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Running Head: LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY

Leadership Philosophy
Margaret Hendrickson
Seattle University

EDAD 5700 Leadership in Education 1


March 12, 2016

Leadership Philosophy

My Definition of Leadership
Just as I have grown through each context of my life, my definition of what and who a
leader is has changed over the years. For most of my childhood, it was measured in someone
who was brave and willing to rise up against danger. My understanding was born from stories
and easily acceptable images from the media and popular culture. As I grew, my definition
shrunk down to my own personal context. The leaders in my life were coaches and captains of
the sports teams I played on, my troop leaders for Girl Scouts, or my counselors at summer
camp. They were given titles that equated power, thus their leadership was largely based on a
positional capital. Komives, Longerbeam, Mainella, Osteen, and Owen (2005) outlined that the
three major developmental influences that shape leadership identity are adult influences, peer
influences, and meaningful involvement. For me, this is the exact course that I use to mark my
leadership development. As mentioned above, my early ideas of leadership began with the adults
who played key roles in my life.
As I continued to grow, I began taking on these positional roles and thus had to begin
considering myself as a leader. I purposefully mimicked those I had looked up to in the past in
attempt to wield similar influence. More often than not, however, my peers named me as leader
when I had not been trying to claim that title. Again, in line with the grounded theory of
leadership identity development, hearing validation from peers who were older than me who
served as role models brought even more significance to how I viewed myself as a leader.
(Komives et al., 2005) The idea that others who I looked up to were viewing me as a leader when
I was not calling myself one was confusing to me. It meant that I must have some innate qualities
that cause others to feel motivation, comfort, or mattering in my presence. As I found myself

Leadership Philosophy

called to more leadership roles, I was given the opportunity to reflect on what leadership meant
in a different way.
In college, I assumed the role of a Resident Assistant, Orientation Leader, and supervisor
for my peers at summer camp, all of which have been critical meaning-making experiences for
my development. These roles enabled me to pair lived experience with focused training on how
to lead and role model. These opportunities pushed my definition to change into something more
abstract as I was seeing folks of all backgrounds, identities, and styles in these roles. I began
viewing leadership as someone filling a need for a group, whatever that need was. If the situation
needed someone to be yelling up in front of a group, pause and refocus the team, boost morale,
or to just get the job done without even talking, anyone who could recognize those needs and fill
them would be leaders. Thus, leadership could be a more fluid concept that adapted in different
contexts. Filling a need ultimately helps get the team where they need to go, and maintaining
awareness of group dynamics is crucial to filling the right gaps in a caring and effective way.
A key piece of what influenced this thinking were the values that surrounded me at
summer camp, something I name a key meaningful experience in my life. As part of the YMCA
values, I was encouraged to serve others first and myself second, and to thrive within a
community-based setting. The camps unofficial mantra of Strength to Lead, Faith to follow is
one that everyone at camp brings with them after their stay is over. Its message is to have
confidence and strength to lead when the situation calls for it, but to balance that with having
faith in others leadership as well. To solely lead in life is to naively push out the other
knowledge and expertise in the group. Similar to the example in class regarding how when
someone with a doctorate degree needing their tire changed, it is the mechanic who is the leader.

Leadership Philosophy

Expertise and knowledge do not solely equate leadership. However, when placed within contexts
that require or call for these to be of use for others, then I believe leadership is implied.
Another way that I have interpreted this quote is that being able to put faith in others to
lead is a mark of truly great leadership. As a leader, I view myself as others biggest cheerleader
or as a leader from behind. If a leader can bolster the talents, competencies, and productiveness
of a group as a collective, ultimately they will all be more successful. I think this requires a sense
of inspiration and belief, and an ability to authentically connect with others. If someone has the
ability to make their group of followers feel like leaders in their own way, then they truly are a
great leader. Sometimes the best way to role model or lead is to trust and follow another and to
support them holistically. In this way, I believe leadership and followership come hand in hand.
There is a third interpretation that I have heard for this quote, which is that if one has the
strength to take on a leaders responsibilities, then faith from others will automatically follow.
Thus, strength equates buy-in from followers. While I do believe it is true that one must have
folks who look to them in some form of followership, I do not agree that a willingness and
determination to take the lead should immediately guarantee leadership. Leaders should feel
intrinsically compelled to serve in the best needs of their followers. To put blind faith towards
someone who demonstrates strength and gumption could lead to disastrous outcomes at the hand
of a wrongly-motivated savior.
As I have mentioned before, my definition of leadership has changed as my view of the
world and myself have changed. With more focus and reflection in how I show up as a leader or
how I recognize it in others, I have shifted my thinking to viewing leadership as more than just
the qualities of a person. In connecting to the Social Change Model, I view leadership as an

