To Lead, You Need a Personal Leadership Philosophy. It’s Not Optional Any More.
“Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare | The truth thou hast, that all may share. | Be bold. Proclaim it everywhere. | They only live who dare.” - Voltaire
It was a great opportunity, double the salary I’d been earning and THE company everyone wanted to work for in 2006. I said “no” to the offer and started my own business instead.
The offer, incredible as it was, didn’t fit the commitments I’d made in my personal life. Raising a special needs child, I’d determined that I needed flexibility in my schedule. I had promised myself, in writing, that flexibility — above all else — would determine my next career move.
There was pressure to take that job. I was tempted to reconsider, and I started rationalizing how much that money could help us as a family. But I knew, in my heart of hearts, that it wouldn’t be right to make this move. I was committed to the course I’d set.
What I hadn’t done yet is communicate my values and committed course to others. That’s why they couldn’t understand my decision and challenged me to do something I did not feel good about doing.
Eleven years later, I can say this is the best thing I’ve ever done in my professional life. My son’s needs were met, my company was born and is thriving, and the financial rewards far surpass what I’d been offered. Best of all, I still worked for that company. I became a consultant to them and made more than I would have as their employee. Having a Personal Leadership Philosophy and staying true to it has served me very well.
How a Personal Leadership Philosophy Can Propel Your Career Upwards:
When you’re aiming for the top, you need to set your bar high. Your performance as a leader must inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in your team.
To be effective and inspiring as a leader, you must “Stand upright, speak thy thoughts… Be bold.”
Developing a Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) empowers you to declare YOUR truth and stand tall within it, to operate from a position of strength that ennobles you.
Before sharing and modeling your own PLP, you’ll first need to consider and craft a meaningful and genuine philosophy. This article will walk you through the steps needed.
First, a definition of leadership philosophy. Philosophy is defined as:
- Your personal foundation or belief in human nature.
- A particular system of thought.
- A system of principles for guidance.
- An activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other.
From these definitions, you can extract some important ideas about your PLP:
- Philosophy is personal. There is no right or wrong.
- Philosophy is something you choose. You can make a choice that is deliberate, intentional, based on reflection and determinations. Or, if you don’t do that, you can have an accidental philosophy… one that is vague and unclear to others (and maybe even to you.)
- Philosophy is meant as a foundation. A solid core means you have clarity to guide decisions and sort out all the competing inputs you get in a day.
Here’s one description of what it means to have a PLP:
“Successful Leaders know their Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) and communicate it by living it passionately every day in all they say and do.
They have taken the time to determine who they are, their values and priorities.
They know their course and have set their internal compass, which gives them greater self-knowledge, greater self-confidence, and improved effectiveness as a leader.
This is accomplished by writing a Personal Leadership Philosophy, which states the core values you live by, what you expect of your people, what they can expect of you, and how you will evaluate performance. ”
Determine. Write. Know. Set. Communicate.
You’re going to follow these bolded action words to craft your philosophy and communicate your personal leadership values.
STEP 1: DETERMINE
…They have taken the time to determine who they are, their values and priorities…
Don’t jump ahead. It takes time to build absolute resolve about your own values and priorities. Without resolve, you cannot develop a meaningful PLP.
This is the most important step in your process. Take your time in reflecting on these questions:
- What do you truly believe?
- Which values do you refuse to compromise?
- How comfortable are you with who you are?
- What causes you to have these core values?
- What is the single most important thing to you?
STEP 2: WRITE
…This is accomplished by writing… the core values you live by, what you expect of your people, what they can expect of you, and how you will evaluate performance.
No cutting corners on this step either. These are the benefits of putting your PLP in writing:
- Putting it in writing provides clarity, objectivity, self-reflection.
- Putting it in writing tells others “I am serious.”
- Putting it in writing keeps it consistent.
- Putting it in writing makes you accountable.
- Putting it in writing makes it easier to share.
These benefits are primarily for you. It’s you initially who needs clarity, consistency, and accountability. Also, the process of putting something in writing forces you to take a step back and evaluate it more objectively.
However, while you want objective thought and analysis in your process, your PLP needs to be emotionally driven as well. Writing it down will help you balance your logos and pathos.
STEP 3: KNOW
Successful Leaders know their Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP)… They know their course…
Isn’t this interesting? After all this reflection and writing, there is a wholly separate step related now to KNOWING your own personal leadership philosophy. Don’t gloss over this!
The word choice here is deliberate. To know means “to have established or fixed in the mind or memory.” That’s an elevated commitment, beyond thinking about it and writing it down. You must be intimately acquainted with your own philosophy, to be able to distinguish it and all its nuances from any sound-alike or look-alike substitutions.
These are the outcomes of knowing, in your bones, what you believe in and what you stand for:
When you truly know your leadership philosophy, you’ll know your course of action in any situation. You’ll make more confident, more efficient decisions and choices.
STEP 4: SET
…have set their internal compass, which gives them greater self-knowledge, greater self-confidence, and improved effectiveness as a leader…
Once you determine, write down and get to know your PLP, you can set your internal compass to live by it.
Imagine that you’ll never again get lost in the woods. You’ll always be able to navigate by a bright north star. Think of the confidence you’ll project when you know exactly where you’re going and have no doubts about how you’re going to get there. Others will notice, be inspired by this and be more willing and eager to follow you. And you will have fewer qualms about leading them.
After all, would you follow someone who doesn’t seem to know where they’re going?
Using your PLP to set your compass brings:
- Discernment (to uncover what you already know).
- Clarity that points toward your truth.
- Assurance that you won’t get lost at crossroads.
- Clear direction — an abiding ability to find your way.
- Persistent confidence.
- Inspiring effectiveness that others will want to follow.
Once you’ve done that, the power to confidently advance your life and career is in your hands.
STEP 5: COMMUNICATE
…communicate it by living it passionately every day in all they say and do…
The first four steps helped you to craft your leadership philosophy. They come first so you don’t communicate before you’re certain what you stand for. It all starts with getting clarity for yourself, so you can later communicate with clarity, conviction and credibility to others.
Return to Step 1 multiple times before you try to communicate your philosophy. Your PLP shouldn’t change very often — give it time to take a shape that you can live with for a good long time.
When it comes time to communicate your PLP, do that by living it passionately every day in all you say and do.
If your PLP is to represent who you are and what you stand for, you need to live and breathe it. You need to radiate it in every interaction. You can’t just bring out when it suits you… It needs to be a constant expression.
Done correctly, these five steps are a lot of work. They force you to hold very high standards for your interactions. But, as you know, great leaders don’t get ahead by setting their bars low.
When you’re ready to begin, use these free tools and sample PLPs as a starting point. For more tools and techniques that will strengthen your leadership effectiveness, sign up for this free e-mail training course from People First Productivity Solutions.
About the Author: Deb Calvert has worked as a Corporate Director in a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant, coach and trainer to nearly 400 businesses of all sizes. Deb is a certified executive coach, and a Top 50 Sales Influencer. She is Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge®, conducting workshops and coaching to help liberate the leader in everyone.