Your Leadership Philosophy – Charting the Course

Having a clearly defined leadership philosophy can help guide your decisions around how you lead others. It is important because stepping up as a leader in your organization is both a privilege and a responsibility, and the risks and consequences of failed leadership are amplified. You take on responsibility for the well-being and productivity of a team, and your decisions and actions reverberate through the organization.

The pathway to being an effective leader is rarely a straight line.

Charting the Course

The pathway to being an effective leader is rarely a straight line – it includes charting a course, balancing courage and consideration, and experiencing greater exposure to scrutiny and criticism. It also involves a degree of vulnerability and transparency, and a willingness to put yourself out there. It is not for the faint of heart, and yet, it can be extremely gratifying – particularly when you believe in the work of your organization and see your efforts rewarded in a happier, healthy, more productive workplace.

In theory, time and experience should translate into increased leadership effectiveness.

Experience provides:

  • Greater awareness of the implications of actions
  • Improved ability to scan the horizon and anticipate risks and opportunities
  • Frameworks, experiences, and reference points for thinking about next steps as you encounter challenges
  • A broader network of colleagues to collaborate with, and a stronger sense of how to navigate the organization (i.e., you know who to call for what)
  • Earned and cherished trust, goodwill, and respect

Here’s the thing though:

You don’t have to be an experienced leader to be a mature leader.

Mature leaders have taken the time to reflect on their journey to date and articulate what they hold most dear in terms of a sense of purpose, beliefs, and values. They recognize that it is helpful to distill a set of ideas about how they intend to demonstrate or manifest their leadership that reflects the underlying beliefs, values, and principles they hold to most dearly. That is, they have articulated a personal philosophy of leadership. It is not that this can’t change or be adapted over time. It is more a matter of being clear about who you are, what you hope to accomplish as a leader, and how you will go about doing your leadership work.

A clearly articulated philosophy of leadership becomes a foundation for planning, a filter for making decisions, and a compass for determining priorities and guiding your leadership journey.

As you find yourself in a position to present yourself as a viable candidate for leadership through the selection process, referencing your philosophy of leadership will allow you to present a compelling and true picture of what you have to offer. Not having a clear picture of your core beliefs and values that guide how you work with others may indicate that you aren’t yet ready to step into leadership.

Be clear about your leadership philosophy.

As you step into leadership and find your voice, you will want to provide a clear and inviting picture of what your team can expect from you as their leader. Most of what you accomplish in terms of influence and support for your team will happen because others give you permission to lead and because they trust that their interests are well served as they listen to you and follow your lead. Very little happens because you assert your leadership authority or exert pressure. Being clear about your philosophy of leadership gives a basis for others to want to follow you and hear what you have to say.

Your philosophy will keep you grounded and help you weather the never-ending winds and storms that will blow around your work.

Your leadership philosophy will keep you grounded and help you weather the never-ending winds and storms that will blow around your work. It will become something that may evolve over time, but will serve you well as you anticipate, embark, and take your first steps on a journey toward becoming more effective in your role. Although mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning process, you will more quickly recognize when you are off course and will decrease your recovery time and energy spent on damage control.

Your personal, thoughtful, well-articulated leadership philosophy is an essential part of your toolkit . . . don’t leave home without it!

Where do I start?

Think of the preparatory work below as though you are laying out the individual pieces of a quilt on the table and preparing to stitch together the final product. This is the groundwork that will put you in a position to stitch together a leadership philosophy that will guide you as you progress in your development.

Use These Five Steps to Consider Your Leadership Philosophy

Begin by reflecting on past leadership experiences.
  • What exemplary leaders or leadership practices have you observed or experienced that made a positive difference for you and for the organization?
  • What, in particular, was the added value of having strong leadership in place?
  • How did those strong leaders go about making a positive difference? How did they deal with challenges along the way?
  • What are the impacts of weak, ineffective, or damaging leadership? How does it look and feel?
Identify the main purpose and mission of an effective leader.
  • What do you hope will be the main impacts of your leadership for individuals and the organization?
  • How will your contribution as a leader support the effectiveness and well-being of the individuals you lead and the organization’s ability to achieve its mission?
What can others expect from you as a leader and what do you expect from others in terms of:
  • Leadership style?
  • Accountability?
  • Work ethic and behaviours?
  • Communication, collaboration, and feedback?
  • Performance expectations?
  • Responsiveness?
  • Clarity and specificity of direction and reporting?
What are the core values and character traits that you intend to consistently demonstrate as you carry out your work and as you interact with people?
What goals have you set personally for the coming year?
  • What support will you receive in your efforts to develop as a leader? E.g., further training, coaching, mentoring, reading, etc.
  • What do you hope others will say about you one year from now if asked about the quality of the leadership you provide and how you are doing?

Stitching the Pieces Together

At this point, you have reflected on the main purpose and impact of your leadership, how you will lead, and what kind of person you intend to be while doing your leadership work. You have plenty on the table to work with as you stitch your leadership philosophy and present a clear and compelling picture of what the organization can expect from you.

The final product of your efforts may be a set of point form, bulleted notes, or it may take the form of a written statement or narrative. It may change depending on the audience or occasion. Regardless, it is the picture and understandings that emerge from the final product that are most helpful.

I’ve found it helpful to keep the document to one page or less. The goal is to generate a philosophy statement that is relevant, can be periodically revisited, and will be top-of-mind as you translate and align actions with beliefs. Invite feedback as you develop your statement, laminate it, put it on your wall, share it with others as appropriate, update it occasionally, reference it, and let it serve as a filter as you deal with major leadership challenges or decisions.

The goal is to generate a philosophy statement that is relevant, can be periodically revisited, and will be top-of-mind as you translate and align actions with beliefs.

In my next blog, I’ll provide my own personal leadership philosophy that guided me through my career as School Administrator, Executive Superintendent of Human Resource Services, and Senior Superintendent of Student Achievement and Well-Being with the Waterloo Region District School Board.

Check out our free printable handout, 4 Areas to Help You Grow as a Leader.. For more RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Mark Schinkel

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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