Need a Leadership Philosophy? Make it Personal

The Philosopher Courtesy: @philosopher_muse

Most successful leaders have a personal philosophy or approach that suits their style and personality. General Colin L Powell, for instance, offers aspiring leaders 18 ‘lessons’ based on his 35 years of professional soldiering that led to him becoming the first African-American U.S. Secretary of State. They included: “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off” and “Don’t be buffaloed by experts…” The thoughts of countless others can be found in the myriad of books about leadership.

More recently, a successful premier league football manager[1] similarly described his leadership philosophy as a significant contributor to his success. In this case, his tenets included: Understanding a player as a person enables understanding about how to make them a better player, and extended to: Setting a tone or culture that fosters hard work and togetherness.

In this case, ‘moaners’ are not left with their dissatisfactions intact by their teammates. They address their concerns and try to turn them into positives. Likewise, being on time, good manners and tidiness are enforced by all staff and players. Breaches are dealt with against a common set of forfeits. In addition, people other than the manager inculcate new arrivals with appropriate ways of working.

Where leaders struggle or are found wanting, it is often because they lack a coherent view of what they need to do to make their teams or organisations successful. They may know what they are trying to achieve, such as a sense of camaraderie, a culture of openness and trust, or a willingness to ‘go the extra mile’, but less sure of their contribution to reaching these goals. A coherent leadership philosophy is certainly a help here.

Unfortunately, there are no rules, blueprints or templates that enable an individual to decide their philosophy. There are plenty of personal recipes, but they won’t necessarily work for other individuals. However, a good starting point will be a clear understanding of one’s strengths – what someone does that works. Using these will often be more effective than trying to don a ‘leadership cloak’ invented by someone else.

[1] ‘How Burnley boss Sean Dyche is shaping team’s future’, by Rachel Brown-Finnis, BBC Sport Football, 30 March 2017.


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