Leadership, as a concept, varies in many different situations and circumstances. As old as life itself, leadership is required in many aspects of human existence. The emergence of different civilizations, and the resultant organized societies and governments brought forth with them an urgent need to examine the concept of leadership.
Leadership was required in homes, in various communal groupings, and in the overall governorship of societies. Today, the need for competent leadership within various groups and entities in the society is even more acute (Kim, McInerney, & Sikula, 2004, p.388). Effective leadership in homes, schools, workplace, and governance play a critical role in the overall socioeconomic progress of a nation.
Philosophy analyses the existence, mannerisms, and conduct of human beings in their daily pursuits. For leaders, the acquisition of a personal leadership philosophy is of critical importance. A philosophy of leadership provides a general frame and guideline within which a leader may function.
A leadership philosophy also offers a point of reference for the leader, and when practiced long enough, it forms the basis of the entire leader’s actions naturally. Therefore, a positive and progressive leadership philosophy is beneficial to the leader and the persons under his/her leadership.
The leadership philosophy that I have chosen is one that adopts the golden rule/principle. This leadership philosophy/principle obliges the leader to treat his or her subjects, as the leader himself would wish to be treated were he/her the subject – the golden rule.
This philosophy mandates the leader to take actions only after placing the best interests of the subjects at the heart. All the decisions made by the leader should be humane and progressive. This philosophy ties positively with three different leadership theories. These theories are the trait theory of leadership, behavioral theory of leadership, and the contingency theory of leadership.
The trait leadership theory states that a leader has inherent characteristics and personal traits that he or she is born with. This theory slightly reassembles the ‘great man’ leadership theory that characterized much of the ancient Greek and Roman view of leadership and leaders. The trait theory of leadership views leadership as a concept and characteristic inherent in some people and absent in others (Northouse, 2008, p.15).
Many leaders in history have been described as ‘born leaders’, and their actions and choices during times of crisis were mostly guided by empathy and inherent characteristics. For Instance, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US president, has variously been described as compassionate and full of empathy. Despite having been the president during the nations’ most catastrophic civil war before or since, his leadership – born out of his personality traits – has always been described as compassionate.
In line with the chosen personal leadership philosophy that urges the leader to show empathy, the trait theory of leadership applies to Abraham Lincoln. His abhorrence for the institution of slavery stemmed from his conviction that as much as none would volunteer to be a slave, then none should willfully be a master.
This conviction is born out of empathy. The conviction aligns with the earlier mentioned philosophy of the leader placing herself or himself in the situation of his subjects before making any decisions. As president, Abraham Lincoln was also quick in granting mercy to many citizens who sought it from him. President Lincoln granted mercy to many Southerners condemned to death for treasonous acts during the Civil War.
At the conclusion of the war, many Northerners wanted to subdue the Southerners economically and politically, because the prevalent view in the north was that the south had instigated the entire costly war. True to his element and character, President Lincoln cautioned against vengeful feelings and actions by Northerners. He urged the nation to foster a new sense of goodwill and empathy.
Therefore, the leadership philosophy based on empathy is quite effective and admirable. When a leader put the interest of his/her subjects first, the subjects gain confidence in his or her leadership.
The behavioral theory of leadership contrasts with the trait theory of leadership. While the trait theory states that leaders posses, within themselves, inherent character traits that are appropriate for leadership, the behavioral theory states that leadership is a concept that can be learned and acquired. Through careful observation, intensive learning phases, and experiences acquired over time, a person previously not disposed to leadership, can become en effective leader.
Indeed many leaders are molded through practice and learning. Throughout the ancient times, many princes destined to succeed their fathers as kings were taught how to be leaders and were continuously in a learning realm until they assumed the kingship upon the death or resignation of the king. The behavioral theory states that a leader’s actions are more salient and take precedence over his or her inherent traits.
The British Prime Minister, before and during the Second World War, is an example of a leader whose actions were the prime determinants of his effective leadership during the War.
Hardly known for his suave nature or even for his empathy, Sir Winston Churchill was nonetheless effective in rallying the British troops and public behind Britain’s war effort against Germany and its allies. Churchill was hardly popular in Britain before the War and had served in various junior capacities at various levels of government. He had tasted a bit of war during the First World War, and his experiences would prove beneficial.
Furthermore, in his various roles, in the civil service, he also slowly honed his leadership skills. Therefore, when Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, abruptly resigned, Churchill was suddenly entrusted with the heavy burden of leading Britain in the War. Fortunately, Churchill had already learned as much as he needed to on being a leader, and would continue to learn as the war progressed.
The golden rule of leadership exalts the leader to place the interests of his subjects first, and the Prime Minister, Churchill, did so. His fierce sense of independence and love for democracy guided his determined ambitions to halt the advance of Germany despite formidable odds. In the end, Britain and her allies triumphed, and in large part, this victory was the result of effective leadership by Churchill, whose leadership skills were slowly built over a long period.
The Contingency Theory of leadership states that leadership does not necessarily involve a leader practicing his or her inherent traits, nor is it a matter of the actions taken by a leader, but rather an ability to adopt and fit with the different dynamics that confront him or her.
Because a leader will inevitably be confronted with different situations requiring different analyses, judgments, and conclusions, the Contingency Theory of Leadership states that, an effective leader should handle these dynamics. According to this theory, the environment within which the leader operates, the socio-political inclinations of the followers, and the leadership style of the leader all play a role in determining the leader’s judgment.
The American president, Franklin Roosevelt, during the Second World War, exemplifies contingency leadership. Having taken office just as the effects of the Great Depression of the 1920s were setting in, his work was clearly cut out. However, Roosevelt’s ability to identify with the common person’s problem soon gained him widespread bipartisan popularity.
He set up measures to cushion the poor from the effects of the Great Depression, oversaw widespread infrastructural projects, and after a few years of these intensive nationwide programs, the American economy was back on track. Ultimately, he was able to rally the American public behind him as the US entered the Second World War in 1941. President Roosevelt is the longest serving American president in history and one of the most popular leaders in history.
Roosevelt’s capacity for empathy, in line with the doctrine of placing the concerns of the subjects first, contributed to his long reign as president. His ability to adapt to different situations and challenges in his presidency, and his knack for soliciting bipartisan support for his policies points to effective contingency leadership.
In conclusion, the personal philosophy of leadership that places the interest of the leader’s subject at the forefront is an effective leadership philosophy. As stated in this paper, the ‘Golden Rule’ leadership philosophy functions ably within the trait theory of Leadership, the Behavioral Theory of Leadership, and the Contingency Theory of leadership. As the analysis of various historical political leaders has shown, different leadership styles and traits are suitable for different environments and situations.
Kim, C. W., McInerney, M., & Sikula, A. (2004). A Model of Reasoned Responses: Use of the Golden Mean and Implications for Management Practice. Journal of Business Ethics, 51(4), 387-395.
Northouse, P.G. (2008). Leadership Theory and Practice (5th Ed). Thousand Oaks : Sage Publications.