In a casual conversation recently, my boss mentioned an assignment from his doctoral work that he never forgot. The assignment was to write down a philosophy of leadership in 10 points without exceeding one page.
How profound! I resolved to try it myself. I also resolved to keep it short and scribbled the first items that came to mind. Then after some editing, deletions and consolidations, voilà, my top 10 was complete:
- Lead by example
- Mentor and empower for growth
- Make a difference so you leave a legacy
- Don’t ask anyone to do anything you aren’t willing to do yourself.
- Have fun
- Be nice
- Live your integrity
- Do the right thing
- Take responsibility
- Put people first
Every person will have his or her own list based on past experiences, but the exercise alone is a great lesson in leadership. As I wrote mine, I reflected on previous bosses—both good and bad—and how they influenced me. I also thought about the leadership lessons learned from people outside of the workplace like my parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, editors, friends and even band directors. I realized that my leadership list is a reflection of my philosophy of life. It’s about helping others. It’s not about me. I’m a big believer in servant leadership, and if you haven’t read Tony Dungy’s book The Mentor Leader, I highly recommend it.
Some would say that it might be odd to have “Be nice” on a leadership list, but that’s just who I am. One time early in my career, I overheard an argument between an employee and her supervisor down the hall. The supervisor had been hard on the employee and said (loudly) that she was concerned that she had broken the employee’s spirit. The employee, who was a timid, creative, and extraordinarily intelligent introvert, reached a breaking point and yelled back, “I know who I am, and I like who I am. No matter how hard you try to turn me into you, it’ll never happen.” That took a lot of courage, but how awesome that she said, “I like who I am,” in her defense. Don’t be afraid to own who you are as you explore your thoughts.
What 10 points make up your leadership theory? Who influenced you? What made an impact on you as your lived the management experience? Even bad bosses teach important lessons about resilience, humility and patience. Write it down and save it, even if it’s just a few scribbles on a Post-it note or a bit of rambling on a text note in your phone.
Apparently, my boss saved his 10-point philosophy. Through the course of his career, he continued to refine and update it. He also confessed that as his theory evolved, his list grew to 13 points and exceeded the one-page limit. Admittedly, I struggled to keep it at 10.