Philosophy and leadership may seem like an odd combination. However, without a sound philosophy, leadership can be easily distracted. Leadership and philosophy go hand-in-glove, fitting perfectly together to strengthen your capabilities for the long term.
What is philosophy?
Philosophy is “a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior.” There are a few components within this definition, which include:
- A theory: Theories evolve as new information is understood. As leaders, we try; we are tested; and we adapt as new information is learned. A theory delivers a clear path forward but it may change as our experiences unfold.
- An attitude: Attitude is about mindset. Leaders embrace a mindset to keep focused, empathetic, positive, and growth-oriented. Leaders need to be aware of their mindset and how it impacts growth – self and team members.
- Guiding principles: Principles are the beliefs we hold close, keeping us grounded and centered in how we lead.
- 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.
Each of these philosophical elements require thought and development time. Leaders need to define and understand how they are going to lead. How to develop a leadership philosophy is a separate article. The first step is to understand why having a leadership philosophy is important and then the work of creating it will be a priority in your leadership development plans.
Why is a leadership philosophy necessary?
Philosophy is a foundational element. Just reading through the components sends a message of the importance of having one. To elevate the necessity, let’s drill into three reasons to develop and use a leadership philosophy. They are: Character, Consistency, and Collaboration.
Character. Character counts. What is your character? How will you act and interact with colleagues, teams, customers, partners, and family? When tempted, what will keep you centered? How do you want to be viewed by others? These are key questions requiring clear answers.
The content of your character will drive the content of your leadership. Definition delivers a self-control element. If you don’t have a clear of idea on what defines your character, then you may be more easily swayed by situations and temptations. Defined character will more likely keep your behaviors centered, which leads us to the second reason.
Consistency. Leading consistently in the way you want to lead is what people will notice. What you do consistently will define your leadership style. A leadership philosophy will set the stage from which you can lead.
While this is true, the other side of consistency is too. When you are inconsistent in what you say and then do, people will notice and question your character. Actions will define you more than words. But, if your words are not aligned with your actions, you will be viewed as a flimsy leader. To align your words and works, a leadership philosophy is that defining moment to embrace… always and consistently.
A solid leadership philosophy will build greater self-awareness in how you act and speak.
Collaboration. Why is collaboration a reason to have a leadership philosophy? Simply answered: People. More than ever, collaboration is the way results are achieved, and collaboration requires working with people in productive and meaningful ways. To make collaboration really work, leaders need to call on their best skills and capabilities to build relationships and move initiatives forward. Leading well influences others to exchange ideas and then act upon a selected direction.
How you work with others should be based on a well thought-out leadership philosophy. If you don’t define how you will listen, engage, and hold accountable, you may get buried in the details or politics of a situation and never gain a solid footing in lending an ear and hand.
Collaboration may be where character and consistency meet head on, and a leadership philosophy will provide the fuel and the constraints on how you gain the best from everyone involved. While the fuel of collaboration is trust, empathy, and openness, the constraints are how leaders get out of the way to let others shine in applying their talents. A leadership philosophy will build your collaborative impact and legacy.
Having a solid leadership philosophy is what will separate the real leaders from the rest.
If you don’t define it, how can you do it? “It” is leadership. You may know many things intuitively, but your leadership may not be fully tested at any given point in time. Having a leadership philosophy will build a foundation on which your leadership momentum can be based. Defining how you will lead in good and bad times will give you a sense of self and provide a reflection point to ensure you are on the right track.
In a recent Fast Company article – “The Personal Philosophies that Shape Today’s Successful Innovators” – you can read how personal philosophies can change the world. The same can be said for having and leading with a solid philosophy.
For Millennial leaders, this is an essential step to really lead in a new, better way and taking the time to understand and define what you will base your leadership upon. Do this early in your leadership career. Establish a foundation for solid career growth.
For each generation, if you haven’t defined your leadership philosophy, now is a good time. Take a break and think about your past experiences and what you have learned. With your leadership history as a guide, what will be your philosophy to lead in better ways ahead?
This isn’t fuzzy stuff. This is leadership refreshed. Leading with a solid philosophy is what will enable you to be a solid leader, gaining respect and encouraging others to join in.
What would you add as reason to define a leadership philosophy?
Join the Conversation
Why Do You Need a Leadership Philosophy?
To maintain a healthy business I’ve found that while there may
be one or two people in the firm that are effective leaders, it’s important for
the firm to invest in encouraging and developing other leaders.
Douglas, Agree completely. Good leaders need to develop other leaders…. the multiplier effect is needed to keep adding more and more good leaders for our future. Thanks! Jon
Great and challenging post. It seems every year I can hone my philosophy further. I should spend some time on that today! This isn’t just for Millennial leaders. Thanks!
Than you, Mike. I agree. Honing our leadership philosophy is something to do every year and, maybe at times, more often. This is important for Millennial leaders and each of us from the other generations, too. Thanks! Jon
“What you do consistently will define your leadership style.”
Now there’s some truth!
Thanks, Molly. Yes, that is always a great checkpoint! Jon
Excellent article, Jon. Stressful family moments have made me realize why a leadership philosophy is so key in our families as well. There is room for character, consistency and collaboration to be a cornerstone of how we lead in our families, the culture we create at home, and has an impact on the next generations leaders. Great timing for me with this one, Jon!
I definitely agree, Alli! If I could go back in time, I would have spent more time with your family earlier on to develop a family philosophy in how we were going to work together and live in our community. Getting our kids involved in the process as they approach their teens is essential. I think this keeps everyone centered as we grow together through time. Thanks! Jon
I believe in having a simple, written leadership philosophy which I revisit each time I finish a new role, as I prepare for the next one. I consider where I acted most consistently, ans where I have more work to do… and then I polish it, refine it, based on key learnings. I find it a helpful exercise.
I think that is key, Karin. Understand what we have learned and then enhance your leadership philosophy is a great way to continue to be a better leader. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Jon