Leadership Philosophy

ongoing, lived process, rather than an end goal met by gaining followers. (Astin & Astin, 1996)
Effective leaders recognize the fluidity of their role as a leader and look to the group to balance
out areas in which they are not strong. Not only do they look to a group for balance, but they also
recognize the need to develop fellow leaders because a collective is more impactful than
individual efforts.
As outlined in the Social Change Model, a leader must know how they perceive the world
and themselves on an individual basis before bringing this to a group. (Astin & Astin, 1996) In
my recent leadership identity development, I have focused putting my acquired understandings
of leadership through filters of privilege and what it means to live in a multicultural society. I
cannot think of my intent of how I show up to others as a leader who is white, able-bodied,
young, English-speaking, queer, and of a one-down gender in a vacuum; it needs to be in stride
with what the impact of it is on those around me. Reflecting on this while allowing it to be
influenced by what we learn in societal contexts is crucial to being an effective leader. A leader
must be able to integrate sincere connections, compassion, and an ability to motivate a group
towards a goal that aligns with greater positive social change all through a lens of self-awareness.
Informing my Leadership
In working towards the goal of self-awareness, I reflect on my personal context,
privileges, and the saliency of my identities. During my undergraduate experience, I explored the
saliency of my marginalized sexual orientation identity and in some ways I began viewing it as
my defining feature. In the context of these four years, to be gay was to understand diversity and
social justice. However, with this I neglected a responsibility to hold myself accountable across
all social identity fronts. I understood the concepts of inclusion, ally-ship, and social justice, but I

Leadership Philosophy

did not see it as my place to speak or act in solidarity with other marginalized identities or
against injustices that I did not view as immediately applicable to me, like racial injustice.
In my graduate experience, my saliency has shifted in this way, particularly through
discussions of Critical Race Theory in Student Development Theory, Research, and Professional
Practice. Focusing on whiteness within this theory has been the most impactful learning
experience for me in this program. It has affected how I show up as a peer, supervisee,
supervisor, advisor, conduct officer, and overall professional. In these ways, the saliency of this
privileged identity has consequently affected my approach to leadership. While it remains, and
will continue to remain, an area in which I have to actively work on with every interaction, I
have grown in understanding of the importance of being aware of this identity as a leader.
To be a leader that yields power and privilege in a way that disempowers,
disenfranchises, and silences others would be a failure on the part of the person at the helm. In
my personal philosophy of leadership, I believe that leaders must possess a sincere interest in the
wellbeing of those they are leading and acknowledge that they have strength, attributes, capital,
and knowledge within themselves that should be utilized and celebrated. If I elect to remain
ignorant of the influence my privilege has, then there is no way I can live out this philosophy.
In thinking of the frame of leadership that best connects to this practice, servant, catalyst,
and coach sticks out the most to me. The Human Resources approach to leadership highlights
many practices and behaviors that emphasize a caring focus on the followers. To me, the ideas of
support and care immediately connect to a holistic sense, meaning inclusive to all identities and
backgrounds that students carry with them. To empower individuals and the group, a leader must
not create (knowingly or unknowingly) situations in which they strip or withhold power from

Leadership Philosophy

those they lead. Not only would it be unethical leadership, but it would also work against a
mission of justice. This idea is what fuels my saliency in my whiteness.
A third salient identity for me has been my gender. This is an area in which I do not have
privilege, and is one that has a more innate, raw sense of prominence in my life. The salience of
this identity typically shows up in a way that is more emotionally driven because this
marginalization is my everyday lived experience. On one hand, this identity impacts my
leadership style in that I worry more about how I am showing up to folks who are in a privileged
gender and that I may not be accepted fully as a leader. On the other hand, my keen awareness of
these feelings and experience drives the empathetic piece within me when considering how my
privileged areas affect other marginalized folks.
In considering these places of privilege and marginalization, another factor of my
leadership philosophy is Schlossbergs framework of Mattering and Marginality. This ideology
has been prevalent in my experience in Seattle University Housing and Residence Life in how
we use it as grounding for the department in how we care for students and build community. This
emphasis drives me to helping students feel as though they matter on campus and in their
community. I see an intersection of this framework and the prophet and artist leadership style.
Practices to promote mattering for students include creating and celebrating rituals and traditions
as a collective. (Schlossberg, 1989) This is similar to symbolic leadership in that it focuses
strongly on creating a culture that welcomes folks and consequently promotes buy-in.
Likewise, I feel this frame come to play in my leadership style as I work to create
feelings of mattering amongst the groups I work with in order to work against marginality. In
order to create spaces in which my own privileges and those of other folks in the group are
challenged, I frequently employ the power of storytelling. Sharing stories opens up space for

