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Running head: LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY

Leadership Philosophy:
What is Leadership? What Informs My Leadership? How do I do Leadership?
Amy Clawson
Seattle University

LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY

Exploring my philosophy of leadership and the overarching purpose of leadership has


helped me realize that I am engaging in leadership practice on a daily basis. My leadership
philosophy occurred in three separate phases that are linked together to create a sense of
understanding of who I am as a leader. These phases consist of three overarching questions:
What is leadership? What informs my leadership? How do I do leadership? These questions will
be answered using key resources on leadership development, and I will also draw upon personal
leadership experiences. I began my leadership philosophy by coming to the understanding that
leadership is a necessary component to daily function; leaders are needed in multiple situations
and contexts.
Leadership is present in the everyday operations of society and life in general; it is so
prevalent in our world that it is almost impossible for me to think about what life would look like
without leaders. I feel as though someone will always step up to the challenge and take on a
leadership role. With this in mind, the overall purpose of leadership is to enhance collaboration
and empowerment of members in order to promote positive change and move towards a common
goal. The social change model of leadership from HERI (1996) helped shape my purpose of
leadership presented above. HERI (1996) aided in my definition of leadership by stating how
leadership is collaborative, leadership is a process, leadership should be value based, and
leadership is concerned with effecting change (p. 10). The purpose of leadership I have
presented implements these ideas from the social change model. Values are at the core of the
social change model of leadership, and values also help guide the positive change and goals
leadership intends to produce. Gardner (2000) also played a part in guiding my view of
leadership by expressing what leadership is not. Gardner (2000) stated that we must not
confuse leadership with status, power, or official authority. Just because someone is powerful,

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doesnt mean they will exude effective leadership qualities. Gaining status and power should not
be the purposes of leadership, this is why I felt it was important to mention that leadership should
incorporate empowering others and working in a group effort towards a common goal.
There are multiple leadership paradigms present in research, and for good reason. The
nature of leadership is constantly shifting based on societal needs and standards, and there is not
one model of leadership that works for each individual. Because of this, I believe leadership
looks different depending on the needs of the community, followers, and the individual leaders
personal leadership style. The setting does much to determine the kinds of leaders that emerge
and how they play their roles (Gardner, 2000). The context of a situation determines what type
of leadership is needed and who will be able to offer their skills and roles to benefit the
community.
In addition to Gardner (2000), I feel Dugan (2006) and Kezar et al. (2006) have
influenced my idea of what leadership looks like by discussing the post-industrial view of
leadership. Due to my socialization in school, I mainly saw leaders as authoritative individuals
who were able to exercise control over me. With the post-industrial model in place, I have a new
view of leadership that encompasses the qualities I think are most important, collaboration and
teamwork. This post- industrial perspective is process-oriented, transformative, value-centered,
non-coercive, and collaborative (Dugan, 2006). Previous stereotypes and historical contexts
have allowed a view of effective leadership to be associated with masculine qualities; the postindustrial model has shown that feminine qualities are highly effective in leadership and are
becoming the norm. Kezar et al. (2006) explored how social change movements have provided
emotional intelligence and accountability to take form in leadership practice. The post-industrial

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model has expanded my imagination, and I see how leadership comes in many different forms,
and is open to a variety of people.
In my discussion on what leadership looks like, it is important to describe what leaders do
to make their leadership effective. There are many ways in which a leader can be effective, but I
feel most of these revolve around the idea that leaders are able to communicate proficiently, set
goals, and value members of the group as individuals. Leaders have the vision to set corporate
goals and strategies, the interpersonal skills to achieve consensus, the verbal capacity to
communicate enthusiasm and, above all, the desire to lead (Witherspoon, 1996). The desire
to lead is what I believe makes leaders the most effective. When leaders are enthusiastic, yet
humble, about their role as a leader, I think they are better able to continue the process of
collaboration and valuing goals because they are passionate about what they do. Throughout my
time as a preschool teacher, I have seen the enthusiasm for leadership have a trickle down effect
where other people feel empowered and motivated to step up as leaders as well. Witherspoon
(1996) alludes to the idea that effective leaders use many different personality traits and
interpersonal skills to build trust and communication with followers.
Trust and communication are part of what I think makes a leader effective; if a leader is
not able to communicate successfully, relationships with members of the group falter and the
goals may get lost in translation. I cannot stress enough the importance of an effective leader to
have good communication skills. An example of the problems a lack of communication skills
can cause is in reference to the two directors of the pre-school I used to work at. The directors
had different visions for the implementation of classroom safety plans. The teachers were
slightly confused about which safety plan to use in case of emergency, and this lack of
communication between the two directors caused confusion between all of the faculty members.

