A personal leadership philosophy is a set of beliefs and principles you use to evaluate information and respond to people and situations. It allows anyone who hears it to gain an understanding of your values, priorities, approach to decision making, and what you expect from yourself and others.
For many years, I relied on this philosophy: When you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask yourself: “What would the person who I want to be do in this situation?” Then do that.
Simple? Yes. Easy to follow? Hell no.
If you can’t tell me your personal leadership philosophy in under thirty seconds; if you can but it’s the first time you’ve articulated it out loud in the past three days; or if someone who works with you closely cannot tell me your personal leadership philosophy—you don’t actually have one. At least not one that is truly impacting the way you behave.
Very few people have given a significant amount of thought to who it is they really want to be. Most want to be fundamentally “good” as opposed to “bad,” but I’ve found that relatively few have taken the time to get much more specific than that.
Perhaps that’s because when we’re young we’re judged and graded on what others expect us to know. We get used to the big questions in our lives coming from other people and we learn to pay closest attention to the things on which we will be tested. Those tests rarely feature questions about who we want to be, how we understand our core values, and which criteria we should use to make difficult decisions. As a result, many of us become our own worst subject. We grow up being asked what we want to do when we grow up, not who we want to be. The former means meeting the expectations of others, the latter asking tough questions of ourselves. We’re not forced to ask those tough questions and answering them can be uncomfortable, so many of us choose not to.
Developing an answer is crucial. If you don’t have a personal leadership philosophy, you don’t have a plan for leading every day. You’re hoping to lead, you’re not planning to lead.
This article has been adapted from the book This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters.