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A Leader's Philosophy

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For this session, I have short amount of time to have impact on a significant leadership conversation: discerning one’s leadership values and principles, the core activity for really understanding how you lead, and starting the process of crafting your leadership philosophy.

This session is designed as a “deep dive” into the cornerstone of effective leadership --- self-awareness. Before you can lead anyone, you have to understand and be able to lead self through understanding your authentic self, your “true north” (terms and concepts developed by Bill George, formerly the CEO of Medtronic, now a member of the Harvard Business School

faculty) and build a leadership compass (values-driven) that will guide you and others in times of uncertainty (e.g., COVID).

The Business Advisory Council of the Stanford Graduate School said that the most important capability for leaders to develop is self-awareness. Warren Bennis, in his book, On Becoming a Leader, suggests that people really begin to become leaders at the moment they decide for themselves how to be in the world, and not just do in the world (p 47).

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.”

Warren Bennis

“The root of leadership development is in self-awareness.”

Avolio & Luthans, The High Impact Leader, 88.

As good leaders, you need to prepare yourself for your leadership role (build your self-awareness with a key first step being discerning your values and associated principles), and then projecting your leadership to those you intend to influence, thus demonstrating your credibility as a person and as a leader.

The desired outcomes for this conversation are:

▪ Discern the good you are pursuing in life and work, and your purpose.

▪ Discern and describe your values, describe how you live them and translate your values

into the principles that guide your behavior as a leader.2

▪ Begin the process of “weaving” your understanding of the good, your purpose, your

values, and principles into a coherent leadership philosophy.

For session readiness (total preparation time is around 60 minutes)

Suggested Reading (links below):

What is success? Fast Company, Sept 2020 (5 minutes)

Tata, et. al., Why Making Money is Not Enough, MIT Sloan Management Review (5 minutes)

LeBoeuf, J. Take the Lead and Mean It, Army Magazine (10 minutes)



▪ Simon Sinek on understanding your why:

These video links sometimes do not work, based on copyright restrictions. If this site does not, you can go to YouTube and watch any of the several Ted Talks by Simon on the notion of starting with why (7-10 minutes).

Thought Exercises (30 minutes)

▪ Exercise #1: What is your “good?”

One of the interesting conversations around leadership is the notion of the good – what

is good leadership? Leadership must be good, and it must achieve good

consequences. Think about the good you are trying to achieve with your life, in your

family, at work, and in your community. It is this good that serves as the foundation for

how you will lead – in pursuit of the good, and in order to achieve good consequences

in an intentional way (10 minutes).

▪ Exercise #2: What is Your Purpose?

The journey of becoming the leader you want to be fundamentally begins with self-

awareness and understanding that motivates your behavior. This means really trying to

understand your “why.” Think about the following questions (10 minutes):

1. What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told

what you should or shouldn’t like or do? Describe a moment and how it made

you feel.

2. Think about two of your most challenging life experiences. How have they

shaped you?

3. What do you enjoy doing in your life that helps you “sing your song?”

4. Based on the work in 1-3 above; think about your purpose and write a draft of

your purpose statement --- “My leadership purpose is ________.”3

▪ Exercise #3: What drives how you lead? Thinking deeply about who you are as a

person, shapes how you lead. Consider the following questions (10 minutes):

1. What is the reason that people come to work every day? What are their essential

motivations? What are your core assumptions about human behavior at work?

2. How do you “show up” at work each day? What are your intentions?

3. What is your fundamental style of engaging with and getting the best out of others?

4. What are the values and principles that guide your behavior?

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