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The day of the fire drill, many of us teachers took our students to the location that was used in
the past, but due to the addition of a new wing at the school, the fire safety location had changed.
The lack of communication caused confusion in a situation where it is important to have
confidence in the plan that was set forth by the leader. Luckily it was just a fire drill, but this
incident shows how communication is a key component to being an effective leader.
Reflecting on my personal experiences has allowed me to see that I have engaged in
leadership roles at various stages of my life. Specifically, my time as a pre-school teacher has
played a large part in shaping my identity as a leader. I mentioned that communication and trust
are a large part in what make an effective leader, and these are qualities that are highly necessary
in teaching as well. My day-to-day interactions with students involved a lot of communication,
and this communication was important in building rapport and trust with my students. Also, my
time as a pre-school teacher allowed me to gain insight into the tough decisions leaders have to
make. I had to decide what the best practices were for my classroom based on the needs of the
community of three year olds I was serving. I created lesson plans designed around their
abilities and goals using best practices and leadership skills. Leaders in higher education also
view implementation of best practices as an important strategy; numerous programs in higher
education are designed around the communitys goals and needs.
There is always opportunity for growth in my leadership identity, no matter how many
times I have experienced leadership situations and ways to implement best practices. One area
of growth for me as a leader is to allow for a more inclusive environment and recognize my
personal identities and how these affect interactions with students. My personal identity as a
white woman can impact my interaction with students who are negotiating multiple marginalized
identities. Linder & Rodriguez (2012) discuss how stereotypes and external expectations lead to

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frustration for individuals. I need to use my privileged identity as a way to positively impact
those who are marginalized, and help them become aware of their leadership potential. The
main take-away from my reflection on What is Leadership is that leadership looks different
across situations depending on the individuals leadership style, the needs of the community, and
the overall values and goals of the leader and community. Effective leaders are able to support
the needs of their followers and community, and are able to utilize communication skills and
trust. Effective leaders must also be aware of their salient identities and how these identities play
into their leadership style.
One of my salient identities is being an athlete; I identify with this role personally and
others view me in this role socially. My time as an athlete has given me a chance to experience
and implement Bolman & Gallos (2011) Model II Assumptions for effective communication.
Emphasize common goals and mutual interests and communicate openly are Model II
assumptions that I identify with in my leadership because of experiences on a sports team
(Bolman & Gallos, 2011). Before each cross country and track season started, I made sure our
team came together to brain storm and synthesize common goals for the upcoming season.
These goals were written and placed on our team bulletin board so everyone could see them on a
daily basis and have visual reminder of why we run every day.
Open communication is another Model II Assumption that I was able to practice through
my salient identity as an athlete. During my time as captain of the cross country team, I made
sure to hold weekly meetings and re-caps of races to discuss our strengths, weaknesses, and any
problems that needed to be resolved. Discussing mutual interests and emphasizing common
goals are components of effective teamwork that lead to success in the world of sports. Without
my athletic identity, I would not have been able to fully discern the Model II assumptions; this

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would have greatly altered my leadership development. The experiences that have come with
my salient identity as an athlete have shaped my leadership style in a positive and memorable
way.
Athletics have played a large part in my life, but other salient identities come to mind
when I assess my leadership, such as my Catholic religious identity. Growing up, I was told that
the word Catholic meant universal; that all people are welcome to the church. I have expanded
this idea of universality into my personal leadership style by attempting to acknowledge the
capital and potential everyone brings to a team. Furthermore, expecting the best is one of the
Seven Essentials of Encouraging that my salient identity as Catholic has helped me to practice in
my leadership. Expecting the best has allowed me to understand that I value the belief in the
good of others, and want to help people unlock their potential (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 20).
An example of believing in others is in reference to my time as a teacher; as a teacher, I always
expected the best of my students, and they continually performed well because they felt
encouraged and cared for.
My Catholic identity also comes into play during leadership when I am facing ethical
dilemmas. Kidder (1995) outlines four dilemma paradigms that are seen in professional
leadership situations: truth versus loyalty, individual versus community, short-term versus longterm, and justice versus mercy (Kidder, 1995). I use my religion as an ethical and moral
compass; my identity has helped me to solve some of the ethical paradigms Kidder (1995)
identified. My Catholic identity has helped me through an individual versus community
dilemma during my teaching days. This dilemma involved one of my students who had a
conduct disorder and frequently caused disruption in the class. The student specifically said that
he did not want his classmates to know about his disorder in fear of judgment. Other students in

