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Personal Philosophy of Leadership

Colleen Garin
Kent State University

Personal Philosophy of Leadership


On our first day of class it was difficult for me to come up with a concise definition and understanding of leadership. Although leadership is an extremely complex topic, after learning about the many theories of leadership and after analyzing what I have learned from the course, I feel that I have developed my own leadership style by combining several aspects from many of the theories we have discussed. I realize that I have learned much of what I know about leadership by applying these leadership theories to real life situations that I have encountered within the field of Higher Education Administration. I am also able to identify specific characteristics and approaches that I prefer a leader to possess and I have a solid idea of how I would like others to view me and my style of leadership reflected by my values and beliefs.

Defining a University

I see a college or university as a democratic organization where although there is somewhat of a division of labor between offices, each of these offices and departments are intertwined and loosely coupled. They rely on one another to complete a task. Because all of these offices are required to work together and interact, I really feel that it is so important to focus on both the Transactional Theory, or Social Exchange Theory of leadership, and the Servant Leadership philosophy of leadership, both of which do not emphasize the hierarchical model of leadership, but rather focus on mutual influence and teamwork (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 2000).

Organizational Principles

Although I agree with elements of several different leadership theories, I have a strong personal preference for two main theories or philosophies. The two main organizational principles that I follow and strongly support are the Transactional Theory of leadership and the Servant Leadership philosophy.

Transactional theory of leadership. As supported by the Transactional Theory of leadership, I strongly agree that mutual influence needs to exist between a leader and his or her followers. Additionally, I see a leader as a coordinator, not as someone who holds all of the power (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 2000). My experience in the Academic Success Center has really emphasized how important the elements are that are parts of the Transactional Theory of leadership. I am a supervisor of eight peer tutors. I suppose that I am considered to be their “leader.” Although I am a leader of students, I think that we all learn from each other. When I entered my position, I had less experience with the way the office worked than many of the people who were “below” me. To me, it was extremely beneficial to lead within a system of shared governance. I was learning just as much from those who I “lead” as they were learning from me. In any leadership position, I think that reciprocal relationships are vital. I have found that when decisions are made as a group, people are much happier and things run smoothly. As supported by the Transactional Theory of leadership, I believe that the underlying premise of leadership is guidance and shared governance (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum). I see a leader simply as an individual who influences others.

In addition to the relational side of the Transactional theory of leadership, I can also see how this theory can support and create a productive and work-efficient organization and environment. Kezar, Carducci, and Contreras-McGavin state that the Transactional theory of leadership focuses on social exchange which may be more characteristic of leadership on campuses (2006). They also note that “college and university presidents can accumulate and exert power by controlling access to information, controlling the budgetary process, allocating resources to preferred projects, and assessing major faculty and administrative appointments” (Kezar, Carducci, & Contreras-McGavin, 2006, p. 109) and doing so in the context of shared governance and consultation can be beneficial to the productivity that the president and all other offices accomplish. The Transactional Theory of leadership is a theory that I value and find great importance in.

Servant leadership philosophy. Along with my belief in the Transactional Theory of leadership, the second organizational principle that I follow is the Servant Leadership philosophy. Both the Transactional Theory of leadership and the Servant Leadership philosophy are related in that they both consider leadership in terms of mutual influence and reciprocal relationships (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 2000). I believe that the traditional hierarchical system of leadership is quite outdated and ineffectual, especially within a college or university setting. I think that alternative styles of leadership, such as team leadership and leadership that is relationship-centered, have greater value and effectiveness. The Servant Leadership philosophy follows these exact ideas.

The Servant Leadership philosophy attempts to enhance the personal growth of employees through a combination of teamwork and community, ethical and caring behavior, and personal involvement in decision making. It places an emphasis on increased service to others where power is shared while also promoting a feeling of community (“What is servant,” 2002). I believe that group consultation is necessary if one wants to be an efficient and effective leader and suppose that the Servant Leadership philosophy is effective because a strong emphasis on the needs of followers enables them to reach their full potential and perform at their best. As both a current and future leader within the area of Higher Education Administration, I want to strive to possess the characteristics of a Servant Leader. When leading in an educational institution, especially a college or university, both the Transactional Theory of leadership and the Servant Leadership philosophy are crucial to implement and follow.

Important Values

In addition to the elements of the theories and philosophies that I agree with, my values also make up who I want to be as a leader. My values are things that really matter to me and guide my everyday behavior and beliefs. Because I feel so strongly about many of my values, I feel that they are important to implement into my desired style of leadership. Of all of the values I have, I find two of them to be the most important: honesty and helping other people. Honesty is one of my most treasured values. Once honesty is established in a relationship, individuals are able to interact and operate in an effective and trustworthy manner. In terms of leadership, honesty may be a key component in generating the respect from your followers so that they may see you as an inspirational leader and not as a controlling or manipulative individual.

Another one of my most important values is helping other people. I think that this value encompasses a wide variety of other important ideals such as listening, performing acts of kindness, generosity, and positive encouragement. Oftentimes I find that quality relationships develop when someone performs a helping act. Student affairs professionals have what many would term as a “helping profession.” These professionals deal with students and co-workers on a daily basis and need to be aware of the value of helping others, as it is extremely beneficial to the construction of positive mutual relationships.

Influence of the Course on my Beliefs and Knowledge

I feel that I have the knowledge that is necessary to critically assess the concept of leadership and my own leadership style. The information from this course has played a part in preparing me to become a student affairs professional and to critically assess situations and understand how I can work to become a better leader. An understanding of leadership theory will allow me to aid students in their professional development and encourage and inspire them to become leaders themselves. By emphasizing my desire for mutual relationships and shared governance, I hope to also influence my followers to appreciate and use the Transactional Theory of leadership and the Servant leadership philosophy. It is my wish that students and fellow co-workers will look to me as a model of good leadership and thus appreciate and learn about my beliefs and values of teamwork, honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, listening, and acts of kindness and concern for others.


I realize that I have learned much of what I know about leadership by applying leadership theories to my own beliefs and to situations that I have already experienced. As a professional in the field of Higher Education Administration I will continuously examine my own definition of leadership and characteristics of my leadership style. I will consciously be sure that my values are not undermined when performing my job and that my leadership style is continuously reflected by my values. By using leadership theories as a lens by which to examine my own leadership style, I can improve my own traits and set an example for others. As a future student affairs professional, I know that I would like my values to be incorporated in my leadership style and would like to lead by the elements that arise from both the Transactional Theory of leadership and the Servant Leadership philosophy.


Bensimon, E.M., Neumann, A., & Birnbaum, R. (2000). Higher education and leadership theory. In M.C. Brown (Ed.), Organization and governance in higher education (pp. 214-222). Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Kezar, A.A., Carducci, R., & Contreras-McGavin, M. (2006). Rethinking the “L” word in higher education: The revolution of research on leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

What is servant leadership? (2002). Greenleaf center for servant-leadership. Retrieved November 12, 2007 from: http://www.

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