As a leader, how do you manage others? Do you prefer to bring in others for help? Or do you lead with an iron fist? Do you want to empower others to make decisions? Or do you view yourself as the rule-maker?
You may have a general idea on how you lead — but by developing a leadership philosophy, you can build a guide that improves your overall leadership abilities and acts as its foundation.
Table of contents:
- What is a leadership philosophy?
- Why care about leadership philosophy?
- How to write a leadership philosophy
- Leadership philosophy examples
What Is a Leadership Philosophy?
A leadership philosophy is a framework that contains principles and beliefs on how you interact, impact, and guide others. It brings together lessons and preferences learned from leading others into a structured system.
A leadership philosophy helps you better understand and articulate your style of communication, emotional intelligence, decision making, problem solving, and more.
Many create a statement to accompany their leadership philosophy: Some prefer short and precise ones, while others create whole explanatory documents. This depends on the level of detail you want to put into your leadership philosophy.
Why Care About Leadership Philosophy?
A leadership philosophy can help you cultivate consistent, high-quality leadership — an element of management missing across many companies. In fact, 77% of organizations regard their leadership as lacking. Employees concur: 78% say their leader lacks a strong vision for their organization.
Maintaining a leadership philosophy brings a number of benefits, such as:
- More consistency: A leadership philosophy acts as a guide, which makes your actions and beliefs more consistent.
- Greater transparency: By sharing your leadership philosophy with others, you can ensure they know how you manage people and projects.
- More self-awareness: Writing a leadership philosophy requires self-reflection, giving you greater insight into yourself.
- Faster decision making: Making decisions, especially high-stake ones, can feel paralyzing. A leadership philosophy expedites this process by providing an explicit description of your values, ethics, and beliefs.
How To Write a Leadership Philosophy
1. Identify your values
Your values and beliefs as a person should serve as the foundation of your leadership philosophy. So, to start, identify what you believe in. Do you value quick decision making, or do you take your time? How do you view learning?
Consider the following leadership traits you can jot down for yourself:
- Emotional intelligence
Many values exist and they depend on what you care about. Consider picking a few attributes you value most, and use them as the starting point of your leadership philosophy.
2. Write down who and what inspires you
After determining your personal values, consider who and what inspires you in life. Do you admire the work of a business owner or celebrity? Do you find yourself wanting to mimic another organization’s ethics?
Write down people, organizations, newsletters — anything that inspires you. You can use this list as a reference when crafting your own leadership philosophy.
3. Reflect on previous leadership experiences
Reflect on times when you’ve lead in the past, such as:
- School assignments
- Extracurricular activities
- Work projects
Ask yourself: How did you lead? What went well or bad? Did you enjoy it? If you could go back, how would you do it differently?
Write down your answers and reflections to these questions. Examining your previous experiences will help you identify evidence on the kinds of leadership styles you either enjoy or dislike.
4. Figure out your leadership style
Putting everything together, you now have the tools to identify your leadership style. The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) lists the following as the most common leadership styles.
A transformational leader focuses on change, people, and the future. As the name suggests, transformational leaders prioritize significant change by inspiring followers to reach their full potential.
This leadership style emphasizes a hands-off approach. Delegative leaders create tasks and assignments for their followers, and give them the initiative to complete them — trusting their employees to do their work with little supervision.
Authoritative leaders act as they want their followers to act. They take on the role of a mentor and provide personal guidance to each of their followers. Authoritative leaders assume a hands-on approach, as their style of leadership necessitates building relationships with each of their followers.
Transactional leaders manage within a structured organization, complete with rewards and punishments. They create incentives for their followers to complete tasks and perform their job. Transactional leaders establish clear responsibilities for each employee, explicitly aligning their effort with rewards and punishments.
Participative leaders engage their followers in collaborative problem solving and decision making, with reduced emphasis on individuality in favor of teamwork. These leaders encourage and empower employees to present their ideas, take initiative, and operate as leaders within the team.
Servant leaders prioritize their followers’ needs over their own. They develop close-knit relationships with their followers, regardless of their position in the organization. Servant leadership focuses on making ethical decisions considerate of every individual in the organization.
5. Ask others in your network for advice
You now have a strong sense of your leadership style. Next, ask others in your network — such as former co-workers, mentors, or employees — for advice. How do they view you as a leader? What feedback do they have for your leadership style?
Asking others tunes you in to parts of your leadership you may not fully recognize. According to a Gitnux report, 50%-70% of people have a large blind spot that impacts their leadership and relationships.
6. Make your leadership philosophy clear and actionable
You can now assemble all your research and thoughts into a leadership philosophy. Remember to make each part of it clear and actionable, whether it’s one sentence or one page. To do this, consider:
- Writing short, succinct sentences
- Including example actions
- Explaining how you handle problems
Again, you do not necessarily need to build out an extensive leadership philosophy for it to work. This also depends on your leadership style — a shorter philosophy leaves room for flexibility while a longer one creates structure.
Leadership Philosophy Examples
Everyone’s leadership philosophy is unique — so your style of leadership may not directly match the six aforementioned types. However, you can take bits and pieces you like from each to form your own leadership style. For example, you may like the structured nature of transactional leadership and the ethical aspect of servant leadership.
Creating a leadership philosophy statement can keep you on track and make it easier for others to understand your leadership style.
Leadership philosophy statement
“I hope to significantly transform my team and how they do work. I will speak with them about their motivations and ensure projects align with both their goals and the organization’s.
On a monthly basis, I will check our key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks to ensure we’re maintaining progress toward our future goals. I will ensure our team remains flexible by adjusting our goals as needed, thereby making us resilient to change.”
“I trust my team as much as I trust myself. I will determine the strengths and weaknesses of my team and give them assignments and projects based on that assessment. I will provide guidance and answer questions when necessary, but will empower my team to take initiative.
I will ask my team for feedback on my management style to avoid micromanagement, and for their ideas in regular brainstorming sessions.”
“I will act as a mentor to my team, guiding them to our goals and ensuring I build personal relationships with them. I will create a clear and agreeable mission for our team and will serve as a visionary they can follow.
I will provide frequent feedback and ensure each member feels heard in the organization. I will motivate and create enthusiasm within my team.”
“I believe in leading within a structured environment to best motivate and encourage my team. I will create appropriate incentives, such as cash bonuses, to reward high performance, and consider reasonable punishments to ensure team members maintain expected performance.
I will write down clear responsibilities for each team member, ensuring each one understands their tasks and expectations.”
“I want to empower my team to collaborate with me as equal partners. I will encourage our team to view themselves as a unit rather than a group of individuals, by reducing individual incentives in favor of team-based rewards.
I will host regular brainstorming sessions for employees to present their ideas. I will take all ideas, regardless of who they come from, seriously and with respect.”
“As a leader, I aim to prioritize the needs of the organization over any individual needs — including my own. I will build personal relationships with my team members by hosting regular one-on-one meetings and communicating with them as partners rather than followers.
I will ensure I understand how organizationwide decisions impact members by asking for their input. To that end, I will make decisions that benefit the entire team, even if it negatively impacts me as an individual.”