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the class asked why the individual was always acting out and unfortunately gossiped about his
conduct disruptions at recess. Part of me felt I needed to uphold the individuals request and not
share his disorder with the class. Yet, another side of me felt this could be used as a learning
opportunity to teach the class about accepting others despite differences. My salient identity
came through during this leadership dilemma and I ultimately decided that the needs of the
individual in this situation were more important. I decided that keeping the trust my student
placed in me was important; I decided to find another way to teach my students about accepting
differences. My salient identity as a Catholic is at the forefront of my actions on a daily basis;
this identity has undoubtedly shaped my effectiveness as a leader.
In addition to my salient identities, there are multiple resources I engage in my leadership
practice, such as the care-based thinking principle from Kidder (1995). My salient identity as a
Catholic has taught me to believe in the Golden Rule; doing to others what I would like them to
do to me. The care-based thinking model involves following the Golden Rule and putting others
first while making a decision (Kidder, 1995). Throughout my leadership experiences, I have
always attempted to put the needs of others first and have acted on a basis of care. Another
decision-making model I engage in my leadership practice is the limited rational decision
making model discussed in Witherspoon (1996). The limited rational model includes direct and
quick responses to needs and problems (Witherspoon, 1996). Because I use the limited rational
leadership model frequently to find quick solutions, I am under utilizing the rational decision
making model that takes all potential solutions into account before making a decision. This is an
area of leadership that I need to develop; I need to practice decision making rather than decision
taking.
Another component of leadership practice that I under-utilize is leading by outrage from

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Sergiovanni (2000). Servant leadership is a form of leadership I think is effective, but the
leading by outrage component is difficult for me to implement. Oftentimes, my role as a leader
includes being a peacemaker; based on past experience as an athlete, I feel leading by outrage
will cause tension in the workplace, which is what I try to avoid. I have had many coaches
throughout the years who attempted to lead by outrage, but it left the team feeling defeated and
lost. Leading by outrage needs to be subtle and less intimidating in order to light a fire within
group members, instead of diminishing their hard work and efforts.
After reflecting on the resources I utilize, my personal values, and salient identities, I
have determined that the Human Resource Frame resonates most with my leadership practice.
The Human Resource frame allows my salient identities to play a role in my leadership, and also
correlates well with my personality traits. My salient identity as an athlete is able to shine
through with the Human Resource Frame because I am able to practice open communication,
provide support to my team, and show my constituents care (Bolman & Gallos, 2011). These
aspects of the Human Resource Frame are what I practice on a daily basis as an athlete, and this
frame caries over into my student development professional experience as well.
My job as an academic advisor is built around teamwork and providing care and
empowerment to students. Open communication with students and staff members is a daily
component of my academic advising job, and is a large component of the Human Resource
Frame. One con to the human resource frame is that it can be difficult to hire the right people,
but hiring the right people is a key aspect of the human resource view. Furthermore, hiring the
right people may lead to a lack of inclusivity in the workplace if unknown biases are involved in
the hiring process. Each individual has a different view of who the right person is for a job.
Sometimes it is good to take a risk and allow someone to join a team even though their strengths

