Why You Need a Leadership Philosophy
ESTABLISHING your leadership philosophy is an important component of ensuring that your organization and your team know what you stand for, what motivates you, and ultimately how your team can rally around you to ensure a focus on mutual objectives and outcomes.
On your path to identifying your personal leadership philosophy, it's important that you work through the various characteristics that I'm going to share with you in this article. I will share some examples that'll help you to identify where you stand and what your values are from a leadership perspective. These steps were important to laying the foundation for my leadership philosophy in support of a company subsidiary that I led from generating $30M in annual revenue to $3B.
At the time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a great coach, an amazing team and I challenged myself to be the best I could be at leading an organization.
For guidance and the right set of goalposts, the leader I looked up to was Sir Richard Branson.
1. The first step is to look within and identify whether you lean more on the side of driving profit versus purpose and values. Are you beholden to quarterly targets and constantly squeezed on margins or can you find a balance where you achieve results in a collaborative fashion with a foundation in operational excellence, planning and execution? You can also assess whether you fall somewhere in the middle? For example, a leader can run a profitable company but at the same time hold a great set of values and a common set of objectives or purpose.
2. The second is to really focus within and identify whether you are more about establishing hierarchies versus a network of teams. For many, they fall somewhere in between, where there is an established leadership structure but at the same time exists a high-performance team environment where individual decision making, empowerment and aligned goals are valued. Chances are, if you are in a traditional business, the more hierarchies you will encounter but it doesn't have to be this way (even in long-standing, bureaucratic organizations). If you are at helm, you can take the initiative and deconstruct hierarchies to benefit your team and its results.
3. The third step is to determine if you are more of a directive (set the objectives and expect results) versus supportive (close to a laissez-faire approach with consensus building at core) leader. Dig deep on this one and assess your true nature. There isn't a right or wrong answer. Many leaders fall somewhere in the middle and are actually participative leaders. Participative leader means that you actually appreciate and enjoy a whole set of different inputs, perspectives and objectives from the team around you, but ultimately you're not about consensus driving. You actually like to be able to make decisions based on fact, based on input and you are firm in your resolve and your direction.
4. The fourth step is to assess whether you want to develop strength in planning and predicting (in some cases, this can be accentuated by the aversion to risk) versus experimenting and adapting? Again, there are no hard and fast rules with many leaders finding that they are able to establish an environment that is highly data-driven, but with a foundation that supports creativity, innovation and change within the organization. This is the sweet spot between a data-centric approach and a qualitative environment (that typically is driven by gut feel).
5. This step towards understanding your leadership philosophy is about rules and controls for protecting the company, for ensuring that you are abiding by all of the rules and have the right set practices and standards in place. At the same time, it is important to study how you approach trust. Are you more open to establishing trust and using that trust for guidance? In other words, are you more about controls and rules vs. placing the emphasis on trust and the importance of "doing the right thing"? With increased transparency in companies and the gradual dismantling of hierarchical organization structures, many leaders emphasize the trust component. In my estimation, it is important to be able to provide guidance into the organization, but believe the employees in your team are going to "do the right thing" because the goals are aligned and your team/company values are well understood and practiced.
6. From a decision making perspective, determine whether you are more about centralized decision making or distributed decision making? Many companies find this when they're trying to revolve around headquarters versus their satellite organizations. They can get caught up in this, wanting to be able to drive from a central control tower but with an emphasis on local differences and nuances. What generally works is a combination of some central guidance from an overarching perspective with regards to the corporate objectives while empowering satellite and regional offices to be able to make decisions independently (including P&L related).
The final step (and likely most important) is to determine what you value from a communication perspective. Are you more about the inner circle or the dome of silence, or are you more about providing context and direction into your organization? In this case, you may not be able to objectively determine your style and may need to rely on others for input and perspective. In today's leadership environment, many are about providing context, guidance and direction so that the team knows what they're trying to accomplish. Today's leaders value real transparency and leverage a variety of tools in order to communicate regularly and openly with their team or organization. A great tool is Speak Up (www.getspeakup.com) which places emphasis on employee engagement and two-way interaction with leadership on key decision points.
Once you've identified these various characteristics and you have a good sense of what your values are and where you stand from a leadership perspective, you are now in a position to encapsulate your leadership philosophy.
The summary doesn't have to be a clinical, unidimensional analysis of your philosophy.
We are all complex individuals with varied backgrounds, interests and perspectives. If you have the ability to look within and use these steps, you will be able to clearly identify where you fall and summarize them into three to four keywords that identify your leadership philosophy.
For illustrative purposes, I established three keywords to identify my leadership philosophy. Create. Contribute. Collaborate. I believe in an organization that Creates great products, services and solutions and that as a team, it is important that we Contribute positively back into society and our industry while recognizing that Collaboration with others is both empowering and motivating while the sum of the parts will consistently lead to achieving our objectives.
The steps, noted above, led me to recognize what I stood for from a philosophical perspective; a participative leader guiding an organization to Create amazing products and services that augment the consumer experience. A leader focused on quantitative and qualitative objectives which include a Contribution to the social / financial enhancement of customers and the industry as a whole. Wrapping in the key values and key principles of Collaboration across teams, the company, partners and strategic alliances all with the recognition that the philosophical foundation will lead to greater financial, personnel, client and personal benefit.
On your path to establishing your personal leadership philosophy, comment below with your philosophy and/or perspective on how you go about setting the tone and focusing on what is important to the business, your team and yourself.