leadership models, philosophies, styles - definitions, descriptions, terminology
Leadership is a vast and important subject, yet full of confusing ideas and terminology, open to widely different interpretations.
Leadership definitions and descriptions also vary enormously.
Examples of leadership can be extremely diverse too.
We lead when we manage a football team or teach a classroom of children. We lead our own children when we are parents, and we lead when we organize anything. We certainly lead when we manage projects, or develop a new business. We lead the moment we take the first supervisory responsibility at work, and we may lead even before we assume official responsibility to do anything. A vicar or preacher leads a congregation. A writer or visionary may lead when he or she puts pen to paper and creates a book, or poem, or article which inspires and moves others to new thoughts and actions. A monarch and a president are both leaders. So is a local councillor, and so can be a community fund-raiser. A ruthless dictator is a leader. So was Mother Theresa, and so was Mahatma Gandhi.
We can find leadership in every sort of work and play, and in every sort of adventure and project, regardless of scale, and regardless of financial or official authority.
And so, given the many ways in which leadership operates, it is no surprise that leadership is so difficult to define and describe.
So what is leadership?
Is leadership a technical model?
Or is leadership a behaviour? (Or a behavior?, for US-English users.)
Or is leadership more a matter of style, or philosophy?
In fact it's impossible to limit descriptions of leadership merely to being a technical model, or a process, or a style or philosophy. It's all of these things, and much more besides.
This article aims:
to help clarify what leadership is, and
to offer a comprehensive summary of the main ways to understand and explain what leadership means.
As you will see, leadership can, and necessarily should, be approached from a variety of standpoints.
A helpful way to understand leadership is by exploring leadership thinking and theories using these three main conceptual viewpoints:
This three-category approach provides the structure for what follows below in this leadership theories article.
I am grateful to James Scouller, an expert coach, thinker and writer on leadership, for the contribution of most of the technical content for this article, and for the collaboration in editing it and presenting it here. Aside from what follows here, Scouller's expertise in leadership theory is evidenced particularly in his 2011 book The Three Levels of Leadership, which I commend to you.
N.B. Some US-English spellings with 'our' and 'ize' word-endings (for example, behavior, favour, color, organize, mobilize, etc) are different to UK-English spellings/preferences (behaviour, organise, etc). Both versions of the ise/ize spellings may be used on this webpage, as appropriate, especially for the words organisation/organization, as appropriate, and to aid searching. Please adapt the spellings to suit your needs and situation. Also the words he and his equate to he/she and his/her where appropriate. The singular non-gender-specific use of the words 'they' and 'theirs' (instead of he/she and his/hers) is generally avoided because such usage is misleading to some people for whom English is not the first language.
leadership theories - index
Leadership and Management Differences - why is leadership different from management? - and Leadership vs Management Differences Grid
Leadership Terminology Clarifications - Models, Philosophies and Styles - Terminology Definitions and Terminology Differences (what the terminology itself means)
Leadership Definitions - what leadership is and what leadership means
Leadership and the Leader's Purpose - the aims and responsibilities of an effective leader
Leadership Glossary - the main leadership terminology explained simply and concisely
Leadership Theories - Overview - models, philosophies and styles - and index of leadership concepts
Leadership Models - explanations and examples of the main leadership models
Leadership Philosophies - explanations and examples of the main leadership philosophies
Leadership Styles - explanations and examples of the main leadership styles
Summary and Conclusion - and useful outline of this extensive leadership guide
Acknowledgments - including expert co-author James Scouller's biography
Additions and Amendments - details of significant changes, new theories added, and other amendments
Training/Teaching Use - note about use of materials related to proprietary systems
introduction - leadership theories
This free guide to leadership theories is a comprehensive, easy-to-read summary of leadership concepts.
In fact this leadership guide aims to be the clearest, most succinct and useful summary of leadership (concepts, theories and thinking) available anywhere.
If it's not, then your suggestions and comments as to how to improve it would be greatly appreciated.
This article should add usefully to your understanding of this fascinating subject, and if you are responsible for teaching and inspiring others to lead, then it will help to improve clarity and awareness of what leadership means.
These materials can be used for:
self-development - understanding and improving personal leadership knowledge and capability
teaching and training others - about leadership - what it is and means, and how to do it - to lead others - effectively, and
as an academic reference source for the study of leadership and related matters.
The article therefore aims to be both:
an easy and practical guide to leadership - for developing leadership knowledge and capability
and also, a reliable and serious technical reference source - for the academic and professional study of leadership.
Within this overall aim, the article will specifically offer:
definitions of leadership and the purposes of a leader
explanations and differentiations of leadership terminology - notably concerning leadership models, leadership philosophies, and leadership styles - importantly bringing clarity to leadership theory, where historically terminology and definitions, etc., have caused much confusion, among students and leaders alike)
explanations of the main models of leadership
explanations of the main philosophies of leadership
explanations of the main styles of leadership
including notes, comparisons, overlaps, correlations and other relational interpretations as appropriate and helpful for the understanding and application of leadership theory.
differences between leadership and management
It is appropriate here briefly to explain, and give examples of, the differences between management and leadership.
