Developing a Philosophy of Leadership A leadership philosophy is the way we see ourselves as leaders. This philosophy guides our actions, our behaviors, and our thoughts. Our philosophies are influenced by external and internal forces. We can change who we are as leaders by simply changing our philosophy of leadership. Leadership philosophies can change as you grow to understand yourself within the context of leading.
Creating or finding your leadership philosophy means that you must explore and reflect upon your personal values, assumptions, and beliefs about leadership.
Personal values are qualities or characteristics that you value. You would rather leave an organization or step down as a leader than violate your values. Your values guide your intentions and they influence how you lead. When your personal values are clear and you are conscious of them, you create a solid foundation for leading.
Assumptions are ideas that are assumed or believed to be true. As a leader it is important to understand what assumptions fuel your leadership thinking. Often leaders are not aware of the assumptions because they are operating from certain paradigms that will not allow them to see assumptions. Reflection into one’s leadership is an excellent way to uncover assumptions.
Beliefs are ideas that we hold to be true; they shape our realities. If a leader believes that the only individuals in an organization that can make decisions is the management staff, then that belief will influence how the leader treats others. Beliefs can also be unconscious; they are for us a habitual way of thinking and acting that it doesn’t cross our minds that our beliefs may be prohibiting us.
The following is an exercise to help you create, find, or define your personal philosophy of leadership.
Exercise 1: Identifying Your Leadership Values From the list below, pick five core values that you feel describe and guide who you are as a leader. You may choose other values that are not on this list. Place them in the following chart and answer the questions in the matrix.
Achievement Balance Creativity Integrity
How do you envision these values playing out in your leadership?
Exercise 2: Uncovering Your Leadership Assumptions Answer the following questions about leadership. By reflecting on these questions, you will find what assumptions are driving your leadership thinking.
1. Write down two stories of leadership. One story should describe a positive experience you’ve had with leadership and the second story should describe a time when you had a negative experience with leadership.
2. In the space below, write down your definition of leadership.
3. Using your definition of leadership, please elaborate how you first came to understand (or know) your leadership definition.
4. Describe who are the individuals or organizations that influence your leadership definition.
For each of the questions in this section, ask yourself:
What were my assumptions?
What influenced my assumptions?
Would others (co-workers, friends, supervisors) see the situations I described differently?
Exercise 3: Understanding Your Leadership Beliefs Answer the following questions about leadership beliefs. By reflecting on these questions, you will find what beliefs you hold about leadership.
1. Can people who have caused others harm be leaders, e.g. Adolph Hitler?
2. Should leaders have certain qualities to be able to lead?
3. Who decides who leads?
4. How do leaders gain credibility?
5. In general, is there something good about leadership?
6. What do you think is the purpose for leadership?
7. Is leadership behavior developed through personal experiences or through external forces?
For the questions above, write down one statement for each question that best illustrates your belief about that question. For example, if you answered #6 with: The purpose of leadership is to provide vision, guidance, and bring people together for a common good. It unites people and gets them to join together for a goal, then your belief statement may be: I believe that leadership provides a vision to create a common good. Write a statement for each question. These statements will be used in combination with the other activities to create a philosophy of leadership for you.
Exercise 4: Finalizing Your Leadership Philosophy Now that you’ve identified your leadership values, uncovered your leadership assumptions, and understand what beliefs guide your leadership thinking, you are now ready to write statements reflecting your leadership philosophy using the responses above. Statements about your leadership should be written in the present moment not in the future tense. Creating “present moment” statements helps you to internalize and visualize your philosophy as it is happening now, not in the future or the past.
Your leadership philosophy should be a statement that consists of your responses from the above exercise. It doesn’t have to include everything, but it should encompass the general idea of what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be formatted in a certain way – just whatever makes sense to you. You can write one sentence statements or you can write a story explaining your philosophy. Start with an initial draft of your philosophy and write it down. Revise it as often as you need. Remember, your philosophy can change depending on where you are at with your leadership.
After you’ve finished, type out your philosophy on a nice sheet of paper and frame it. Add pictures or artwork to your philosophy. Place it in an area where you will see it all the time; this will serve as a reminder to you to remain true to your leadership. The following is a sample philosophy statement consisting of one sentence statements. Remember, you can write your philosophy in any way that makes sense to you.
My Leadership Philosophy is… I believe that leadership is a journey that consists of followers and leaders.
I balance my work and personal success.
I always help people to find the best in themselves.
I spend time reflecting on my leadership and its implications on others.
I value integrity in personal and professional development.
I respect leadership from different perspectives and ways of knowing.