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and weaknesses differ. Another difficulty with the human resource frame is empowerment;
empowerment is imperative to effective leadership, yet too much autonomy can lead to disaster.
Bolman & Gallos (2011) bring about the idea of bounded autonomy. I personally struggle with
bounded autonomy in my leadership practice because it is hard for me to find a balance of
empowerment and freedom, yet still following strict agendas and goals. A solution I have to this
problem of mine would be to practice adaptive leadership to improve my human resource
leadership style. Adaptive leadership will allow me to become aware of my tolerances, skills,
and roles and how these play into my leadership (Heifetz et al., 2009). With adaptive leadership,
I will be able to provide more empowerment and bounded autonomy by understanding what is
essential to promote productivity and fulfill others needs.
It is evident that I have utilized the human resource frame in my athletic, teaching, and
academic advising careers, but I also had the opportunity to engage in the human resource frame
of leadership while creating a non-profit organization, Project Bookworm. Project Bookworm
was a chance for me to engage in the Social Change Model of leadership development presented
in Dugan (2006). The idea for the non-profit organization was created based on my own
awareness about childhood literacy discrepancies across socioeconomic status. A few of my
classmates in a sociology class were also interested in promoting literacy so we decided to
collaborate at the group level and begin developing our organization. After we established a
common purpose, we began developing the framework of Project Bookworm. The main concept
of Project bookworm was to promote literacy by collecting books and distributing them at local
federal aid locations so children could take home a free book and expand their at-home library.
The entirety of Project Bookworm was a democratic process; even the name of our
organization was created through a voting system. As a leader, I wanted each member to have a

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say in our organization, even if that meant taking the time to vote on a name for our project. The
democratic and human resource approach worked well with my group members, but there were
still difficulties. One of the most difficult tasks during this process was implementing the
political frame of leadership. In order for federal aid sites to agree on placing a Project
Bookworm box in their office, I had to engage in political leadership. I had to negotiate with
potential federal aid locations, and navigate the different agendas and interests associated with
our group and these locations. Some locations were more willing than others to see our vision
and agree to help. We came across many locations that did not have the space for our book
boxes, or did not agree with our overall vision. Scarcity of resources came in to play with the
locations that did not have enough time for us to come in and present our Project Bookworm
idea, or felt the book box would cause a disruption in their workplace.
The Guardian Angel Home and a womens shelter in Joliet, Illinois were two of our most
successful alliances because our values aligned with theirs. Due to this alignment, I was able to
back away from the political frame, and implement the human resource frame and use the
currency of care (Bolman & Gallos, 2011). Both of these sites were already advocating for the
care and wellbeing of women and children, our book boxes were another way they could assist
the community. I think in the end, my leadership approach was successful. I was able to tailor
my approach to the individual federal aid location we were targeting, which helped in the overall
success of Project Bookworm. The main lesson I learned from this project is that a shared vision
is key; I found that without a shared vision, group progress and success would not occur. I was
lucky to have a team of members that were highly motivated and wanted to see Project
Bookworm succeed. Also, the South Side community of Chicago was very generous, and
supported our efforts by donating over 1,500 books during our two week long book drive.

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Creating this organization took a lot of hard work, and was met with challenges along the
way. We received so many books that we had to begin using the trunks of our cars to store them.
A large conflict occurred when our group was sorting out the 1,500 books by category and which
location should receive certain books. As a leader, I had to decide which books were appropriate
for the population we were serving, many of the books we had to reject contained violence or
related themes of destruction. Some of my group members did not agree with the books I chose
to leave out, but I made sure to explain my thought process and reasoning for my actions.
During times of conflict, I stepped up as a leader and reminded the group of our common
purpose and the achievements we had made. Project Bookworm was one of the highlights of my
undergraduate experience, and I am happy to see that new leaders have taken on this project so
children can continue to receive free books in the Chicago community.
My salient identities have shaped my leadership experiences and have helped guide me
during the process of creating Project Bookworm. Reflection on my teaching, academic
advising, and development of a non-profit organization has given me an understanding of the
multiple leadership frames I use in practice. I found that applying an adaptive leadership style
and expanding upon the human resource frame can help me utilize other resources and skills, and
will ultimately improve my leadership practice. In the end, I have equated my leadership
development to the process of life-long learning. Similar to life-long learning, my leadership
philosophy will continue to evolve throughout my lifetime based on experience and continued
research. My personal leadership philosophy and general idea of leadership has grown
throughout this process, and will continue to grow during my time in higher education. In the
beginning stages of my leadership philosophy, I considered leadership to serve the purpose of
enhancing collaboration and empowerment of members to promote positive change towards a

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common goal. After weeks of reflection on my own leadership identity and style, my definition
of leadership has become slightly altered. My new definition is: effective leadership promotes
positive change and collaboration when individuals are empowered, and when identities are
acknowledged and valued. My goal as a leader is to fully value each of my constituents so they
can feel supported, coached, and cared for.

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References

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Linder, C. & Rodriguez, K.L. (2012). Learning from the experiences of self-identified women of
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