Sunday, March 20, 2011

What is Your Leadership Philosophy?

As stated previously, I am currently attending Intermediate Level Education (ILE) Phase II. One of the assignments was to write your leadership philosophy and explain how your leadership philosophy will change as an organizational-level leader. If you believe it does not change, explain why and justify your argument. Prior to the assignment, one of the requirements was to read Leadership, Leader, and Command Philosophies -What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter? by Dr. Ted Thomas. Here's an excerpt from his article:

A leadership philosophy contains your personal views of leadership.  It should contain your thoughts on how you want to lead and how you want others to perceive your leadership.  Your leadership philosophy is yours alone.  It can be elaborate or very simple.  It should be the basis of who you are as a leader, what your values and priorities are, how you want to lead and how you want others to see you as a leader.  You should understand why you have that philosophy and conduct the self-reflection and self-awareness of the logic and reasoning behind what you believe and why you act the way you do.  You can write about who you would like to be as a leader, but if you do not live what you write, you will be seen as a hypocrite as you say one thing and do another.

My Leadership Philosophy:

For me, I am not sure if my leadership philosophy is about “how to lead” as much as it is about “how to be led”. If man is fallible and prone to error, then how can he lead? And not just lead, but lead effectively? I would state emphatically that he cannot, unless he is first led effectively. It also helps if he can be led by someone who is not fallible. Psalm 37:23 states, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” As a leader, I want to be a good man. I also want to lead knowing my steps will be ordered by the Lord. This is why I turn to God and His Word as the standard from which to lead and form a leadership foundation.

As a leader, I see my primary role as providing Vision to any organization or people over which I am given responsibility. Proverbs 29:18a states, “Where there is no Vision, the people perish.” I interpret this to mean, if you do not start with a Vision, then your organization will not fulfill its mission. In the military, a unit with an unfulfilled mission might as well be nonexistent or dead. Without a Vision, an organization has no purpose and it cannot prosper. Vision and Purpose are closely related, but I want to make a simple distinction between the two. As I define it, Vision is the “what”, and Purpose is the “why” for any goal to be accomplished. If an individual would like to be a leader and motivate followers, then he must provide a Vision followed by a Purpose.

When casting a Vision, I believe in setting a goal based within the organization’s mission, but which is larger than a typical goal. Due to the quick rotation of leadership positions in the military, the Vision will likely not be completed before the leader moves on. Vision casting is about getting people to move in the same direction and achieving more than they would have otherwise. As architect Daniel Burnham said:

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think BIG.”

In the military, if my Vision is realized before I have left that position then either I did not cast my Vision out far enough or I was in the position too long.

Just casting the Vision means nothing at all, unless you are able to convince followers to catch it and find themselves in the Vision. This is accomplished through providing Purpose or the “why”. The “why” must have an aspect of personal ownership. “Why” can and should be related to a higher Purpose, such as the cause of a nation. But on a personal-level the Purpose must answer the question of “what is in it for me?" In today’s society, a leader must answer the “why” question in order to convince people to accomplish the goal. This was not always the norm. Leadership was based on a more authoritarian style in days past. At some point, questioning authority became not just the right thing to do, but a right. Perhaps the acceptance of questioning authority grew in direct correlation to an increase in failure to lead morally. This is another reason why I want to tie my leadership back to being morally led by the Bible. The Bible provides consequences for right and wrong behavior. In the same manner, a leader must state the Purpose to show why their Vision is the correct one and a Counter-Vision would have undesirable consequences.

Beyond providing Vision and Purpose, I believe a leader must perform within a framework of strongly-held beliefs or guiding principles. A principle is an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct. There are many different acceptable actions a leader can take, but I will quickly discuss a few of them. For me, these four rules of action are the most important: Communication, Authenticity, Humbleness, and Continuous Learning.

Communication between the leader and those he leads must be an honest and open exchange. The leader must ensure his message is comprehended and carried down to the lowest level. All formal communication must fit within the overall Vision with a clear, consistent message and understandable goals. The leader’s message must convey the spirit and letter of his intent. Additionally, a leader must be willing to listen and respond to those he leads, as they are his subject matter experts on how to accomplish the mission successfully.

A leader’s Authenticity will lead to respect and trust within the organization. An authentic leader will create faithfulness and dependability in those he leads. Leading with legitimacy will establish an organization which consistently displays a positive attitude. All organizations will inevitably be storm tested. Authenticity builds the type of strong bonds required for a genuine leader and his people to persevere through the storm. A leader who lacks authenticity will have the same effect as poison in the water – bitterness and a lack of pleasure within the organization. Soldiers need to know those assigned above them have their best interests at heart. An authentic leader conveys this knowledge.

Humbleness in a leader is an essential quality. Proverbs 16:18 states, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” A leader must be selfless and recognize their position of leadership is incumbent on those around them. Our selfish pride will always attempt to get in the way of being humble, and as the verse states an attitude of pride brings destruction and failure. A humble leader is committed to recognizing the hard work and efforts of those who are supporting him. A humble leader understands that he is to act as a servant to those who follow him.

John C. Maxwell reminds leaders “if they stop learning, they stop leading”. For every leader, today more than ever before, Continuous Learning is a requirement. Proverbs 1:5 states, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” A leader must stay informed on the latest technologies. He should seek counsel on how to apply technological advancements to the organization’s advantage. A leader should be well read on past history and current events. With knowledge of both, he can identify current trends that resemble past occurrences and possibly determine a better way to navigate through the present circumstances.

Being authentic, this is how I like to work: I do my best work when there is an identified goal. Then I can organize the goal by breaking it down into smaller tasks, delegating, and working diligently to complete each task. This means that I can become very focused and less relational. My work ethic can be uncomfortable to those who work better with undefined responsibilities. I can tend to be demanding, not in a mean or belligerent manner. I do set high expectations and desire timely results. If there are questions about a task, then this goes back to my expectation of communication. I expect people to ask for clarification if something is not clear. I prefer having a discussion early to ensure comprehension rather than later when the task is due. This succinctly describes the hardest thing for most people to adjust to when working with me.

The leadership philosophy I have written above did change significantly from those I have written in the past as a tactical leader. As the reading by Dr. Ted Thomas described, there is a difference between a leadership philosophy, leader philosophy, and command philosophy. The philosophies I have written in the past were more of a leader’s command philosophy as they applied specifically to my job as a company commander. This current leadership philosophy is more of my personal views of leadership. It explains how I believe I am being led, how I want to be led, and how I want to lead. As I review it, I do not believe it will change much as I move between positions as an organizational leader. I believe this to be true, as it is based on having a mental picture of where I should be headed (Vision) and why I need to head there (Purpose). To help me in achieving the Vision and Purpose, I have outlined the four well-rooted actions that will assist me: Communication, Authenticity, Humbleness, and Continuous Learning.

"Lord, lead me. Help me to live this philosophy with Your Vision and Purpose."