We need to know what we believe. One of the most powerful exercises I do with the people I coach is to have them write their leadership philosophy. To get them in the right frame of mind, I ask them to imagine that they need to explain their leadership philosophy to a group of incoming employees, or a group of peers from other organizations. Have you ever set aside time to document yours?
In order to write your leadership philosophy, you need the awareness to ask yourself some big questions:
- What do you believe about people?
- What do you believe about leadership?
- What do you believe about your organization?
- What is important for all leaders?
If you asked ten leaders to present their leadership philosophy, it may surprise you to hear that every leader has a different response. Some leaders will base it on integrity. For some, it will be about relationships or getting results. For others, it will be about vision. For others, it will be a combination of conflict resolution and finding solutions. It’s clear that each of us has a different philosophy. This may be attributable to your role in the organization and it may change over time as you gain experience.
I was coaching a business leader and I challenged him with this task. He initially believed his philosophy was top of mind and he just needed a few minutes to write it down. When I talked to him nearly a month later, he said he found it much harder to write out than he thought. In the process, he realized that he hadn’t really made choices about his leadership philosophy and he was trying to represent too many things – and maybe the things he focused on the most were not the most important things to him.
On his first draft, he talked about decision-making, empowerment, how much he managed (or micromanaged as he reflected more), and how he gets results.
When he sat down again, after having more time to think, he found that different themes emerged about how important it was to have goals, to have the right people working around him, about integrity, how important relationships were, how important it was to meet customer expectations. Certain things unveiled themselves and more ideas started coming together for him about what his leadership philosophy was.
This ended up being a valuable exercise in multiple ways. Earlier in the month, he had been asked by his alma mater to give the commencement address. He decided it would be the perfect opportunity for him to share his leadership philosophy and what he had learned over his life and career that might be helpful to the graduating class.
He shared with me that the time and effort he put toward clarifying his leadership philosophy actually provided a significant impact on how he led in his organization. He now knew what was important to him and what wasn’t. He was relieved of things that had bothered him in the past; he realized these things weren’t important to him. In addition, he realized there were other things that were very important to him that he wasn’t paying enough attention to. He had been taking relationships with his colleagues for granted and he realized that he hadn’t been doing anything about improving them. Through the discipline of writing out his leadership philosophy, he discovered that he should increase his collaborative efforts.
Having a philosophy in writing can help a person become a better leader, it’s a good exercise to stop, take time and answer the questions for yourself.