Leadership Philosophy

empathy, shared experience, and the breakdown of hurtful preconceived notions. It opens
windows into the lives of those around us and can lead to closer relationships, which overall
drives up feelings of inclusion, affirmation, and a team experience. It allows me, as a leader, to
learn about the narratives of those I work with and consequently how to better serve them in a
leadership capacity. It engages the head and the heart by combining historical context and
empathetic understanding.
Within these frames and influences on my leadership style, there are areas that make
them effective approaches and also cause points of challenge. Using storytelling as a framework
resonates with me, and it also plays to my strengths in forming relationships. As someone who
has Context as one of my top Strengths in StrengthsFinder, this is crucial to my understanding of
how to best move forward in relationships and experiences. Storytelling also allows me to role
model vulnerability and hold myself accountable for forming individual relationships with
members of the team I lead. I love stories and celebrating individuals, so this style naturally fits
in with my personality. Because of this ease, I definitely view it as a strength of mine.
On the other hand, this can cause tension in my leadership because this style of
storytelling contains emotional elements. While Empathy is my number one Strength in
StrengthsFinder, I know that in excess it can lead to poor decision-making or over-action on my
part. Having strong empathy for emotionally driven stories can at times cause me to act on behalf
of someone, meaning I am assuming their needs and discounting their voice. Empathy and
anticipation of needs is important to providing strong leadership, but when it is offered without
consultation or in excess, it can be detrimental to caring for others or even silence them. I know
that this is an area I am working actively to regulate more.
Leadership In Practice

Leadership Philosophy

In thinking about how my philosophy shows up in practice, I am drawn to an example


beyond the realm of student affairs that is salient to my leadership development. The narrative I
will share is a definitive example of my ability to think creatively and respond to the needs to
staff and learners. This experience has influenced how I show up as a leader within all contexts,
including student affairs and education. I will reexamine this formative experience through the
lens of student development theory and leadership development frames in order to gain
implications for future practice.
In later years of my camp career, I began pairing that context with what I have learned
about theory and leadership in my educational setting. I integrated this learning into my
supervisory role of the Recreation Director of YCMA Camp Foss in creating an entirely new
mission, curriculum and way operating for this program in response to issues that existed for the
campers and staff. Having previously worked in this program, I saw patterns of camper
disengagement, unmotivated staff, and under utilization of space and resources. Upon assuming
the leadership position for this area, I had to make the decision of not only changing the existing
structure, but how to be the most tactful in doing so in order to gain buy-in from everyone
involved. The solution that I created was to develop a program rooted in camper and staff voice
and shared experience. Campers were placed into groups that they stayed with during their whole
time at camp and were encouraged to create a team name and establish group norms rooted in
sportsmanship. These teams mixed campers from different cabins and had the same staff
members assigned to them to promote individualized feedback and relationships. These cohorts
were able to choose which sports they wanted to learn each day, which increased their internal
locus of control and stake in their learning, and also created opportunities to learn about group
conflict, negotiation, and consensus.

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The results of this alteration included higher camper motivation and engagement,
stronger camper and staff relationships, a focus on decision making and working positively in a
group, and an overall more memorable experience. Some incidental results of this change
included a more efficient use of staff, space, and resources due to the way the sessions were
scheduled under the new model. Overall, the Recreation program became an experience that
campers and staff enjoyed engaging in, felt valued in, and learned about the technicalities of
sports, but more importantly about how to work, play, and make decisions in a group.
As a leader of this change, I was proactive with integrating staff feedback in the creation
of this experience. I made it a goal to review the new design regularly throughout the summer in
order to make adjustments in response to complications in practice. My commitment to relying
on staff voice connects to the Human Resources frame of leadership. I knew the staffs input and
expertise would be the most influential piece in the success of the program. (Bolman & Gallos,
2011, pg. 93) As a leader who many knew previously as a co-worker, I knew that I needed to
gain their support and buy-in in order to allow them to share the ownership of the change. I
remained transparent in the development process and showed openness to receiving feedback in
order to progress forward as a team. (Bolman & Gallos, 2011, pg. 93) In connecting this again
back to the Social Change Model, I had to recognize the fluidity of my role as a leader, and
navigate giving up some power that I held positionally in order to fuel my vision with leadership
from my followers. (Astin & Astin, 1996) Sharing leadership in this way allowed for more
creativity and a stronger team dynamic.
In considering the role of a coach, I intentionally allowed space to emphasis the goals my
staff members wanted to set for themselves. Thinking again about the importance of
Schlossbergs Mattering and Marginality, I wanted the staff to feel as though they mattered in

