects upon, leadership from the widest possible human viewpoint.

This makes them fascinating to understand, especially for leaders who are interested in the effects of leadership on people and issues beyond the group or task in hand.

I am grateful to James Scouller, an expert coach, thinker, and writer on leadership, for the contribution of most of the technical content on this article, and for the collaboration in editing it and presenting it here. Aside from what follows here, Scouller's expertise in leadership theory is evidenced particularly in his 2011 book "The Three Levels of Leadership", which I commend to you.

Important note about philosophies

The (Oxford English Dictionary) definition of the word philosophy is:

"The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline."

So when we discuss a philosophy of any sort, we are opening a potentially vast discussion, like asking 'what is the meaning of life?..' and which therefore:

  • Can expand indefinitely
  • Contains thousands of variations, arguments and counter-arguments
  • Ultimately does not enable complete scientific resolution or clear agreement
  • Can completely obscure and confuse the basic and generally agreed simplicities of a particular proposition if extended too deeply

For these reasons, the leadership philosophies below are not discussed to their fullest possible extent, or anything like it. They are explained to a basic level at which there is is generally no disagreement, and by which the main principles can be understood.

Types of Philosophy

This section explores the following leadership philosophies:

In developing his Integrated Psychological leadership model, James Scouller has observed that a difficulty arises if attempting to turn a leadership philosophy into a leadership model - in other words, to develop a process or toolkit from a particular leadership philosophy - or to teach or apply a philosophy as if it were a structured method, or 'kit of parts'. This is a very interesting point, and very relevant to the integrated aspects of his own work:

  • The tendency - to develop a philosophy into a process or model - has helped to increase confusion in the leadership subject as a whole
  • The tendency - to develop a philosophy into a process or model - exists because historically leadership models have not addressed well aspects of leadership philosophy, for example and specifically, how to be a servant leader, or how to be an authentic leader, or an ethical leader or a values-based leader
  • This vacuum - whereby traditional leadership models do not adequately offer process or method for incorporating philosophical aspects - has naturally caused leadership philosophies to be extended and distorted to fill the gap

This means that when using leadership philosophies - to learn, teach or apply rules of effective leadership - we must be careful to appreciate the usefulness and limitations of any leadership philosophy - or any other philosophy about anything else too..

Here's a simple presentation of this point:

Philosophies help explain:

Philosophies are not:

  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Relationships
  • Morality
  • Ethics
  • Politics
  • History
  • Society
  • Civilization
  • Economics
  • Processes
  • Rules
  • Instructions
  • Systems
  • Tools
  • Structures
  • Methods
  • Learning models
  • Adaptability guides

Model vs. Philosophy vs. Style

A brief reminder of the definitions and differences between Models, Philosophies, and Styles:

leadership model provides a process or framework for learning, applying, and adapting leadership for given groups, organizations, or situations. A model is like a 'how-to' framework, a toolkit or a process.

leadership philosophy is a way of thinking and behaving in leadership - its aims and means - according to values and beliefs. A philosophy is like a subtle but powerful compass or behavioural code.

leadership style is a narrow and specific behaviour compared to a model or philosophy. Leadership style may be strongly influenced by the leader's personality, the aims of the leader, and relationship with followers. A style is a description of a leader's behaviours, and may also be like a tool in the leadership models toolkit.

For more details, see definitions and differences of Models, Philosophies and Styles in the context of leadership theory.

This section explains Leadership philosophies - one of the three main categories of leadership theories, alongside Leadership Models, and Leadership Styles. Leadership philosophies are quite different from leadership models, and leadership styles.

I am grateful to James Scouller for his help, patience, and expert contribution in producing this leadership guide.

James Scouller is an expert coach and partner at The Scouller Partnership in the UK, which specialises in coaching leaders. He was chief executive of three international companies for eleven years before becoming a professional coach in 2004. He holds two postgraduate coaching qualifications and trained in applied psychology at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London.

James Scouller's book is called "The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill". It was published in May 2011. I commend it to you, and his thinking too.

You can learn more about James Scouller's book at three-levels-of-leadership.com.

Details of James Scouller's executive coaching work are at TheScoullerPartnership.co.uk.

A leadership philosophy is a way of thinking and behaving in leadership - its aims and means - according to values and beliefs.

An overview of servant leadership and its origins. 


An overview of authentic leadership and its applications.


An overview of values-based leadership. 


Values-driven leadership is a leadership framework which stresses the importance of setting clear organisational values that can be embodied by the entire organisation – from managers to employees.


Ethical leadership is a relatively loosely defined philosophy of leadership. To many it is seen to equate to moral leadership, or leading with a sense of great fairness.


A brief overview of the concept and benefits of a distributed style of leadership.


An overview of John French and Bertram Raven's alternative leadership philosophy. Unlike other philosophies, French and Raven's concept does not offer a view on the sort of leadership one should offer. Instead, it investigates the basis of a leader's power. 


The hard questions for an authentic life - sample questions and book summary.


The leaders of the 21st century have produced record low levels of trust and engagement in workforces, and the modern world is in desperate need of a new kind of leadership. A shift is required in leadership philosophies worldwide, perhaps towards one which places an emphasis on the idea of leading with trustKen Blanchard's ABCDs (Able, Believable, Connected and Dependable) are a framework of behavioural characteristics an individual needs to display if they are to be considered a trustworthy leader.