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Why leaders should develop a leadership philosophy

November 13, 2019

Good leaders should have a leadership philosophy

When leaders have clarity about who they are, how they lead, and what followers can expect, their actions become transparent and more consistent. Taking the time to create a personal leadership philosophy (PLP) enables leaders to be more intentional in their leadership. A PLP is a reflective explanation of a leader’s core values, attitudes and real-life experiences that guide his or her leadership behaviors.

Leadership students networking

Every leader has his or her own unique leadership style. There are three commonly observed leadership styles: authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire. An authoritarian leader has a strong preference for structure and ground rules and supervises followers. A democratic leader seldom gives orders and prefers to help followers figure out how to complete work tasks. A laissez-faire leader allows followers to accomplish tasks in their own way with complete freedom. Leaders tend to embody aspects of multiple styles depending on the situation. A democratic leader, for example, may have to behave in an authoritarian way when making a difficult decision. Thus, while it might appear that a leader has a commonly observed style, it is not static or unchanging. Whether leaders recognize it, they are constantly evaluating their environment and people and their ideas as good or bad and decisions as ethical or unethical.

personal traits and experiences shape leadership style

Core values are an individual’s guiding principles. They keep an individual grounded and centered. Core values might include honesty, dedication, trust or humility. When leaders are aware of their core values, they can use them to guide the decision-making process by determining whether the choice aligns with their core values. Core values live at the center of who a leader aspires to be and provides a grounding point for where leadership decisions are made (Kouzes and Posner 2016).

Attitudes are the way a leader views the world, that is, how an individual perceives, thinks, and feels about his or her workplace, profession and future. A leader’s attitude can be judged by observing actions, words or reactions to everyday situations. Leaders exhibit attitudes purposely as well as accidentally. When a leader demonstrates an optimistic attitude, followers exhibit confidence. When a leader demonstrates a negative attitude, followers might exhibit defeat. Both intended and unintended consequences of attitudes can change the tone, demeanor and output of the workplace (Daft 2015).

Real-life experiences are events that define your professional history. That is, almost no one begins his or her career as a leader. Most leaders have spent time in an organization and have served in a variety of roles before assuming leadership positions. In addition, most experienced leaders have a work history that creates a story about them as workers. For example, a college president who began working as a waitress in high school, sold flowers as a college student, and worked odd jobs while earning her PhD brings with her a personal work history of service, responsibility and growth. These experiences, often tied to our tapestry of professional work history, are what mold us into who we are today and should be readily attributed to how a leader learned while working in a variety of employment settings.

Personal Leadership Philosophy: How it Works and Why it Matters

In practice, a PLP should begin with a brief introduction that provides details about leadership style. Second, the leader’s core values should be shared describing how they influence his or her professional behavior. Third, the PLP should address how the individual’s attitude or mindset impacts his or her leadership behavior. Last, a leader should share how real-life experiences shaped his or her personal work history.

A PLP should be reviewed often and shared with others. It is important that a leader not hide the content of a PLP, as the intent is to help others understand and appreciate the leader’s history and leadership principles. Publishing a PLP can occur informally, such as sharing within a leadership team, or formally, such as posting on a LinkedIn profile or at the top of a resume. In addition, the accountability found when sharing the PLP helps the leader maintain a realistic approach to how he or she behaves and responds while leading in action.

The development of a PLP is something that is part of the Creighton University Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree curriculum. During their degree studies, students analyze their core values, attitudes and real-life experiences and develop a personal leadership philosophy that can help them become more effective leaders and grow in their professional lives. Students are asked to apply their unique leadership philosophies in everyday life and we work to make sure the content is relevant from the conception of study.

The benefits of establishing a PLP are that it provides insight for both the leader and the followers. A PLP demonstrates reflective practices and self-awareness (Kouzes and Posner 2016). It can provide a framework to help leaders remain consistent in their leadership behaviors. Last, it can establish a standard that leaders can turn to when they are faced with a challenging situation.