Defining a personal leadership philosophy is a process that requires a significant amount of time, self-evaluation, and self-discovery. A leadership philosophy is the set of ideals, values, and processes that a leader incorporates into their leadership style. Every leadership philosophy is tailored to an individual and can be modified and enhanced over time. Personality traits, experiences, and a wealth of other variables are some of the key components of a leadership style and, by default, the leadership philosophy that a person abides by. Scholars, leaders, followers, and general society have attempted to define leadership for more than 100 years . However, there still remains any number of definitions for leadership. Over the years the term leadership has been used in conjunction with power, control, persuasion, personal drive, ability, and potential . Over the years, I have continuously refined my own personal approach to leadership based off experiences, studies, and personal growth. However, it is a personal opinion that leaders are never done growing, maturing, or defining their leadership philosophy. Leaders exert a massive amount of influence and guidance to those that they lead, and therefore should be expected to exhibit certain characteristics in their roles as leaders. This essay will describe the evolution of my leadership over the years in terms of the Path-Goal theory, and present my plan of action further develop my personal leadership style and philosophy.
I joined the military at a very young age, 17, and although I was told from day one that everyone has the ability to be a leader regardless of rank and position the concept of that phrase was lost to me for several years. My first experience with personal leadership was in my early twenties when I was promoted to the position of hourly supervisor in my civilian career. Upon my promotion I fully expected to immediately undergo a change and encompass all of the leadership qualities that I had observed in my supervisors. I was quite surprised to learn that leadership is not synonymous with management or position . This first experience with management, and perceived leadership, used the Skills Approach model to leadership. As an hourly supervisor, I possessed the absolute minimum technical skills required for the job, and it was understood that I would “learn” as I progressed in tenure, and I possessed the personality traits that allowed me to work well with those I supervised on a personal level . However, I lacked the conceptual skills that are required for higher levels of leadership. I was uncomfortable in my role as a leader due in part to the fact that I was supervising people who had considerably more knowledge and experience than I did. The company I worked for did not have a very well defined leadership training program for lower level hourly supervisors and I was left to the majority of my own devices.
Over the course of time, and with significant help from supervisors, peers, and subordinates, I began to develop my own leadership philosophies. I began to realize the value of perspective and social perceptiveness with regards to leading people. The ability to learn what motivates people and the creating an atmosphere of trust where followers truly believe that the leader has their best intentions at heart leads to a general feeling of confidence in the ability of the leader . This initial experience with leadership not only introduced me to the fact that management did not automatically make someone a leader, but allowed me to begin to question my leadership style and what I had to offer to both my civilian career and to the United States Army as a leader. This experience is pertinent to my leadership style today because it marked the initial shaping of my philosophy toward knowing how the Skills Approach is pertinent to leading and motivating followers. It is important to understand how skill level, conceptual ability and human interaction can affect the leadership style of a person.
While concurrently holding a leadership position at my civilian job, I began taking notice of the various types of leadership I encountered in my part time job with the National Guard. The Army incorporates many models of leadership, and there are no two Army leaders who exactly the same. General (Ret.) Wesley Clark remembers his first experience with leadership the summer following his ninth grade year. Clark was charged with the care and supervision of 14 summer campers at the Boys Club summer camp. Clark embodied several elements of the Trait Approach theory to leadership during this initial leadership experience such as the drive for responsibility, the development of self-confidence in skills, and the development of personal identity as a leader and a person that the younger campers looked up to . The trait approach to leadership is one that is commonly found in the military due to the fact that it is easy to identify certain traits that many leaders possess. Although one of the beliefs associated with the trait approach theory is that people are born with the traits , it is widely overlooked that such traits can be developed in a person. I began to notice that the majority of my first line leaders exhibited many of the same traits especially in the areas of decision making, job assignment, and development of younger or less experienced soldiers.
The original phrase of “everyone can be a leader despite rank or position” began to hold a higher value for me as I began to try to embody the leadership traits that I saw other people around me in the military possess and use. I began to develop my own sense of self identity and as a result began to have a higher level of self confidence in my abilities as a soldier and as a leader in the civilian world. Furthermore, by attempting to embody the leadership traits that I felt my supervisors in the military used to create a cohesive atmosphere, I began to develop my first set of military leadership traits that involved a will to complete tasks and be given more responsibility and to show my abilities with problem solving techniques. I believe that it is important to take note of the various traits that people have with regards to their leadership preferences and styles because these traits can be developed over time in an effort to create more cohesive leadership.
