Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Categorizing Leadership Philosophies

In my leadership course that I am taking, I am being presented with various philosophies of leadership in an attempt to describe the various purposes of each style.  But as i read the descriptions and the traits, there are many similarities between many of the philosophies.

In an attempt at oversimplification, I propose that all leadership philosophies fall into one of two categories:  Leading from the front and Leading from behind.

Leading From the Front
Audie Murphy, among others, popularized the phrase, "Lead from the front."  To me, this form a leadership connotates an active leadership.  Moving forward, pushing, developing and striving.  This seems like an autocratic type of leader, who maneuvers and manipulates to get things done.

The Total Quality Management and Positional leadership philosophies seem to fit this definition.  With TQM, if the leader is not active in supporting every part of the system, then the system will fail.  In a position of authority, the leader mandates/dictates the direction of the organization.  Neither position is bad, per se, so long as the personality of the leader enhances that style.  Leaders like Vince Lombardi and General Patton are active leaders, up front and decisive.  They lead the way.  Follow or get out of the way.

Leading From Behind
Leading from behind was described by Nelson Mandela as,"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur."  This typifies a service or transformational form of leadership that distributes the power of the organization to the members of the organization.  The leader provides the shared vision, and then supports and celebrates those doing the work, creating a shared leadership.  The leader transforms from a leader of followers to a leader of leaders.

Without the reliance on a central figure head to destine success/failure of initiative, the organization leads tha initiative.  Great leaders of this style would be Bill Belichik from the New England Patriots, who develops a team where the whole is more significant that the individual, and that the individual contributes to the whole.  The superstar on the team is the team.  Another leader is Bill Walsh, from the San Francisco 49ers.  He has supported and developed his team by distributing leadership to his fellow coaches, and allow them the opportunity to succeed.  You can see the successes of this style in the genealogy of coaches that have been successful after being part of his family. 

Final Thoughts

There are times when these leadership styles are appropriate, but there are also times to adjust the style based on the situation.  Good leaders know how to be flexible in their delivery and communicate their vision.


  1. There is another style: "leading from the side" or "leadership at your elbow". It's the style of the wise and older counsellor working with a burgeoning Master as, for example, when leading and expert public servants in Government help the elected leader learn how to lead. There's an abdication of ego on the part of the person who chooses to bring somebody on, using this approach, but it's one of the most subtle and powerful things to learn how to do. Maybe, there's a bit of grandfather leadership to it and it's easier for those of us who've hit out fifties and think more about how the next gene ratio will prosper, rather than ourselves.

  2. Excellent way of describing. leadership provides direction, encouragement and inspiration to motivate a team to achieve organizational success. Thanks for the nice post.

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