How to Develop a Leadership Philosophy?

By February 19, 2014Leadership

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

Latest posts by Jon Mertz (see all)

Join the discussion 90 Comments

  • Theresa says:

    I would love a PDF copy being referenced as well. I am working on developing my leadership philosophy. This has been very helpful for me. Thank you!

  • Lindsay says:

    I was wondering if you could send me the PDF.

  • Aimey Cole says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It is a very thought provoking piece. As a young leader myself, I hope to excel and bring others to lead as well. I would love a copy of your leadership philosophy.

  • Pitna Kim says:

    Hello Jon,

    Thank you for sharing. every well written and insightful. Would you please email me a copy of your Leadership Philosophy.

  • Fathima says:

    Hi, this is truly inspiring and useful idea to develop a personal philosophy. I am interested in developing an educational leadership philosophy, so would you please give me some ideas of statements that I can use in order to develop the philosophy. And please send a PDF of your philosophy

  • Ola Idris says:

    Thanks for this post Jon, I only just stubble on it and will not mind a pdf copy of the file if okay with you.

    It gladdens the heart to read about someone who cares about love and truth – a rare value indeed most especially when considering leadership philosophy. Totally agree with you Samantha Hall around where and when does one strike the balance by not cutting too deep – thought provoking.

  • azhar says:


    thanks for this steps, it’s very helpful for me.
    I would be thankful if you could send me a copy of your PDF file.

    thank you

  • Faye says:

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for sharing your post! Can you send me a PDF copy please? I’m in a Nursing Leadership class and need to develop my own philosophy of leadership.

  • Richard says:

    Would like to get a a copy of your Leadership Philosophy PDF please. Your step by step process was very helpful. Thanks.

  • Brian Davidhizar says:

    I would love a copy of the PDF being referenced as well. This conversation has been very helpful for me. Hope to share mine soon.


  • Steve Blair says:

    Jon – Great framework. I have worked through similar exercises in the past and one particular approach has been extremely helpful. It starts with your “Theory” step (I believe……..) and combines with behaviors (therefore, I will……..). It really ties committed action to values and beliefs. A personal example of one of my core beliefs and commitments is:
    I believe that people backed into a corner are no longer engaged or interested in finding a mutually beneficial solution, therefore I will keep the room round (meaning, I will always leave a path for folks to work collaboratively for a solution while keeping their integrity and dignity in tact).

    I would love a copy of your PDF as inspiration as I work through your framework.

    • Jon Mertz says:


      Thank you for your feedback and insights on developing a leadership philosophy. l love the thought and visual about keeping the room round. An essential leadership philosophy element.

      I will send you a copy of the PDF. Let me know your thoughts.



  • roland says:

    Thanks for sharing a great template for a Leadership Philosophy. Would you mind sending your leadership Philosophy? I have outlined my philosophy according to your template but an wondering how it should be written.

  • Hannah Gramling says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, and would love a copy of the pdf! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Lisa Weaver says:

    I am working on writing a draft of my leadership philosophy as a member of an academic leadership group. My goal is to work toward becoming a leader as a department chair. Could you please send me a copy of your PDF?
    Thank you so much,

  • Jeff Businge says:

    Hello Jon I am to inspired with leadership philosophy and am requesting you to send me PDF copy.

  • Enock Nkuranga says:

    Thanks Jon for your time and effort to empower us-the millenial leaders.I ordered your book just a few past days after watching the video about your book and your new perspective about millenial leaders.
    I would love too a pdf format to this wonderful article about developing the leadership philosophy.
    Your fan from Africa,Enock!

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Thank you so much, Enoch! I am very grateful, and I hope you enjoy Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. I have sent the PDF of Developing a Leadership Philosophy to you. I hope you find it helpful, too.

      Enjoy the book and PDF! Let me know your thoughts. I wish you the best as you continue to grow your leadership abilities! And, thank you for being a fan! Jon

  • FAHN SAYTURN says:

    Hi Jon,

    What a great article! I would love a copy of the PDF.

  • Isabel hui says:

    Great article! Please send me a copy of the PDF.


  • ruth cordero says:

    hello Jon!

    i am doing a paper of leadership philosophy now. Do you still have a copy of your PDF file on this? I would like to enhance my paper. Thank you.

