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Philosophy on Leadership

Rogelio Ruiz

California Baptist University

Philosophy on Leadership

“True leaders are an endangered species and there exists an appalling mortality rate whether occupational or actuarial among leaders,” (Bennis, Stream of Consciousness, 2013). If what Warren G. Bennis states is true, then being a leader goes beyond the day to day activities of running an organization. A true leader therefore is much more than a manager.

a. A definition of leadership and management

Peter G. Northouse (2010) defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal,” (p. 3). Looking up leadership in a dictionary one finds that leadership is defined as “the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group,” ( website, 2013, p. 1). After reading Northouse’s book, Leadership: Theory and Practice, I find that the dictionary definition is too simple. According to the dictionary definition, anyone can lead. Northouse’s (2010) definition is better as he implies that followers are as important as the leader. After all, the goal they are striving for is a common one, one that is benefits both (Northouse, 2010). The only element I believe is missing from Northouse’s definition is that the goal being strived for should benefit humanity in some way. History is littered with examples of leaders who have abused their power for personal gain while letting humanity suffer. Therefore, my definition of leadership is best expressed as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individual to achieve a common goal that benefits humanity. How one chooses to motivate and inspire followers to achieve that common goal varies depending on how the leader chooses to lead.

Looking up management in the dictionary I find it defined as “the act or manner of managing; handling, direction or control,” ( website, 2013, p. 1). This definition makes me believe that while a manager may also be a leader, the job of managing may not necessarily be related to leading. Managers seem to be carrying out the plan that was given to them by a leader. Their job then encompasses passing along the plan’s information and ideals to lower level employees and ensuring that the plan is being implemented. Alan Murray states that “leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary,” (Murray, 2013, p. 1). I must agree. This is why some may confuse management with leadership. One must learn that they are in fact two separate entities that must be understood in order for any kind of organization to function smoothly. I believe that Murray (2013) summarizes Bennis’s thoughts on these differences when he wrote;

The manager administers; the leader innovates. The manager is a copy; the leader is an original. The manager maintains; the leader develops. The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people. The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust. The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective. The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager imitates; the leader originates. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it. The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person. The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

I cannot state this any better. A manager follows orders while a leader creates and motivates through innovation and example. While both management and leadership are necessary for an organization to function optimally, it is the leader that decides the direction that organization will ultimately take.

b. The leadership theories I most identify with

The leadership theories I most identify with include the trait approach, the transformational approach, and the path-goal approach. The trait approach fascinates me because it allows me to believe that certain innate traits make “good” leaders. People are often identified by “Traits that dominate an individual’s whole life, often to the point that the person becomes known specifically for these traits. People with such personalities often become so known for these traits that their names are often synonymous with these qualities,” (Cherry, 2013, p. 1). I have often led by example. If I wanted something done correctly I would do it myself and then others would often follow. I have always been the quiet type and have never really spoken up until something began affecting me. As I get older and gather life experiences I have learned to become more out spoken and have made sure that my opinions are often shared. This has allowed me to develop as a leader. This experience has taught me to look at the qualities good leaders possess and strive to cultivate them in order to work on my own leadership abilities. This is a great idea in theory, but while some leadership traits have been agreed upon by experts in the field, trait theory does not fully explain why some people who possess such traits never gain leadership positions, (Cherry, 2013). Northouse (2010) goes further and states that there is no definitive list of traits that experts can agree on, weakening trait theory and opening it to criticism. I still believe that while we may disagree on some, there are many traits we can agree on that all leaders possess or should possess. Honing in on these can help develop future leaders.

The path-goal approach is easy for a teacher to identify with. It puts the leader in a role of coach or mentor, allowing a certain goal to be achieved together with their follower. This buys into my personal definition of leadership that allow for a leader and follower to strive for a common goal that benefits both sides. Northouse (2010) states that the path-goal approach is based on the interaction between leader and follower. This interaction allows the leader “to integrate motivational principles of expectancy theory into a theory of leadership,” (p. 133). The leader still needs to “Clarify the path so subordinates know which way to go. Remove roadblocks that are stopping them going there. Increasing the rewards along the route,” ("Path-Goal Theory of Leadership," 2002-2013, p. 1). Teachers can relate because they constantly clear paths while dangling a carrot in front of his or her students to keep them motivated to strive to achieve their full potential. I like that leaders in this approach are working with their followers towards a common goal. As a teacher, I can personally attest to the fact that if students are not part of the decision making process regarding their own achievement and if students don’t buy into the system one is trying to create, then the goal, no matter how attainable, will never be reached. This is the reason why I find the transformational approach extremely appealing.

