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How to Develop a Leadership Philosophy?

Earlier, we discussed why having a leadership philosophy is essential. The importance is based on Character, Consistency, and Collaboration. Understanding the value may be the easy part. The challenge is in taking the time to develop your leadership philosophy and then use it.

The process to develop a leadership philosophy may vary by individual. Developing one is the key so don’t get bogged down in the process. Use a process that works for you. Again, the important element is to begin and write a leadership philosophy.

What is philosophy?

To recap, a philosophy is “a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” Several components are evident within this definition:

  • A theory: Serves as a basis for how we act. Theories evolve as new information is processed and we learn from our experiences.
  • An attitude: Attitude is about mindset. Leaders embrace a mindset to influence others in positive ways so meaningful results can be achieved.
  • Guiding principles: Principles are the beliefs we hold close, keeping us grounded and centered in how we lead in.
  • Behavior: Behavior is where our actions come together to match our words and our words match our actions. Behavior is where trust is gained or lost.

To develop a leadership philosophy, my suggestion is a three-step process.

Develop a Leadership Philosophy

Step 1:  Select an admirable leader

One of the first things you might want to do is identify someone you admire as a leader. This person can be a historic figure or a current one leading a company, community, or university. Political leaders are options, too. Identify what you admire about this person. Be specific.

  • What traits make them stand out?
  • What have they done or are doing to be an admirable, respected leader?
  • What type of working relationships have they built?
  • What are their exceptional leadership attributes and imperfections?

Understand what you like about their leadership style and results and why you admire them. Use these elements as a basis for developing your own leadership philosophy. The objective is to not mimic them but learn from them and then apply those lessons learned to your leadership philosophy.

Step 2:  Define your theory, attitude, principles, and behavior

Each component needs to be thought through and defined. The process does not need to be complex but it does need to be thoughtful. To begin the development process, highlighted below are key statements to complete for each component.

Theory:

I believe ____________________________.

Take the time to think through 3 to 5 leadership elements you believe to be true in your heart and soul. For you, these elements are irrefutable right here, right now. Based on your experiences to date, you believe these 3 to 5 elements to be critical to leading effectively and productively. By belief I mean, these are elements you believe to be true about people, culture, and community.

Just start writing. Don’t over-think it. Just write until nothing else comes to mind. Now, review, consolidate, eliminate. Focus on the 3 to 5 that resonate most within your heart and soul.

For example:

  • I believe open, respectful collaboration can solve any problem.
  • I believe excuses and rationalizations are just being lazy.

Attitude:

My thoughts will ___________________________.

My words will _____________________________.

What is your general attitude in the workplace and in your neighborhood? What type of words do you use most often? What type of good thoughts do you think about when working with others or when preparing for a meeting? As you put yourself in this frame of reference, write out your statements. After you have several written down, read through them and discern what each say about your desired attitude. Write down your attitude attributes.

For example:

  • My thoughts will focus on what is possible even when things seem impossible.
  • My words will try to encourage everyone to do their best and spark a laugh when appropriate.

Principles:

I will lead by/with ___________________________.

What is non-negotiable? What are your imperatives? To be a stellar leader, what needs to shine brightly and fully in working with others, making decisions, and holding all accountable.

For example:

  • I will lead by always trying to do my best in whatever I do.
  • I will lead with empathy – listening attentively, seeking to understand, and leveraging the experience and talents of others fully.
  • I will lead with learning mindset, knowing that situations change, people change, and learning equals growth.

Behavior:

I expect to _________________________ in _________________________ situations.

Behavior is where your leadership philosophy gets tested. Behavior determines whether your leadership philosophy is just a bunch of lofty words to be used in team meetings or visible in your everyday actions. Identify what you expect your behavior to be, given your theories, attitude, and principles. Think through success and failure. Think through achievements and tough challenges.

For example:

  • I expect to respond rather than react in challenging situations.
  • I expect to focus on the process to understand and change in challenging situations.

Step 3:  Check your leadership philosophy

After you think each through and write out your responses, the next step is to go have a conversation with people around you and ask them how they would answer each of the questions:

  • What do you think I believe?
  • What do you think my attitude is in good and challenging times?
  • How do you think I lead?
  • In good and challenging situations, what did my behaviors say about my leadership?

