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..
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. Write down your definition of leadership.. Describe who are the individuals or organizations that influence your leadership definition.
For each of the questions in this section, ask yourself:
1. What were my assumptions?
2. What influenced my assumptions?
3. Would others (co-workers, friends, supervisors) see the situations I described differently?
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?
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.