There are lots of confusions and overlaps, and also big differences, when comparing leadership with management.
A very big difference between leadership and management, and often overlooked, is that leadership always involves (leading) a group of people, whereas management need only be concerned with responsibility for things, (for example IT, money, advertising, equipment, promises, etc). Of course many management roles have major people-management responsibilities, but the fact that management does not necessarily include responsibility for people, whereas leadership definitely always includes responsibility for people, is a big difference.
The biggest most fundamental overlap between leadership and management - there are many individual points - is that good leadership always includes responsibility for managing. Lots of the managing duties may be delegated through others, but the leader is responsible for ensuring there is appropriate and effective management for the situation or group concerned.
The opposite is not the case.
It would be incorrect to suggest that management includes a responsibility to lead, in the true sense of both terms.
We therefore may see management as a function or responsibility within leadership, but not vice-versa.
(Incidentally - Where a manager begins to expand his or her management responsibility into leadership areas, then the manger becomes a leader too. The manager is leading as well as managing)
Beyond this fundamental overlap - that leadership is actually a much bigger and deeper role than management - a useful way to understand the differences between leadership and management is to consider some typical responsibilities of leading and managing, and to determine whether each is more a function of leading, or of managing.
Of course by inflating the meaning of the word 'managing', or reducing the significance of the meaning of the word 'leading', it is possible to argue that many of these activities listed below could fit into either category, but according to general technical appreciation, it is reasonable to categorize the following responsibilities as being either:
To emphasise the differences, the two lists of responsibilities are arranged in pairs, showing the typical management 'level' or depth of responsibility, compared to the corresponding leadership responsibility for the same area of work.
The responsibilities are in no particular order, and the numbering is simply to aid the matching of one item to another as you consider the management perspective versus the leadership perspective.
management vs leadership - differences in responsibilities
(not absolutely exclusive to either management or leadership)
Implementing tactical actions
Measuring and reporting performance
Applying rules and policies
Implementing disciplinary rules
Organizing people and tasks within structures
Recruiting people for jobs
Checking and managing ethics and morals
Improving productivity and efficiency
Motivating and encouraging others
Delegating and training
Creating new visions and aims
Establishing organizational financial targets
Deciding what needs measuring and reporting
Making new rules and policies
Making disciplinary rules
Deciding structures, hierarchies and workgroups
Creating new job roles
Establishing ethical and moral positions
Developing the organization
Conceiving new opportunities
Inspiring and empowering others
Planning and organizing succession, and...
All management responsibilities, including all listed left, (which mostly and typically are delegated to others, ideally aiding motivation and people-development)
Observant readers will notice that the final entry in the leadership list is 'All management... (delegated to others...)'.
This emphasizes that:
Leadership is (usually*) a bigger responsibility than management, and also,
Leadership includes the responsibility for the management of the group/situation, which is typically mostly by delegation to others.
* N.B. Management may of course be a bigger responsibility than leadership where the scale of a management role is much bigger than the scale of a leadership role, for example the quality assurance manager for a global corporation compared to the leader of a small independent advertising agency.)
Also, it is important to note again that many managers are also leaders, and so will be doing, or perhaps will be asked to do, things which appear in the leadership list.
Where a manager does things which appear in the leadership list, then actually he or she is leading, as well as managing.
(Incidentally this view of managing vs leading forms the basis of a group/teambuilding exercise to explore the differences between managing and leading, available in the teambuilding games section, and is a good activity to use with groups where the aim is to explain and develop leadership for others.)
James Scouller has an additional and helpful viewpoint on the distinction between leadership and management: He says:
"Leadership is more about change, inspiration, setting the purpose and direction, and building the enthusiasm, unity and 'staying-power' for the journey ahead. Management is less about change, and more about stability and making the best use of resources to get things done... But here is the key point: leadership and management are not separate. And they are not necessarily done by different people. It's not a case of, 'You are either a manager or a leader'. Leadership and management overlap..." (From The Three Levels of Leadership, J Scouller, 2011)
leadership terminology clarifications (models, philosophies and styles - definitions and differences)
There are many different aspects of leadership. And a lot of confusing terminology.
So here is some detailed explanation about leadership terminology, before we begin to address leadership theory itself.
Separately, further below is a simple leadership glossary which aims to include the most commonly used leadership terminology.
Writers and experts in leadership use many different terms when trying to describe or categorise leadership - usually as a prefix or a suffix to the word leadership.
Consider how many different single or two-word terms are used with the word 'Leadership'.
Also consider that many of these terms are rarely used with the word 'Management'.
We would not normally refer to 'management character' or 'management traits', or to 'management behaviour/behavior' or to a 'natural born manager', but we see these terms, such as 'character', 'traits', 'behaviour', and 'natural born', appearing very commonly with the word 'Leadership'.
