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The importance of having a personal leadership philosophy

Mar 16, 2022
5 min Read
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Good leaders should have a leadership philosophy

Holding a position of authority comes with its fair share of challenges and responsibilities. As a leader, it’s your job to ensure your team is productive and feels supported – especially during unprecedented times.
Establishing a personal leadership philosophy (PLP) can help you build trust with your direct reports and guide your decisions when unexpected obstacles arise. But what is a PLP, and how does it work? Keep reading to learn how this essential element can help equip you as a successful leader.

What is a PLP?

Taking the time to create a personal leadership philosophy (PLP) enables leaders to be more intentional. PLPs are clear, written statements about what’s important. It defines who the leader is, how they lead, and what people expect. Actions are clear and constant. Day-to-day management is consistent. A PLP is a reflective explanation of a strong leader’s core values, attitudes and real-life experiences that guide their leadership qualities.

Every leader has their unique leadership style. Types of leadership include authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire. Whatever combination of style and traits you possess may shift over a lifetime. Knowing “who” you are and “what’s important” will make the difference. Whether decisions are straightforward or complicated, having the clarity of a PLP will keep you sane during demanding times. Transformational leadership is a leader who knows their purpose and lives it.

Clarity is a valuable commodity during times of challenge.

Personal leadership philosophy: How it works and why it matters

At a high level, a PLP reveals details about your leadership style. It touches on your core values and your attitudes. A PLP should be reviewed and shared with others. A leader must convey their intent to help others understand their leadership principles.

The development of a PLP is part of the Creighton University Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) degree, according to assistant professor Tony Williams, PhD As part of the program, students are assigned to create and share their personal leadership philosophy.

“This comes towards the end of the curriculum when students learn leadership styles plus study the Jesuit Charisms,” Williams explains. A charism is a gift of grace, not for personal gain, but for the benefit of others. Examples would include education of the whole person, Magis (or more), plus helpful leadership insights.
Students analyze their core values, attitudes, and real-life experiences during their degree studies and develop a personal leadership philosophy that can help them become more effective leaders and grow in their professional lives. Finally, students are asked to apply their unique leadership philosophies in their everyday lives.

“Your personal leadership philosophy is not abstract,” Williams says. “Students are encouraged to write a clear and concise statement, so they have it down in a physical form.” He adds:

When you are in a leadership position, having this philosophy in written form to share with your subordinates will be valuable. A written philosophy will help you remember who you are and what you believe in and value. It will also help those others know your expectations. This is a win-win for all.
— Tony Williams, PhD, Associate Professor | Graduate School, Organizational Leadership

Publishing a PLP can occur informally, such as sharing within a leadership team or formally 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 they behave and respond while leading in action.

How to write your personal leadership philosophy

Start by thinking of the personal traits you value most. For example, do you favor kindness over strength? Do you consider yourself brave and loyal or respectful and hard-working? Collaborative or adventurous? That should give you an idea of some values and attributes to include in your leadership philosophy. These can be your values or your team’s values you want to inspire.

Spend some time writing about each one, explaining how you expect it to influence your team. Then, take it one step further and imagine what your team would look like if they adopted those values.

Another helpful idea is to follow a set of questions that can help you identify what’s important to include in your personal philosophy statement. In an article entitled These 8 Answers Will Fill Your Leadership Philosophy, author Molly Fletcher shares the following prompts:

  • I always …
  • I spend time …
  • I value …
  • I am curious about …
  • I respect …
  • I listen with …
  • I care about …
  • I inspire …

By finishing these statements, you can start to craft your own unique PLP. Fletcher says you may borrow from various influences, “but your most real philosophy is as individual as your fingerprint.”

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

What goes into a personal leadership philosophy?

Once you have the words and statements you want to make a part of your PLP, you can follow a template to get to your goal. It becomes a personal touchstone for those days when you’re not experiencing your best or challenged by those issues that can often surface when you least expect them. Reflect and remind yourself of the end goals by revisiting your leadership philosophy.

Here’s a “mad libs” version to help you see how it can flow, as suggested in an article by Cat Alford:

To me, leadership is _____, _____, and _____. I believe that as a leader I need to _____, _____, and _____ in order to be my best. I will inspire my team to _____, _____, and _____. I want my team and myself to value _____, _____, and _____. I do not tolerate _____ from those around me. My ultimate goal is to _____.

Keep in mind there is no right or wrong way to accomplish this. Nor should it be “from the hip.” Take the time to think about your values. Then, design it in any way that it becomes easily understandable for anyone. Your leadership philosophy statement is unique to you. So, write down what authentic leadership feels right for you.

Personal leadership philosophy examples

It might be helpful to see some actual personal leadership examples, as some people might struggle with crafting their first PLP. See what it looks like if you expand the template above and incorporate some of your personal goals and beliefs.

Consider these personal leadership philosophy samples:

  • “Leadership is clarity, compassion and collaboration with those I work with and for. As a leader, I should communicate our mission to others well. I take responsibility when I don’t live up to my best self. If someone makes a mistake, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate Grace and work together to correct it. I believe I am a great listener, possess character, and exhibit a strong work ethic to be effective.”
  • “My goal is to guide my team, encourage them to fulfill their true potential, and be an available leader. I value honesty, work ethic, loyalty, and respect, and I strive to be an approachable leader. My goal is to lead with strength, not to instill fear. At the same time, I will not tolerate lying or laziness from those I lead.”

Amplify your impact as a leader

You may feel like you have a firm grasp on your personal leadership philosophy, but taking the time to put it into words and keep it in a place where you’re routinely reminded of it can make all the difference. Sharing it with your team can also instill a sense of trust and accountability.

If you are interested in all areas of effective leadership, including developing true leadership skills to last a lifetime, consider Creighton's MS in Organizational Leadership. We even offer game-changing graduate certificates in leadership if you're not ready to commit to a full degree program. Our goal is to develop moral and ethical leaders who use their skills to promote social justice and societal and organizational change globally and in your local community. Learn more today!