My career in the military was not a “bump free” road. Several years into my military career I made a decision that showed poor judgment. I was promptly brought back down to Earth and given punishment in the form of a reduction in rank. After my reduction in rank, I was more determined than ever to prove myself as a valuable member of the team, and I focused on overcoming the temporary setback and earning my rank back as quickly as possible. Within two years I was making significant progress and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. My first experience of having the rank that is considered a “leadership” rank in the military was shaped largely by a supervisor who implemented the Path-Goal Theory approach to leadership. Although I had already overcome a significant obstacle, my supervisor was able to further lead me along the path of success. This supervisor embodied directive, supportive and participative leadership behavior as appropriate for all subordinates and I began to study his behavior and reaction certain situations so I could determine the best way to employ these characteristics and values in my own leadership. Path-Goal theory allows for interaction between the leader and the follower along a road that eventually leads to the accomplishment of a goal .
The utilization of Path-Goal theory in my personal leadership style allows me to assist subordinates in reaching various goals while keeping the overall goal of the organization in mind. For example, most subordinates are placed into the organization at different road marks on their path to success. The use of the various leadership behaviors in Path-Goal theory (directive, supportive, participative, and achievement oriented) created a learning environment where I, as the leader, was able to train the soldiers to the standard on each soldiers’ individual knowledge level. The initial use of the theory, as displayed by my leadership, was one of the most critical lessons I learned by observation in the military. It allowed me to realize that no one is on the same level, and each individual has a different path to success. Although the Army is highly standardized, the use of a non-standard and individualized approach to leadership can be a very successful method of producing soldiers or subordinates who are valuable to the organization.
My ability to incorporate the values of the Trait Approach theory and the Skills Approach theory with the Path-Goal theory has led me to my current state of leadership skill. I feel that my current style and philosophy with regards to leadership are comprehensive and well-rounded for my current level yet still have significant room for maturity and improvement. The intrinsic value that my leadership brings to my organization is my ability to work well with people and adapt my leadership style so that I can be most effective in specific situations. Although that description seems to fit more into the Contingency Theory or Situational Approach, I still feel as though my primary methods of leadership, and my position as a follower, fall more into the Path-Goal theory . Personal experiences along the journey of leadership development take an individual from the most basic leadership concepts of traits and skills into more complex concepts such as determining where a follower is on their path to success and evaluating situations . Today I primarily use the Path-Goal theory of leadership when leading soldiers as well attempting to continuously develop my own leadership style. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, regards mentorship as one of the most important elements in growing as a leader . Mentorship is a critical part of the Path-Goal theory and in fact is used in many leadership theories to include the Leader-Member Exchange theory. My current goals for improving my leadership style involve continued close work and evaluation with my two main mentors. Both mentors have different styles of leadership (Leader-Member Exchange and Path-Goal), and each provide different types of feedback and challenges to my current abilities and future potential. Additionally, there is a great deal of research on how written leadership philosophies can provide an outline for not only current leadership style, but also future leadership development .
The Army places a high value on published leadership philosophies by commanders and senior enlisted leaders. Reviewing these philosophies allows me to take an inside look at what my leadership perceives as the important elements for success in the organization. In order to further develop my leadership style I will need to produce a written philosophy that incorporates my current styles and approaches to leadership. Part of developing my leadership philosophy will involve studying what behaviors and actions my current leadership feels are important for success in our organization . Additionally, when creating a leadership philosophy reviewing and reflecting on lessons I have learned over the course of my career can significantly shape my future leadership philosophies. It is important for me to realize that although my abilities and potential are highly regarded in my organization that future improvement will only come from continued study and mentorship. It feels at times as though I have been in leadership positions for a very long time. However, I have only been leading for ten years, and not all of that leadership experience could be considered effective. The development of a written leadership philosophy and further implementation of leadership theories such as the Contingency theory and the Leader-Member Exchange theory in conjunction with my current preferred style of leadership (Path-Goal theory) will aid me in the process initially.
True leadership is a value that is difficult to define. My personal style of leadership is still in the development phase despite numerous leadership experiences over the years. Continuing to refine my personal leadership attributes and qualities and shaping myself as a valuable core leader to my organization requires self-evaluation and mentor feedback. Over the past ten years, I have created a comprehensive leadership style by weaving in elements of the Trait Approach theory and the Skills Approach theory into the Path-Goal theory. This development of a leadership style has allowed me to interact with subordinates, peers, and supervisors on many levels and evolve as a leader. My future development as a leader will depend significantly on the development of my leadership philosophy as well as my ability to continue to grow and expand my influence as a leader.
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Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: women, work, and the will to lead. New York, NY: Random House.