Did you ever sit down and think about what kind of leader you wanted to be? Or was your leadership a journey you embarked on, relying on instinct?

It is an important question every leader must answer at some point because it determines how well they will lead in the future. For a leader, not developing a leadership philosophy is the equivalent of a sales professional not working on their sales pitch and just winging it instead. You can get by without it for a while, and perhaps even be successful, but there’s also a good possibility you’ll completely miss your mark. So, what is the leadership philosophy and how do you develop one?

Leadership Philosophy — The Basics

The point of developing your leadership philosophy is to become aware of how you want to lead others. In a sense, it’s about creating clear guidelines for yourself to ensure that you stay on track and within the requirements of your role. There is no right and wrong when it comes to developing it — all it matters is that it reflects your values as a leader so that you and your employees can understand what it is you stand for.

What is your unique approach to leadership? What are the ideas that resonate with you, the values you expect your organization to uphold, the attributes you want to nurture in your employees? A clear leadership philosophy provides the answer to these questions and more.

Outlining Your Leadership Philosophy

You might already be aware of your leadership values. However, merely knowing is not enough. Writing it down would be a good start to defining your leadership philosophy in more detail and genuinely becoming aware of its core values. Once you start developing it, you can come up with ways to communicate it to people as well. Seeing your values in writing provides the clarity you require to keep them consistent with your expectations and hold yourself accountable for your actions. If a leader doesn’t live and breathe their leadership philosophy, it sets a poor example for the employees.

Asking the Important Questions

Your leadership philosophy will help guide your actions and influence your decisions. By asking the critical questions, you determine who you are as a leader and what your organization will and won’t stand for. How do you want to lead — by example, maintaining integrity, or placing trust in your closest coworkers? Which traits do you value most, in a leader and an employee — communication skills, expertise or something else? What are your expectations from the people around you? What are the things you’ll never accept and never practice in your leadership?

Living by Your Leadership Philosophy

Once the leadership philosophy is defined comes the problematic part — staying accountable and upholding it at every step of the way. Invariably, you will encounter challenges. Just look at Ross Perot, whose famous quote about killing snakes both defined his leadership philosophy and the difficulties he faced implementing it at General Motors. While it seems he could have easily given up on it, the opposite is true — Perot kept trying because it wasn’t in his philosophy to quit. That’s how you’ll know you developed your leadership philosophy right: it will be impossible for you not to live by it, no matter how hard things get.

Developing your leadership philosophy has an immediate and powerful impact on your effectiveness and the ability to plan for the future. Being able to communicate what your values are leads to an organization united in a common purpose, which helps the overall business.

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