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this process more than just in assisting me on my way towards my vision. (1989) I relied upon
allowing them to create new rituals and traditions for staff and campers that would aid in getting
the program off the ground. This piece intersects again with Symbolic frame of leadership in
highlighting the importance of creating a new culture and mission for the program. (Bolman &
Gallos, 2011, pg. 110)
I used symbolism heavily in creating a clear vision for the summer. Our theme that we
operated under included narrowing individual goals down to one key word or phrase, writing
these on tennis balls that were kept up on display in our workspace, and taking breaks throughout
the summer to throw the ball around within our team to discuss our progress and tactics for
achieving these goals. At the end of the summer, we took turns literally knocking our goals out of
the park in a celebratory, metaphoric game of Wiffle ball. In this experience, we created a new
narrative for our staff culture and how we wanted to grow and celebrate together.
This entire experience with my staff, which was born out of spontaneous creativity, has
sincerely shaped my leadership style in all contexts. As I have mentioned, I learned how critical
it is to implement the voice of campers (or students) and the staff members I am leading in order
to create truly effective, responsive, and impactful experiences. The Human Resources approach
to leadership speaks strongly to this mindset. I have used this frame in relying on my returning
student staff in Housing and Residence Life to give direction to our staffs ongoing development
plan. It is crucial to use student staff members voice because they are living the experience of
the structures and processes I implement as a leader. Similarly, it is crucial to assess what all
students needs are in order to create services that are the most effective to them. I have put this
in practice in my internship at Cascadia through creating a campus survey that collected
information on why students chose to be involved or not involved with campus life and how

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Student Life could better meet their needs. This emphasis on using others voices ties in to my
discussions on examining my own saliency in order to be the most receptive to and proactive in
creating experiences that are inclusive to folks of all social identities. I plan on utilizing this
framework similarly in the future in order to maintain a presence as a supportive, responsive
leader.
Another lesson from this experience is in tie with the Symbolic framing of leadership.
Whether it I am starting from scratch with a group or attempting to create change in the middle
of a pre-established culture, I know that it is critical to gain buy-in from a group. This buy-in can
be increased through personal vulnerability on my part, creating a new narrative that is rooted in
symbolism, being able to articulate an accessible goal, and highlighting the importance of
individuality in building a strong team. (Bolman & Gallos, 2011, pg. 110) On a similar note, it is
not possible to gain authentic buy-in from others if they do not feel seen, heard, and valued for
who they are, including all identities they carry. This cycles back to the importance of being a
reflective leader in looking at ones own identities and their interplay with others identities.
Thirdly, I learned that using the Structural frame of leadership as a way of making change
can be eased with the three Ps of Patience, Persistence, and Process. (Bolman & Gallos, 2011,
pg. 65) I learned that I needed to be open to failure in new ideas and that it has to be paired with
enthusiasm and openness in order to persist through hiccups. Having a calm attitude rooted in
patience allowed my staff to maintain a sense of hope and direction, and relying on their voice
made the process much smoother and creative for all of us. I hope to maintain this framework for
all changes or decisions, no matter how disruptive they may be to a preexisting culture.
This experience of leadership was successful in that I created a new program in response
to existing needs that has now been fully adopted into the ongoing culture of the organization,

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but also in that I was able to use this as a platform to develop myself as a leader. I think this
experience speaks well to the relationship I create between practice and theory, in that while
many of my actions and decisions are based in spontaneous creativity, I make meaning by
reflecting through a lens of theory in order to bring these experiences into my future practice as
even more effective.
Ultimately, my philosophy of leadership is continually in transition. I believe that
leadership must be paired with putting faith and support in others so that leadership can exist
fluidly in a group. I believe leaders do not exist in a vacuum, both within how their social
identities impact their role and in the need to gain genuine buy-in from others. With these
principles in mind, my goal as a professional is to inspire inclusive leadership and cultivate this
in others as we work collectively towards a more just and human world.

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References
Astin, H. S. & Astin A.W. (1996) A Social Change Model of Leadership Development
Guidebook Version III. The National Clearinghouse of Leadership Programs.
Bolman, L. G., & Gallos, J.V. (2011). Reframing academic leadership. San Francisco: JosseyBass.
Komives, S.R., Longerbeam, S.D., Mainella, F.C., Osteen, L., Owen, J.E., (2005). Developing a
leadership identity: A grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 46, 6,
pp. 593-611.
Schlossberg, N.K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New
Directions for Student Services, No. 48.