Northouse (2010) says that the transformational approach has an “intuitive” appeal because it makes sense to most people. The leader is seen as an advocate for change that will benefit his or her followers. This “places a strong emphasis on followers’ needs, values and morals,” (Northouse, 2010, p. 187). Placing an emphasis on the needs of others is what I believe leadership is ultimately about. People are put into leadership positions just for the purpose of speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves. Thus, focusing on one’s follower’s needs is extremely important, not only to maintain a position of leadership, but to ultimately reach an organization’s common goal. Deb Gmelin (2013) states that, “There exist a direct relationship between transformational leadership and organizational performance,” ( p. 1). I believe this is so because the leader is working alongside his or her followers, forcing both stakeholders to be invested in the attainment of the common goal. Most schools that I have worked for have operated under this model making it one that I feel most comfortable with and one that I believe most teachers can identify with most easily. Teachers are advocates as are leaders.

c. The role of the leader

In the article “Are You a Level Six Leader,” Mitch Maidique (2011) postulates that the question, “whom do you serve?” is pivotal in helping one understand what fuels how a leader leads. Leaders can either serve themselves, their group or organization, or society, (Maidique, 2011). The answer to this question is what will determine the role the leader will take. Looking back at my definition of leadership, I believe that the answer is obvious; a leader serves society. Since I believe that leaders should be working to benefit society in some way, the role of a leader must be one that tries to find ways to make the world a better place. This is done by setting a vision that everyone can agree with and inspire everyone in his or her organization to attain it. The leader sets the tone, gains the trust of his or her followers and maintains this trust as the group moves forward to meet the mission and vision set forth by the leader, (Hanson, 2003). The leader is the people person. Actively listening to his or her followers and adjusting the pathway to goal attainment as needed to ensure success. A leader is the problem solver whenever hiccups occur along the road while continually motivating those around him or her to stay on course. This may be an oversimplification of the role of a leader, but it is the most vital to meeting the group’s goal, because whenever people are involved problems are sure to arise.

d. Are leaders born or made?

I believe that all people have the ability to become leaders. What helps fulfill one person’s leadership potential is life experience and opportunities. The trait approach focuses and distinct traits that most leaders possess. Most of these traits can be “worked on” in order for one to become a more effective leader, but there is one that a leader must be born with. Wally Bock (2006) states that “It seems like there's only one thing that a person needs to actually be born with in order to be a leader later in life. That's intelligence. A leader needs to be smart enough,” (Bock, 2006, para. 3). It seems that the only quality one needs to become an effective leader is to have the smarts enough to put the work into developing his or her leadership skills. What inspires a person to make the choice to develop their leadership skills are often related to life experiences and opportunities. Someone who has been given the opportunity to lead, whether in a school setting, sports field, dance studio, etc., can have an advantage in leadership development over another who has not had the same experiences. Some family dynamics can also foster leadership. Some children are given leadership opportunities within their own family structure at a very young age. These experiences can begin developing leadership skills allowing many people to believe that some leaders had to have been born that way. The truth of the matter is that some people have just been given more opportunities to develop leadership skills in their daily lives.

e. Possible sources of authority and power

Hanson (2003) states that five types of power and authority can be exercised over others. These include legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent powers. Someone’s position in life or within an organization can give him or her legitimate power over others. How these people choose to reward or reprimand subordinates can often lead to various reward or coercive practices. Usually someone’s position within a certain organization comes some sort of expertise. Doctors and lawyers are consulted daily because as a society we value their expertise in their respected fields. As teachers we often view our administrators as having legitimate power over us. Sometimes we even view our administrators as misusing their power to get a desired result. That would then be an example of a leader abusing their power in a coercive manner. It is only when a leader can hold his or her power over an organization, while creating a respectful culture of individuals who value everyone within the organization, that a leader can obtain referent power. This is the type of administrator I would like to be. One who serves as a role model and leads by example. One that everyone on my campus can come to and speak frankly with in order to come up with solutions as we strive as an organization to reach all goals that were set forth together. Being a true leader means that one’s followers looks up to him or her. This can only be done by creating personal relationships with all individuals who have an impact over what can happen at a school site.

