Creating a personal leadership philosophy

Encourage happiness and equity.

Those four words are my personal leadership philosophy. Ten years ago it was more than 1,700 words! In my defense, it had to be written as a research paper for an organizational leadership course in grad school. But a couple months ago I rediscovered the long lost file for this paper, and knew I needed to update it and boil it down. Here’s what I did to make it happen:

Cheated off myself

I’m all for innovation. At the same time, I’m a big fan of looking at what you’ve already done or created for inspiration. If there’s a blueprint or precedent from your previous work you can use to get you started, use it. That bit from your archives or memory can hep you move past that scary blank page at the beginning. You might deviate from it heavily by the time you get to your “final” product, but that’s okay.

So I dug out that old file and read through it. In the opening paragraph I said:

We have to be willing to learn with an insatiable hunger for understanding and applying that understanding to the bigger picture and progress of individuals, organizations, and humanity. 

At the core of it was using information to do good, build relationships, make things better. This was important to me in 2009, and it’s important to me in 2019.

Looked outside self

A four-page APA format research paper isn’t exciting content outside academia. My philosophy needed to be molded into something more user-friendly. I searched online (heeeyyyy, Google!) and looked at various leadership philosophy templates for ideas.

Some templates/worksheets give you different components you need to develop answers for – what do you believe, what is your attitude, what principles will you always lead with, what will you do in x situation. Some might start with you creating a timeline of important events in your life or approaching it journal style.

The template I decided to use and adjust to my needs started with a paragraph stating what your philosophy is based on and what you hope to accomplish by sharing and following it. Then it includes four sections of bullet points on your philosophy, what you expect from team members, what you applaud, and what you disapprove.

Thought about what matters to me

What all these templates or guides have in common is getting you to think and write about your values – what matters to you. Those values come from your experience and drive you as a leader.

I’ve seen suffering. I’ve seen miserable people multiplying misery with gusto – maybe because they haven’t found another way to be or it gives them some small feeling of power. My philosophy had to be about the opposite of spreading misery. Happiness. To give happiness a chance, we need to get people what they need to succeed. That means working toward equity. This led to my opening statement that my leadership philosophy is based on encouraging happiness and equity.

Thought about what my values look like in action

For the “my leadership philosophy” bullet points (which became “my leadership philosophy in action”), I imagined my values in motion on any given day. These actions had to be practical, challenging, constructive, and expressive of my values.

My leadership philosophy in action:

  • Embracing curiosity, fluidity, accessibility, authenticity, and diversity of experience
  • Inspiring and enabling people to act and better understand their actions
  • Respecting the real-world impact of online and offline communication
  • Engaging in conversation responsibly
  • Sharing information that contributes to better quality of life
  • Creating and enhancing access and expanding opportunity
  • Supporting and celebrating humanity – particularly that of marginalized people
  • Meeting people where they are and helping them get where they need to go
  • Facing challenges with creativity, resilience, and compassion
  • Respecting time and using it to the best
  • Acting to get people’s needs met
  • Promoting care of the whole person and self-actualization
  • Encouraging people to take up their own space and feel at home in themselves

Imagined rewarding others according to my philosophy

What are some important things people do that inspire me to give ovations and celebrations? That’s the question I had to answer when it came to filling out the “I applaud” section. I came up with these points:

  • Delivering accurate information the right way
  • Showing up for others
  • Clearing and building pathways for access
  • Spreading affirmation and joy
  • Learning and changing in positive ways
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Recognizing and rewarding people’s contributions properly
  • Systemic solutions to systemic challenges/problems

Cut the excess and got positive

From the start, I omitted the “I expect team members to” part of the template. It seemed redundant to me after the “Action” and “Applaud” sections. I think those two sections set out my expectations for myself and anyone I team up with. I originally included the “I disapprove” section, even though it never sat all the way right with me.

After reading my friend Ryan Rushing’s blog about developing his management philosophy, I finally decided to chop “I disapprove.” Ryan advises using ultra-positive framing and, like him, I feel, “In general, it’s easier for me to capture negative concepts more than positive ones.” Seeing your negative emotions about a situation often (always?) comes before visualizing how you want to see the world after the solution.

Anything I might put in “I disapprove” could be flipped to be included in the “I applaud” section if it wasn’t there already. For instance “I disapprove spreading misery” and “I disapprove bigotry” became “I applaud spreading affirmation and joy.”

So after all of it

The total document for my leadership philosophy – action and applaud sections included – is now 171 words. That fits on one page in a Word doc and, at 10% the original word count, is far more shareable than what I had since 2009.

If you’re looking for help sorting through your values and developing your personal leadership philosophy or are looking for other tools to step up your leadership practice, go here to see how I can help you!

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