Test drive your leadership philosophy, ensuring how you want to lead matches with how you actually lead. This doesn’t mean you need to lower the bar of your leadership philosophy. The opposite, in fact. Understand the work ahead and the possibilities of leading fully within your philosophy.

Leadership Reputation

I never developed a leadership philosophy when I was 20 something. I wish I had. I would have been a stronger leader and learned more about myself and others along the way. It is never too late to begin.

Some parts of a leadership philosophy are intuitive to who we are. Thinking through what type of leader we want to be and how we want to lead will make us a better leader. More importantly, in those difficult times, having a leadership philosophy will keep us centered in moving forward as well as within the right boundaries when temptations arise.

What suggestions would you add to develop a leadership philosophy? What value do you see in having a leadership philosophy?

 

Jon Mertz

Jon Mertz

Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and is a leadership populist, writing to empower Millennial leaders. When we share experiences rather than focus on differences, we realize a thin difference between two generations and a vast opportunity exists to create a big leadership story.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

Latest posts by Jon Mertz (see all)

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Here’s mine….
    Do what I love
    Communicate an energetic vision
    Create breakthrough results
    Help and encourage people to grow
    Always tell the truth
    Ask great questions and really listen
    Empower continuous learning
    Admit when I’m wrong
    Let people know where they stand
    Take risks
    Be an interesting person
    Take time for reflection and fitness

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Well stated, Karin! Thanks for sharing your leadership philosophy. Jon

  • Alli Polin

    Jon, having a leadership philosophy in your 20’s is something I would guess most people haven’t taken time time to consider. I can only imagine how it would propelled my choices and actions if I had.

    I published my philosophy as a manifesto a few years ago and still have it front and center. One of my core touchstone beliefs is “Make a difference to other people and not only the bottom line.”

    Love yours, Karin! So glad you shared. I can see that you live your philosophy.

    Great article, Jon! Look forward to sharing!

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Thanks, Alli. Having a guiding leadership philosophy is vital. Although it may change as we learn more, we have a solid foundation to make those choices. It is great that you have one and have it front and center. Great place for it! Thanks! Jon

  • Samantha Hall

    What an incredible post Jon! I read this yesterday and meant to comment. Got sidetracked! (grins)

    This is one of those major RESOURCE posts I hope you keep easily accessible to people somewhere on your website. Invaluable!

    First, I’m VERY curious….who’s your admirable leader…personally? Is it a real person? Someone from history that you admire but didn’t personally know? Or is it a combo of the two?

    Up to this point, my own philosophy has been along the lines of:

    Make a positive impact on every life I connect with. (intention)

    My top 2 core values are love and truth. I consider the two to be connected and dependent on each other. I can’t separate them as core values. However, that doesn’t mean I have mastered the ‘being’ of them or ‘delivery’.

    Although I’ve grown to value and honor honesty as one of my most important foundational core values, I am still challenged on occasion with combining the right amount of love to it. I was just thinking of a healthcare analogy last night when it comes to this aspect of ‘truth telling’.

    The truth definitely has the capacity to cure. And in the right hands (or on the right tongue), the truth is like a surgeon performing a surgical incision that has the power to heal a person and/or relationship. However, we can cut way too deep and accidentally kill the patient! And that’s where the challenge is.

    I want to honor honesty above all things yet I don’t want to cut too deep and accidentally ‘kill’ people while I do it. I want to learn how to master being a surgeon of truth.

    Thanks so much for another wisdom-filled, thought provoking post!

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Samantha, Thank you for sharing your leadership philosophy and for your feedback as well. The philosophy you highlighted comes through in your social interactions so you authentically lead by it. Bonus points (no surprise)!

      The leader I admire is a historical one – Theodore Roosevelt. His energy, zest for life, desire to change things to better society, and the list goes on. He never seemed to waste a minute of his life. Throughout my life, I have learned from many others but Theodore Roosevelt continues to inspire.

