Share this page
An overview of the different philosophical approaches to leadership.
Table of contents
1.3. Types of Philosophy
Leadership Philosophies Overview 
A brief reminder of the definitions and differences between Models, Philosophies, and Styles:
A 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.
A 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.
A 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.
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.
This section explores the following leadership philosophies:
- Servant Leadership
- Authentic Leadership
- Ethical Leadership
- Values-based Leadership
- Sources of a Leader's Power - French and Raven
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; and
- 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:
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;
- and so 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.