Similarly terms like 'ethical leadership, 'inspirational leadership', 'charismatic leadership', 'leadership philosophy', 'authentic leadership', and 'servant leadership' include describing words - some generically defining - which tend not to appear commonly in connection with management and other disciplines.
We see also some proprietary concepts containing the word 'Leadership', representing significant theories and internationally recognized personal and organizational development 'brands', most notably for example: Action-Centred Leadership®, and Situational Leadership®.
This serious depth and variety of terminology reflects the serious depth and variety of leadership itself as a subject.
The richness of leadership terminology points to the huge variety of interpretations of leadership as a subject, and further indicates the potency of leadership to operate in very many different ways and directions, and at a fundamentally important level for people and society - even civilisations.
Of the many major terms which refer to concepts or theories about leadership, three terms together offer a useful structure by which to categorize and explore the wide range of theories within the subject. They are:
These three categories are different ways of looking at leadership. We could say instead: different aspects of leadership.
Different aspects can cause confusion when we try to understand what leadership is - especially if we use only one aspect to consider the subject.
For example one person may be seeing leadership from a 'style' standpoint while another may be thinking about leadership 'philosophy'. The two people might hold similar or overlapping views, and yet because the standpoints are different (and usually therefore the terminology and reference points are different too), it can seem that there is conflict about what leadership is, when actually there may be close agreement.
Two people may disagree about something purely because they are approaching it from a different standpoint, when actually they may be seeing the same thing, or two things which substantially overlap.
So, in addition to providing a helpful theory structure, using the three stated categories also helps to show that lots of leadership thinking is overlapping and compatible, when it might otherwise seem conflicting and wildly diverse.
Here are definitions of the three categories: models, philosophies and styles.
Please note that these definitions are specific to this leadership theory article. In other situations these three words (models, philosophies, styles) may have other meanings.
leadership terminology definitions - models, philosophies, styles
definition of leadership models
definition of leadership philosophies
definition of leadership styles
A leadership model contains theories or ideas on how to lead effectively and/or become a better leader.
Action-Centred Leadership is an example of a leadership model.
A leadership philosophy contains values-based ideas of how a leader should be and act; and the sources of a leader's power.
Servant Leadership is an example of a leadership philosophy.
A leadership style is a classification or description of the main ways in which real-life leaders behave.
Transformational Leadership is an example of a leadership style.
In this context, a leadership model is a structure which contains process or logic or a framework, which can be used or applied like a tool, in performing, understanding and teaching leadership. A model is often also shown in some sort of diagram format. There may also be a sense of mechanics or engineering, with inter-related and linked moving parts. In some cases a leadership model may contain measurable elements, sometimes entailing complex relative factors, and may also enable a reasonably consistent measurement or indication of standard, for example effective versus ineffective leadership. Any philosophy, and so too a leadership philosophy, is a way of thinking and behaving. It's a set of values and beliefs. A philosophy is a series of reference points or a foundation upon which processes, decisions, actions, plans, etc., can be built, developed and applied. A leadership philosophy connects leadership with humanity and morality and ethics. A leadership philosophy will at some point be influenced by beliefs about human nature and society, and perhaps religion, or universal truth and a sense of fairness and natural justice. A leadership style is a more narrow and specific category than a models or a philosophies. In fact many leadership styles are contained within leadership models as components of the model. A style is a distinct way of behaving. A leadership style tends to contain and be influenced strongly by the purpose or aim of the leadership. A leadership style may also be strongly influenced and perhaps determined by the personality of the leader and/or the personality or capability of the followers or group being led, and/or of the situation in which the leader is leading his or her people.
leadership terminology differences - models, styles, philosophies
This explains differences between the three categories/aspects of leadership which provide the structure of this article - models, philosophies and styles:
summary more detail symbolically
leadership models Leadership models aim to teach us how to be successful or effective as leaders. They show us the keys to effective leadership. Models often contain different leadership styles and enable 'switching' between them. Leadership models tend to contain or enable processes and measurable standards, and a 'switching' capability in response to different circumstances. Models may be supported by diagrams and graphs. A model may be influenced by or underpinned by a philosophy. A leadership model is like a toolbox or a kit of parts.
leadership philosophies Leadership philosophies examine the sources of a leader's power, and offer a value-laden view of the aims that leaders should pursue and how they should go about them. Leadership philosophies focus on what kind of leadership one should offer. A leadership philosophy is usually more difficult to learn and apply than a model as it is depends on values not technique. Leadership philosophies tend more than the other categories to be based on a life code or moral position. A philosophy - since it is expressed mainly through ideas and words, rather than processes and structured elements - is usually more difficult (than a model) to explain, transfer, teach, apply, or to develop into a measurable set of rules or instructions. A philosophy may underpin a model, and may also underpin a style. A philosophy also involves far more and deeper references to society, politics, civilization, etc., than models or styles. A leadership philosophy is like a compass or code - underpinned by a set of beliefs.
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