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Creating Your Leadership Philosophy

A powerful force in the navigation of your business is a crystallized leadership philosophy. A leadership philosophy is represented by the values, identity, legacy, and principles that serve to form the foundation of a leader’s qualities, characteristics, and behaviors. The process of developing a leadership philosophy begins with a look back.

1. Values. Begin by describing 3-5 key leadership moments from your life in detail from areas such as school, sports, work, hobbies, etc. Then assess these examples and identify any common themes that emerge. Reference these themes as you then jot down a list of your potential leadership values, those traits that best represent your strong beliefs with regards to setting direction, serving others, and achieving goals. From the initial list, select 3-5 values that most accurately represent you. Examples of leadership values include courage, helpfulness, ingenuity, optimism, and wisdom.

2. Identity. An identity statement acts as a leadership anchor when times are tumultuous to remind us of who we are and what we do in setting direction and serving others. To articulate your identity statement, begin by describing how you use your values and strengths to serve others in your chosen field. Examples of identity statements include, “I am relentless in the pursuit of finding good in others and helping them become the best version of themselves through training and development,” or “I serve others in a leadership role with empathetic honesty, and active listening to discover obstacles in their path and how to most effectively help people overcome them.” Create your leadership identity statement by stating in the current tense how you use your values and strengths and the resulting accomplishment.

3. Legacy. Few leaders have taken the time to think about what they’d like to leave behind and be remembered for from their years of service. A legacy is defined as “a gift handed down.” What gift would you like to hand down before you pass the leadership baton? Here is an example of a legacy statement:

Amelia Earhart: “She inspired all as an aviation pioneer and blazed an educational and career path for women in aeronautical engineering.”

Review your work on the leadership values and identity statements and ask yourself what gifts you can leave others based on these characteristics and activities. Then encapsulate it in a one-sentence legacy statement.

4. Principles. Leadership principles are specific guidance on the appropriate actions for one who sets direction and servers others to achieve goals. Values form the foundation of an organization’s culture by shaping the behaviors of the collective whole. Leadership principles build on values by illuminating the actions that guide those who lead others toward their vision and goals. Following is a sample of leadership principles:

· Lead at our level and don’t do our direct reports’ work.

· Agree or disagree but then commit to the chosen course of action.

· Build trust by doing what we say we’re going to do.

· Clarify decision rights to eliminate the escalation of issues.

· Give people our full attention when engaged in meetings.

Begin the process by identifying the leadership actions and behaviors you’ve exhibited and observed in the past that contributed to clear direction and effective interaction with others in the achievement of goals. Then ask yourself what leadership actions and behaviors you believe are important in setting direction. Consider areas such as decision making, problem solving, allocating resources, setting goals, making trade-offs, and prioritization.

Follow that with your insights on the leadership actions and behaviors you believe are important in the service of others. Consider areas such as turbocharging high performance, managing underperformance, communication, situational awareness, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

Finally, identify what you believe to be the leadership actions and behaviors instrumental in the collective achievement of goals. Review all of your work and transfer the key concepts, actions, and behaviors to a short list for consideration. Use this thinking to then articulate your 3-7 leadership principles.

In business, it’s common to equate someone’s job title with their leadership status. However, when we pull back the curtain on the concept of leadership and define it as “setting direction and serving others to achieve goals,” many so-called leaders simply are not. Setting direction and serving others are manifested in one’s actions. If you want to be a leader, act like one. As the late professor of management Peter Drucker noted, “Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”


RICH HORWATH is founder and CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute where he is a strategy facilitator, advisor, and coach to executive leadership teams. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of eight books on strategic thinking, including his new release: STRATEGIC: The Skill to Set Direction, Create Advantage, and Achieve Executive Excellence (Wiley, November 2023). Rich has helped more than a quarter million people develop their strategic thinking and planning skills over the past two decades in pursuit of his vision to teach the world to be strategic. For free strategic leadership resources, visit



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