      How about you? Thanks. Jon

      • Samantha Hall

        There are facets of admirable qualities in many historical leaders and famous figures. Yet not one stands out so completely that I can say…this…THIS is the one person I admire above all! : )

        Also, a few years back I made a decision that although I appreciate many of the people I’ve read about in history, I’d rather be able to find people among the land of the living that model favorable qualities. Otherwise, the historical figures from books were taking on a more immortal quality amidst a lifetime of experiences where the real people in my own life were sorely lacking. Reality became a necessity.

        So while I can’t say I favor any ONE person who lives today above any other, I can share a few who have modeled qualities that I greatly appreciate and have had a positive influence in my life. Among these were first and foremost, my late husband. Far from being a perfect man he was, indeed, the one man I knew in real life that modeled a heart of mercy and compassion that I had not known before him.

        I also had the pleasure of working with a wonderful woman at our local hospital for about 6 years. She was an older woman and a model of grace, wisdom, and strength. She was the calm in the storm when our ward was chaotically busy or during emergencies. She was also one of the most equitable people I knew. I was fortunate to have known her for that period of my life.

        I have a local friend (and school teacher) who I’ve known for 20 years now who has modeled never failing steadfast loyalty and friendship from the day we met when we were all newlyweds. Her husband was one of the pallbearers at my husbands funeral and he stood beside me when I stood to speak. Both great models of friendship in my life.

        A more public and spiritual figure who still lives is Thich Nhat Hanh. A Vietnamese zen buddhist. He was nominated for a nobel peace prize during the Vietnam war for his peace talks here in America. He was also friend to Martin Luther King. I greatly appreciate his peace efforts and message of compassion and teachings on mindfulness. I would love to travel to Plum Village in France one day and spend some time learning from him! :)

        • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

          Thanks for sharing the inspirational people in your life. They seem to be a loving, inspiring, and strong group of people who have — and continue to — make you a better person each and every day. This is what community is all about as well as learning and growing. Thanks for sharing this, Samantha!

  • Dan Forbes

    Hi Jon, I had bookmarked your post earlier this week so that I could spend some time with it. Here’s what I came up with:

    Theory:
    I believe that teamwork accelerates success
    I believe that people want to contribute and make a difference
    I believe that community is a powerful way to help others grow
    I believe that discipline and focus magnifies effort
    I believe that transparency and vulnerability creates trust

    Attitude:
    My thoughts will be positive, constructive, and uplifting
    My words will encourage others to be their best and give their best

    Principles:
    I will lead with caring and compassion toward others
    I will lead with humility and transparency
    I will lead by believing in others
    I will lead by always giving my best

    Behavior:
    I expect to remain calm in difficult situations
    I expect to seek solutions in problematic situations
    I expect to be a good leadership model in challenging situations
    I expect to be dependable in situations where others have given up.

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Well stated and done, Dan! Thanks so much for bookmarking this article and coming back to it. Really appreciate that. Is there a leader or a group of leaders that you used as an example in developing your leadership philosophy? Just curious if that element is helpful.

      I have become a big believer in developing and, most importantly, leading with a thought out philosophy. This is something I wish I did a long time ago.

      Thanks! Jon

      • Dan Forbes

        No, I really didn’t follow step one Jon :). For me, it just didn’t resonate as an important part of the process. The emphasis is on “for me.” For others, it might be very important.

        When I read your suggestion I was reminded of my College Chancellor who always said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” He was always focused and disciplined.

        I thought of President Ronald Reagan and the way he encouraged people to believe the best about others.

        I thought of the humility and vision of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella.

        Hmmmm, Well…….maybe I did give it some thought.

        • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

          Thanks, Dan, for adding that in. I think, at times, we subconsciously think about characteristics of leader we admire and then try to lead in a similar way. A positive thing!

          Very grateful for your time and insights. Appreciate all you do with the Lead With Giants community. Always impressed by the exchanges and support present. Thanks! Jon

  • Terri Klass

    Loved, loved your post, Jon!

    My leadership philosophy which has evolved over the years is:

    Be authentic and do not be afraid to follow what calls to you, even if others feel differently.
    Be an advocate for others and empower them to be authentic and understand their gifts and dreams.
    Be a great listener and validate other people’s points of view.
    Be honest, trustworthy and try to stay clear of any hidden agendas.

    Just some of my thoughts.

    Terri

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