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Are We Having a Crisis in Leadership Quality?
I recently read that we may be facing a crisis in leadership quality.
The DDI's 2023 Global Leadership Forecast shows that we're facing the lowest point of leadership quality in a decade.
Only 40% of those surveyed said their company had high-quality leaders.
At the same time, Paul Michelman, the Editor-in-chief of MIT Sloan Management Review, said, “The world does not lack for management ideas.”
Thousands of books and articles tell you how to become a good leader.
But to be a good leader, you’ll need more than external guidance; you also need to search inside yourself.
Having a leadership philosophy can help with this.
Let’s start by understanding the concept.
What is Leadership Philosophy?
There are many ways to define leadership philosophy.
I love how George Ambler, a former Senior Executive Partner with Gartner Executive Programs, describes it: “a set of beliefs, values, and principles that strongly influences how we interpret reality and guide our understanding of influencing humans.”
“Leadership philosophy is a set of beliefs, values, and principles that strongly influences how we interpret reality and guide our understanding of influencing humans. It’s our philosophy, our understanding, and interpretation of leadership, that affects how we react to people, events, and situations around us.” - George Ambler, former Senior Executive Partner with Gartner Executive Programs.
A leadership philosophy is the guidance you give yourself on how to be a good leader.
Writing a leadership philosophy helps you reflect on your values and the leader you want to become.
When complete, the philosophy will be the compass for your decision-making as a leader.
With that in mind, in this article, I will share the benefits of having a leadership philosophy and how to write one for yourself, with complete guides and examples!
Why is it Important to Have a Leadership Philosophy?
For the Leader
Having a leadership philosophy is helpful for any leader for several key reasons:
- A chance to reflect: To write a leadership philosophy, you will need to take the time to sit down and think hard about what truly matters to you as a leader.
- Guide decision-making: When facing difficult choices, having a leadership philosophy written down will help you make decisions that align with your values.
- Job promotion: When you can clearly state your leadership values with your management (and, of course, act accordingly!), there's a higher chance that they'll find you capable of a higher position (This even applies to people who want to become first-time managers).
For the Team
A team will always benefit from a conscious and consistent leader with clear values and goals:
- Build trust: Leaders who can merge their personal values with their professional role receive greater trust from their team members. This is especially important in remote and hybrid work, where building team connections is often challenging.
- Deliver better results: Because trust is the foundation of great team collaboration, communication, and team dynamics.
The Difference between Leadership Philosophy and Leadership Styles
Leadership styles is a well-studied subject, and you probably have come across or identified yourself with some of the most common leadership styles, such as authoritarian, democratic, laissez-faire, or transactional.
On the other hand, a leadership philosophy should be highly personalized. There are no categories to choose from, and you write your own leadership manifesto.
While leadership styles describe how a leader makes decisions and delegates tasks, a leadership philosophy tells you its owner's values, beliefs, and goals.
But with all those differences, there is one thing they have in common:
Both leadership styles and philosophies are fluid and change over time as the leader grows.
Essential Components of Leadership Philosophy (+ Template)
If you're writing your first leadership philosophy and don't know where to start, below are some suggested components:
- Your definition of leadership
- Your goals
- Your core values in making decisions
- Your core values in managing people
- And more!
When putting these components together, we can have a template like this:
As a leadership philosophy should be personalized to each person, I encourage you to customize the template as much as you want until it truly feels authentic to you!
If you don’t know how to fill out the blanks in the template, no worries.
In the next section, I will guide you to reflect on your leadership journey and develop your ideas for your first leadership philosophy!
10 Steps to Write Your Own Leadership Philosophy
The first three steps will help you reflect on your leadership values:
- Think about the leaders in your life
Sometimes, it's easier to look into another person's behaviors than ourselves, so as a warm-up, think about the leaders you have encountered in your life.
Some leaders you met may have positively influenced you:
- Who is a leader you admire?
- What about them that inspires you?
Others may show you how not to be a leader:
- What is a negative experience you had with another leader?
- If you were them, what would you do differently?
Try to note your answers to the above questions before moving to the next steps!
- Reflect on your three developmental points
There are major events in our lives that shape who we are, our beliefs, and our values. So, in the next step, let's write down your defining moments in life, including:
- Two lows: Two significant challenges you have gone through.
- One high: A positive experience you hold close to your heart.
For each of these moments, think about how they have:
- Changed you as a person
- Influenced your leadership
- Vision the leader the future world needs
A leadership philosophy is not just about your past and present but also about your future. This makes it worth wondering, “What types of leaders does the future world need?”
In his insightful book Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration and Inclusivity, Dr. Amit Mukherjee points out the key attributes of a future Leader of Creativity:
- Have strong ethical principles
- Value knowledge, imagination, and fast learning
- A contributing member of creative efforts, not a facilitator
- Inclusive and empathetic
- Embrace different opinions
- Let information flow freely through their network
- Provide psychological safety to their team members
If you're a leader of a hybrid or remote team building a digital product, you may find the above characteristics highly relevant to you.
So, which ones would you emphasize in your leadership philosophy?
Steps 4 to 7 will guide you to come up with the answers for the blanks in our leadership philosophy template:
- Define leadership in your own words
The first sentence of your leadership philosophy is your definition of leadership. What does it mean to lead?