  • Karen says:

    This is great – I am working on my own leadership philosophy now. Could you send me a copy of the pdf? Thanks!

  • Amanda Morris says:

    Great article! I would love the pdf if possible. Thank you!

  • Kimberly Warfield says:

    Hello Jon, this is a great article! I would love a copy of your pdf on building your leadership philosophy. I am working with future leaders and this would be a great resource as they write their leadership philosophy.

  • Hi Jon,
    I love the idea of a leadership philosophy statement that incorporates theory, principles, attitudes and behaviors! Thank you for the simple, effective approach. My audience for leadership development is nonprofit organization leaders and board volunteers. My framework includes developing a leadership identity statement that includes values, beliefs, style, anchor words, and vision. I have two questions. First, I’m wondering what your thoughts are about the connection between values and a philosophy statement? Second, I would like to know if I could have your permission to incorporate much of your article with attribution to you and a link to you as well in my next leadership blog post ( My next post is about leadership philosophy. I came across your article while doing some related research. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • yvonne green says:

    Hi Jon,
    Very provocative post. Can you send me the PDF please?
    Thanks & I look forward to reading more of your work.

  • Jon,
    Could you send me the pdf file, please?

  • P. Phillip says:

    Hi Jon, thank you for your valuable inputs given in developing a personal leadership philosophy. I would like to go through the PDF you have shared with some of the interested parties. I beleive it will help me in developing my own leadership philosophy.



  • Charlotte Lillywhite says:

    Hi Jon,

    Thank you for sharing this great resource on how to develop a personal leadership philosophy. I am in the process of writing my own as a class assignment and will definitely be using this resource as a guide.
    I would really appreciate if you could share with me the PDF on leadership philosophy.


  • Jeff Morris says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thank-you for sharing your insights into how to develop a personal leadership philosophy. This has been tremendously useful to overcome a challenging assignment in my business studies but also to provide inspiration via self reflection throughout my future life. I have had a go at a leadership philosophy, titled ‘Solid foundations can reach great heights’ that also takes inspiration from the ethical leadership tree created by the Binah project. I would also enjoy very much to read your PDF on leadership philosophy.

    I believe open and respectful collaboration can solve any problem;
    I believe that all people are good but can be biased by their own experiences and others;
    I believe that community helps to grow all people and unifies the spirit of the human race.

    I will use my energy to communicate visions that encourage the people around me to common and shared goals;
    Wherever possible I will use my strengths of creativity and perseverance to overcome difficulty, and strength of humour to share a laugh when appropriate;
    Be a great listener and validate other people’s points of view;
    I will celebrate success and inspire opportunity when we fail.

    I can make a difference in the world, to make the world a better place;
    I will lead with courage and by the strength of my character;
    I will use a value based test of reason and respect in decision-making;
    I will help and encourage people to grow and empower continuous learning;
    I will lead from the front by consciously choosing when to act or direct;
    I will be honest, trustworthy and self-aware of biases and their effect on others;
    I will lead with a learning mindset, knowing that situations and people change.

    I will creatively respond rather than react in challenging situations;
    I will take calculated risks, learn from failure and not over analyse situations;
    I expect to be dependable in situations and available for others.

    • Jon Mertz says:


      Thank you for your comment and sharing your leadership philosophy. You have many great points within your leadership philosophy. The key is to determine ways to remember it, lead by it, and refine it as you go.

      I will send you an email with the Leadership Philosophy PDF.



  • Neil Laminack says:

    Could you send me the pdf file, please?

    • Jon Mertz says:


      I will email you a copy. My plan is to update the PDF. As you go through it, email me your thoughts. It will help me in the refresh.



  • Samuel Ouko Getiro says:

    My leadership Philosophy is:
    Be honest,smart and disciplined and positively handle my assignments without fear of being critizised in any way.
    Do my best to advocate for others and guide them to realize their potentials and understand their gifts,talents and dreams.
    Be a great and keen listener. Corroborate other people’s opinions and promote their views provided they are in line with personal and communal wholistic growth.
    Be trustworthy and try to stay crystal clear on any concelead agendas.
    I believe that I have a role to play in contributing positively to the community of believers therefore ought to do whatever it calls to leave a legacy.
    I try to retort and not react whenever challenging issues emerge and willingly stand for the truth no matter what!

