Articulating a personal leadership philosophy is useful for at least two key reasons.
First, it helps us better understand our own strengths and weaknesses, our areas of expertise, and the limits of our knowledge and experience. Perhaps most important, successful leaders know their own priorities and values.
Second, a clearly articulated leadership philosophy sets expectations for our team members. This helps them make decisions in the best interest of our organizations.
Unfortunately, many leaders have to learn to lead on the fly, so here are some tips to help organize your thoughts about what it means to be a leader.
What Does it Mean to be a Leader?
When developing a personal leadership philosophy, start by defining key terms. What is a leader? Is a leader a person in a position of authority? Someone with power over others or control of resources? Is a leader someone who steps forward at the right time to guide others toward a common goal?
What is leadership? Is leadership the exercise of power and authority? Is it about getting people to do what you want or convincing them to do things they don’t want to do? Is leadership about coercing, cajoling, encouraging, or inspiring?
Once you settle on definitions of leader and leadership, write out a list of characteristics you think good leaders should have. Examples might include good communicator, competent, fair, or reliable.
Once you have your list, put the characteristics you chose in priority order. Then go through the same process to develop a list of your personal values.
It may also be helpful to write out a short definition of each characteristic and value.
With that done, you will be ready to write the first draft of your personal leadership philosophy.
A Sample Leadership Philosophy
My personal leadership philosophy has evolved a bit over the years, and I anticipate it will continue to change as I keep learning and growing as a leader. Here’s the version that guides me today as CEO of North of Center. You’re welcome to use it as a guide when coming up with a philosophy that works best for you:
I believe leadership is service and leaders must strive to recognize and realize — literally make real — the potential and possibility in those around them. Nobody is perfect, but at any given moment at least one member of a well-led team will be. My role as a leader is to communicate a unifying vision, set clear goals, establish priorities, ensure team members have the resources needed to achieve the team’s goals — and then get out of the way! I strive to provide clear guidance and direction; to help my team members break through barriers and encourage them to try innovative approaches; and to share the credit when the team succeeds but take responsibility if it fails. To succeed, leaders must be trusted, to be trusted, they must be credible, and to be credible their words and actions must be consistent and aligned.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and would be happy to hear your thoughts about leadership in the discussion board below. If you need any help developing your personal leadership philosophy, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!
Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.