The answer may depend on your leadership style:
- For democratic leaders, you may think leading is to guide your team members to a common goal by listening to and combining everyone's perspectives.
- For transformational leaders, you may consider leadership as motivating and inspiring your team members to achieve their full potential.
- For delegative leaders, you may think to be a leader is to trust your people to do their best work and let the group make decisions without much involvement.
- What are the achievements you want to be remembered for?
What achievements do you want people to remember about you after those years?
What are the goals you want to achieve as a leader?
These goals can be work-related, such as:
- Leading the team to achieve a certain KPI (key performance index)
- Restructuring the team in a way that makes it more efficient
Or they can be more people-oriented, like:
- Upgrading the skills of all team members
- Building a positive team dynamics
- Your core values when making decisions:
No matter how new your company's product or service is, you're impacting others' lives through your product or service.
You want to ensure you always have the correct guiding principles when making decisions.
What are your core values that relate to your team's product orservice?
They can be:
- Honesty: To always tell the truth to your customers
- Inclusivity: To design for disadvantaged minorities
- Curiosity: To always learn new things and question what you have known
- Responsibility: To build products that genuinely do good for people and for the planet
- And many more!
List of Core Value Words
- Your core values when managing people
Now, let's turn towards your team:
What are the fundamentals of creating an effective relationship with your team?
For example, you may say:
- Respect: To treat your team members the way you want to be treated
- Care: To show that you care beyond words and make decisions with compassion
- The belief in the best in people: To forgive your people and not hold on to their mistakes
Here is an example of more management values.
After you have a draft of your leadership philosophy, you can go to the last three steps:
- Seek feedback
No matter how well we know ourselves, there will be things we can't be completely objective about.
Before you complete your leadership philosophy, send it to your mentors, close friends, or team members for input.
The feedback may not be easy to read, but it will improve your philosophy.
Remember that you don't have to change everything according to people's feedback. After all, this is your philosophy.
- Perfect your leadership philosophy and share it with your team
You can keep your leadership philosophy private, but sharing it with the team offers great benefits:
- Firstly, you create a better understanding between you and your team members.
- Secondly, your team may find you more authentic and trustworthy.
- Thirdly, your people can remind you to act according to your words.
Before you share your leadership philosophy with the team, check the common issues below:
- Using too many buzzwords may be deemed insincere.
- Be aware of the current atmosphere within the team to ensure you share at a suitable time.
- Be careful when using phrases like “I promise to” because many things may not be within your control.
- Ask yourself what you want your people to think and feel after reading your leadership philosophy.
- Review and revise from time to time
Your leadership philosophy is alive and constantly changing, just as you are!
So look back at your philosophy occasionally and edit it over time.
Leadership Philosophy Examples
Below are three examples of leadership philosophy based on our template.
Please note that we keep the goal part general as it depends on you and your team’s vision.
A remote manager of a startup
As a manager of a startup, you may want to emphasize the design thinking process: ideation, prototyping, and feedback.
Besides, to develop a unique product, your core values may include words like “curiosity” and “originality.”
I believe to be a leader is to inspire my people to do their best work and assist them along the way.
My goals are to achieve unconventional ideation, rapid prototyping, and a fast feedback loop with my team.
On the journey to accomplish those goals, I believe curiosity, social responsibility, and originality should be the guiding principles for my decisions.
Most importantly, I want to always treat my people with understanding, respect, and trust.
A fully remote manager of a tech company
Since team communication and collaboration are often the challenges of hybrid and remote teams, you can make them the focus of your leadership philosophy.
I believe to be a leader is to ensure my people know how to do their jobs well and that they can grow while doing it.
My goals are to achieve seamless collaboration, great team dynamics, and high-quality work outcomes with my team.
On the journey to accomplish those goals, I believe honesty, inclusivity, and creating real value should be the guiding principles for my decisions.
Most importantly, I want to treat my people with kindness, cultural sensitivity, and respect at all times.
Manager for creativity building a digital product
Is your goal to foster creativity in your organization?
Then, you may find this example, inspired by the book Leading in the Digital World: How to Foster Creativity, Collaboration and Inclusivity, helpful.
I believe to be a leader is to maximize the creative capacity of my team to build a responsible and competitive digital product.
My goals are to achieve a fast flow of exchanged information, a pool of diverse perspectives, and high productivity together with my team.
On the journey to accomplish those goals, I believe ethical values, an emphasis on speed, and continuous learning should be the guiding principles for my decisions.
Most importantly, I want to treat my people with inclusivity, empathy, and respect at all times.
Write Your Own Leadership Philosophy
Having a leadership philosophy will remind you of the leader you aspire to be and guide you when making difficult decisions.
Our world is constantly evolving, and every day, more research tells leaders what they should be.
Still, having a clear philosophy about what good leadership looks like will help you stay calm and determined in the sea of information.
I hope you have found this guide helpful and that you're on the way to writing your own leadership philosophy soon!
As Donald McGannon said, "Leadership is not a position or a title. It is action and example." I fully agree.
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Every week, I scan the news for must-know stories about the employee-centric, happier, distributed, and AI-driven future of work.