  • Joel says:

    Amazingly helpful post – thank you so much. As a 27 year old business owner, I find it very helpful to have a stable, and realistic leadership philosophy.

    Leadership Theory:
    I believe people are the beginning, middle and end of a business.
    I believe integrity is paramount, and there should be an air of excellence in our craft.
    I believe you should love what you do, and maintain a balance between work and home.
    I believe failure is a necessary tool for success. It shouldn’t be feared, but embraced as a teacher.
    I believe transparency and collaboration build trust

    My Attitude:
    My thoughts will challenge the accepted to be better, and accept the new for possible.
    My words will be chosen and honest; they will praise our wins and inspire opportunity when we stumble.

    I will lead from the front, with action over direction.
    I will lead with integrity and humility.
    I will lead with transparency and trust
    I will lead by learning, understanding, and accepting.

    I expect to stumble, learn and achieve rather than fall.
    I expect to be supportive of my team through every endeavor.

    • Jon Mertz says:


      Thank you for highlighting your leadership philosophy elements. You have a solid people-centered philosophy with a realistic view that you will stumble but learning is the second chance. Thank you for sharing this, and wishing you continued success in your business and leadership! Jon

  • Laura R says:

    Hi Jon,
    I also stumbled across this site in writing a paper, do you still have the PDF for building a leadership philosophy? Would love to have this as part of my intentions for teacher leaders I am working with.

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Hi Laura,

      I do and will send to you shortly. Let me know any feedback as you work with leaders. I plan to update this over the next few months as well.

      Thank you!


  • Jon Mertz says:

    Thank you, Beth! Appreciate it, and the PDF is on its way to you. Thanks! Jon

  • Maddy says:

    I used this article to create my Leadership Philosophy last semester as a part of an assignment. After losing my original document I am having to rewrite it all, this time for an application. I can’t express how thankful I am for the guidance and cognitive spark!

    • Jon Mertz says:

      That is great to hear, Maddy! Thank you for the feedback, and I am glad to see how this is being used. I also have a PDF that pulls together various thoughts on leadership philosophy. If interested, just send me a note through the contact form. Thanks again, and you are doing the right thing in defining your leadership philosophy. Very essential! Jon

      • Beth Wiggins says:

        Wow! What an amazing website I stumbled upon when searching for ideas for a class paper. I would love a copy of the PDF pulling together various thoughts on leadership philosophy you offered to Maddy. Thanks for providing such clear guidance in developing a philosophy statement!

  • Jon,
    Thanks for this step by step guide to creating a Leadership Philosophy.

    Here is my first rendition of my Leadership Philosophy:

    I believe that we all have a specific purpose in life that only we can accomplish.
    I believe that hard work eventually pays off if you don’t quit.
    I believe that a person must be a hungry student in order to be an effective leader.
    I believe that leadership is a skill and that it can be learned.

    My thoughts will stay positive amidst difficult and trying circumstances
    My thoughts will lead me to do what is right in all situations.

    My words will encourage others to be their best self
    My words will edify those around me

    I will lead by example and by serving all within my sphere of influence
    I will lead with courage and by the strength of my character

    I expect to respond and not react in challenging situations.
    I expect to serve others and give the credit away.
    I expect to push myself to be my best self each and everyday.
    I expect to be willing to stand alone in defence of truth and right.

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Jared, Thank you for sharing your leadership philosophy. Really good. I especially like “I believe that a person must be a hungry student in order to be an effective leader.” Your philosophy resonates, inspires, aspires, and centers. Now the challenge continues in bringing to life! Great work and thank you for sharing your philosophy. Jon

  • […] Difference author Jon Mertz coaches us on How to Develop a Leadership Philosophy? . Why leaders should read this: Thinking through what type of leader we want to be and how we want […]

  • […] week Jon Mertz asked and pondered, “How to Develop a Leadership Philosophy?”  Check this out if you like to continue to learn and understand yourself better, as well as […]

  • Terri Klass says:

    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.


  • Dan Forbes says:

    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:

    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

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

    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

    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.

    • Jon M says:

      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 says:

        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.

        • Jon M says:

          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

  • Samantha Hall says:

    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!

    • Jon M says:

      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 says:

        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! 🙂

        • Jon M says:

          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!

  • Alli Polin says:

    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!

    • Jon M says:

      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

  • Let's Grow Leaders says:

    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

Leave a Reply