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Stop! Do This Before You Write Your Personal Leadership Philosophy

personal leadership philosophyIn September 2015, we posted about how and why to work on crafting your Personal Leadership Philosophy. More than three years later, this article is still generating lots of new views and comments.

Even if you’ve never heard about a Personal Leadership Philosophy, chances are that you’ve responded to someone else’s. Or you’ve attempted to pull together some of the elements in an effort to get clarity about what you believe and how you want others to perceive you.

Leadership scholar Warren Bennis said that “to know yourself as a leader is to know yourself.” A PLP is a powerful tool for getting to know yourself.

Incidentally, the term “leadership” is not reserved for a chosen few at the top of an organizational chart. It’s not exclusive to those who hold management titles or some position of authority. Leadership is for anyone who has an opportunity, obligation, or desire to guide others. A PLP is relevant for every individual.

What Is a Personal Leadership Philosophy?

Developing a Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to each other.

1. It’s Personal.

Your philosophy won’t be identical to anyone else’s. It will be uniquely your own, about you. It is a declaration about what you believe, what you stand for, what others can expect to see consistently from you.

2. It’s about your Leadership.

This is about you, and it’s primarily for you. At the same time, a PLP will help others understand you. It will make it easier for them to know you and determine whether or not they wish to follow you.

At the heart of your PLP, you’re making a promise to others. You’re telling them why they can trust you and believe you and back you up.

3. It’s a Philosophy.

That means it’s an integrated, comprehensive view of life. It’s a system of principles for guidance. It’s a foundation for your beliefs. And, as such, it assists you making choices in everything you do. It serves as an internal compass, helping you determine what’s right and what’s wrong (for you). 

But It’s No Good Unless You Do This First

You can cobble together a general philosophy and use some generically good ideas. That’s okay as a starting point. But it’s not enough.

Generic philosophies are no better that corporate mission statements that are ho-hum and could fit virtually any business. The aim here isn’t words on a wall. It’s getting down deep to the roots of who YOU are and what you stand for.

Generic ideas aren’t personal. Therefore, they won’t be inspiring to you or magnetizing to draw in others. They won’t feel authentic for you and will not, therefore, have the power to compel your actions and choices. 

That’s why you have to start by looking inward.

Most people try to begin with the desired outcome of portraying themselves in a way that appeals to others. It becomes an aspirational exercise instead of being a true reflection of who they are.

For example, one emerging leader we worked with wanted to be more like her mentor. She admired this mentor’s passion and candor. She considered this mentor to be strong and self-assured. So she developed a leadership philosophy that included all these qualities.

The problem is that this emerging leader was not someone who spoke with candor or challenged others with confidence. Those were not her strengths. Those outward actions were not fueled by internal values. While she admired this in others, she was not comfortable displaying these behaviors.

Through coaching, we worked on self-discovery so she could identify her own values. Emulating others’ actions will never take you as far as acting in accord with your own values. That’s why this is an essential first step in developing your PLP.

For this emerging leader, it was life-changing to identify and acknowledge that her own primary values included empathy, harmony and service. For her, behaviors like being extremely direct with people weren’t a match to her values. She could simultaneously admire these behaviors in others and choose different ones for herself. After all, there are many different ways to be effective.

The steps that precede crafting your PLP include:

1. Sorting out your primary, non-negotiable values.

Knowing what they are and why they matter to you. Being okay with them and moving past any doubts that they aren’t “good enough” or that they don’t match values that others might have imposed in the past.

2. Confirming that the values you prioritize are the values you display.

Making sure your actions are aligned with your values -- that your behaviors are an outward expression of them.

3. Working through any discrepancies between what you value and the choices you make.

For example, there’s a mismatch when someone professes to value family but rarely spends time with family members. The disconnect stems from one of two things: the value is aspirational and not truly a primary value for this person OR the choices and actions have not been founded in the value. Either way, reconciling this will be critically important before crafting a PLP.

4. Settling on the primary values

Make sure actions are aligned and choices reflect those values.

Then What?

Once you’ve taken those essential first steps and have a clear picture of your own values, you can work on crafting your PLP. This free resource page, courtesy of People First Productivity Solutions, offers step-by-step instructions, a worksheet, an infographic, and samples from people who have followed this process.

If you follow the steps, you will have a written PLP that is:

  • Authentic
  • Clear
  • Compelling

It will be something you can use to hold yourself accountable to activating your values in all situations. It will also be something you can share with others who might follow a leader they believe in and understand.

Leaders who have taken the time to develop and share their own philosophy of leadership are thought to be more credible, consistent, confident, and trustworthy than those who do not. According to research from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, leaders who are clear about their own philosophy of leadership have significantly higher levels of employee engagement than those who do not.

Leaders who do this work report higher levels of confidence in navigating difficult situations and conflict. They feel better able to manage their time and are more capable of discerning what is important to do. They don’t get pulled in multiple directions because their own direction and path is clear. 

Once you’ve developed your PLP, get in touch with us. We’d like to hear about your experience and welcome the opportunity to look at your PLP and celebrate it with you.

personal leadership philosophyLearn more about crafting your leadership philosophy (infographic included!) here

Topics: philosophy of leadership

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