f. The primary tasks, skills and predisposition of a leader

The primary task of a leader is inspire those around him or her to become more than they already are, in order to achieve a common goal. Inspiration drives motivation and creativity which in turn, creates the path an organization will follow. In order for this to occur in an effective manner, a leader needs to be a great communicator. Communication of vision and mission are essential for everyone involved to be on board and buy in to every goals being set. Countless examples of failed communication and the subsequent downfall of an organization are evident throughout history. To prevent this, lines of communication and a protocol for how to pass down information need to be established to ensure that everyone within an organization is receiving the same information in a timely manner. Communication means that both ends are involved in the sharing of information. Mike Myatt (2012) states that “The key is to approach each interaction with a servant’s heart. When you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal,” ( p. 2). That being said, a leader must also be a great listener. Being someone that people feel comfortable expressing their opinions and thoughts with is extremely important, because in the end, not even the best leaders can have a positive impact over an organization without listening to his or her followers. Being a great listener means that a leader must also be approachable. Having a composed and rational way about oneself can help others feel comfortable enough to open these vital lines of communications. If everyone within an organization feels that they can approach their leader and have their thoughts and opinions validated, a passionate work culture and environment will result.

g. Essential perspectives and skills to be long term effective school leader

An effective school leader needs to have all the skills that have been discussed thus far because an effective leader is an effective leader no matter where they are found. What makes a long term effective school leader will once again revert to opportunity and experience. Most effective leaders have had effective mentors to show them the ropes to attain the respect of those around them. This is also why most school administrators and leaders have also held teaching positions. Having the perspective of those you are attempting to lead is crucial in breaking down barriers that may have existed if the leader did not have a similar background and upbringing to those they wish to lead. This experience fosters unity and solidarity which allows for lines of communication to open between follower and leader. Effective leaders also know that they must continue to be “seen” throughout the organization as someone who is fighting alongside his or her followers to meet or exceed any goals that were set. A school leader cannot hold up in his or her office while the school runs itself. Being “out there” will allow the leader to continue to maintain their follower’s perspective and help guide future discussions and goals because both leader and follower will have had a similar shared experience.

h. Identification with a code of ethics

I believe that the reason most people enter the educational field is so that they can help guide students to fulfill their full potential. That is why I started teaching. Sometimes I need to take a step back and regain this perspective because I get caught up in the day to day management of a classroom and the paperwork that comes with it. Every time I begin to feel overwhelmed I always remind myself why I entered this profession. I did it to better the life of every child that enters my classroom by providing a solid educational foundation. There is power in knowledge and that power is considered sacred to me. Being a facilitator of knowledge puts me in a unique position to help the educational growth of the children I come in contact with on a daily basis. This allows me to hopefully open the minds of a new generation to endless possibilities. Most importantly I hope to help students become contributing adults that will better the lives of everyone in our society in the future. When things get tough and decisions become more difficult to make, I always go back to what is best for the scholars I have been entrusted with. Then I proceed to do my best as their advocate. This is what guides my ethical perspective at this point in my teaching profession. As an administrator, I don’t see myself straying too far from this perspective. Ultimately our goal is for the betterment of the students that enter our schools.

i. Is educational leadership unique

Educational leadership is unique in the sense that it affords the opportunity to shape the lives of people which then shape the future outlook of our society. The people factor is the key difference between educational leadership and any other type of leadership. The qualities and characteristics needed to be an effective leader will work in any setting, but the school setting is unique because as an educational leader one is given the opportunity to shape the minds and attitudes of future generations. We all have stories about the bad teachers we had and the great ones that changed our lives forever. A teacher has the power to take the time and interest to recognize a student’s ability and then pull him out of regular education courses and place him in honors and advance courses. A teacher can take the time to introduce new experiences to a student and allow him to have the opportunity to compete in high school athletics. A teacher can take the time to help a student fill college and scholarship applications to ensure that he gets into a good school that will open new doors he never believed could ever be unlocked. A teacher can take the time to do this and watch a student become the first in his family to graduate high school, college, get a teaching job, get a master’s degree, and now be at California Baptist University attempting to get an administrative credential. A teacher can impact a life by making me a productive member of society. Having had this experience only makes me want to use this wonderful position of power to ensure that every child in my classroom is afforded the same opportunity that was given to me. This is the power of education and educational leadership.


Bock, W. (2006). Are leaders born or made? Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2013). Trait theory of personality: The trait approach to personality. Retrieved October 3, 2013, from website. (2013).

Gmelin, D. (2006). Leadership: A transformational approach. Retrieved from

Hanson, E. M. (2003). Educational administration and organizational behavior (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Maidique, M. (2011). Are you a level six leader? Retrieved from

Murray, A. (2013). What is the difference between management and leadership? Retrieved December 2, 2013, from

Myatt, M. (2012). 10 communication secrets of great leaders. Retrieved from

Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Path-goal theory of leadership. (2002-2013). Retrieved October 3, 2013, from

Stream of Consciousness. (2013, n.d.). A Quote by Warren G. Bennis on excellence, teacher, mediocrity, and lessons [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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