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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?