People don’t randomly choose who to follow.
Successful leaders have certain traits which enable them to polarize group energy and direct it on an objective. The ability to do this isn’t a matter of right or wrong. It’s amoral power.
Remember: both Gandhi and Hitler were effective leaders. The only difference was the core values they operated from and their own leadership style born out of a personal leadership philosophy.
“Who then is a leader? There have been countless people through history that led people but were inhumane and destructive. Does that still make them leaders? In my mind, a leader is someone who does more than just lead people. They have to be driven by the right motivation and make a positive impact on the people around them.”
Great leaders have used their power for good and evil. But before they conquered the world, they had to conquer themselves and develop a leadership philosophy to lead those around them.
Without a leadership philosophy, you’ll never be able to lead other people. Without a leadership philosophy, you’ll never be able to lead yourself either.
Why you should develop an effective leadership philosophy
I always tell people that they should read books on leadership even if they don’t hold a leadership role or have ambitions of holding leadership positions in the future.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, employee, or gig worker. You need to learn to develop leadership skills which means you’ll need to develop a leadership philosophy.
This is because you need to be good at leading yourself through the world.
You may never be the manager of a team or a general in command of a force, you will always be the CEO of your life and the captain of your destiny.
You’re responsible for your actions.
You’re either punished or rewarded by the quality of your decision-making. You must avoid disaster while maximizing your time and energy returns.
All of this requires a leadership approach to the decision-making processes of your life. This is the tactical application of the strategic principles developed in your leadership philosophy.
If you want to succeed, applying those leadership principles to your life gives you the self-control to commit to actions that will pay off years later.
What is a leadership philosophy?
A leadership philosophy is a structured approach to leading others. It explains what will be done, how to do it, its guiding principles, and the expected behavior while doing it. The structure can vary, depending on the needs of the leader, the type of leader he is, and the personality of the team members he’s leading.
In this post, I will explore my own leadership philosophy, how I developed it, and help you become the leader of your life. While my leadership philosophy is personal, I believe that everyone can benefit from it. Even if you don’t agree with all of the guiding principles I’ve laid out here, you can still use this to develop your own personal leadership philosophy.
Each tenant contains some personal leadership philosophy examples from my own life.
The 4 things you need for developing a leadership philosophy
It’s not enough to have a goal. You also need something that you’re running away from.
You simultaneously need something you’re running towards and something that you’re trying to escape.
This is no different than a general leading his forces away from a position of danger to one where they hold the advantage. Avoidance of a problem works in tandem with seeking a solution. When these approaches are combined, the results are beyond impressive.
When I was an alcoholic with little money and even less self-respect, I wanted to be better. I started to run in the direction of a better life. I made the decision to go back to school and stop drinking, but I did this because I was tired of where I was in life. I was running away from failure as much as I was running towards success.
I was tired of being broke, having no prospects for the future, and not being respected. There was a lot of pain in my life due to being a grown man who was only worth 10 dollars an hour (before tax) and who spent that money excessively drinking away his problems. This was my pain point. This is what I was running away from.
I wanted to be respected and admired. I wanted to be clean and healthy. I wanted to earn money and accomplish something of note in my life. This is what I was running towards.
The leader who won’t take responsibility won’t be the leader for very long.
To lead yourself is to control yourself and this can only be accomplished when you blame no one but yourself.
As a leader, you must always take responsibility. Even if it isn’t your fault. In fact, those are the times that it’s even more important for you to take responsibility. When leading yourself, never blame anything for your situation but yourself.
I used to do private tutoring and teaching in the sciences and mathematics. Whenever my students did well and wanted to thank me for helping them improve their grades or grasp a subject, I always told them: “Your successes are yours. Your failures are mine.”
Although physics is a math-heavy discipline (in fact, all physics majors get a minor in mathematics by default), I was a terrible math student. I used to blame my school or my home life, but what good did it do me? I was still bad at math and it was affecting what I could do with my life. Once I stopped finding things to blame and making excuses, I was able to get to work at improving my mediocre math skills.
I did the same thing with my alcoholism. I blamed genetics, my background, and my personality. Even though they all had an effect on my drinking habits, I could not lead myself out of the problems my relationship with alcohol was creating. I had to stop placing blame and instead focus on solving the problem. This meant taking responsibility.
“They all say you shouldn’t be afraid to fail, since failure is an integral part of success; if you want to succeed, you simply have to go from failure to failure without giving up. Next to that, we can also find a very popular view on failure saying that you can usually learn much more from your failures than you can from your successes. Both statements are true in a way.”
Honesty is difficult for people.
Not only does it force them to face their problems, but it also forces them to make a decision.
Honest living removes all excuses. Honest living forces you to decide if you REALLY want to fix the problem or if you’re just paying lip service to the sexy idea of “self-improvement”.
It was challenging to admit to myself that I was a porn and alcohol addict, but it wasn’t until I identified the problems that I could do something about them. I had to admit to myself that I was nothing with no prospects for the future. I had to look at myself in the mirror and accept that I’d become a loser.
It wasn’t just about admitting what I was. I also had to admit to myself what I wanted. Once I was honest with myself, I could lead myself. I refused to live my life with “sour grapes syndrome”.
Sour grapes syndrome comes from an old tale. In that story, a fox is walking along in the forest when he spots a juicy bunch of grapes hanging from a branch. He leaps upward and tries to snatch the fruit between his teeth but he misses. He tries a second time and misses again. After a third miss, he gives up and slinks away, muttering, “They’re probably sour anyway.”
This is how many people respond. Rather than face their shortcomings, they twist them to become their preferences. Rather than work on being more, they learn to accept being less. This is a lie that steals ambition and devours potential. I had many problems, but I was not willing to lie to myself.
I accepted what I was. I accepted who I wanted to become. Then I got to work leading myself through the transition from the former to the latter.
Good leaders understand that it’s better to be proactive than reactive.
Nothing worthwhile in your life simply happens. It requires you to make a decision and then support that decision with disciplined action.
This may seem obvious, but many people live like they’re just going to wake up to their dream life one day. Or they’re waiting for their big break or some grand adventure. The next thing you know, they’re 35 with no accomplishments and no stories other than the latest *insert latest Netflix series here* they just binge-watched.
I make a small chunk of change each month from my books and programs, but I had to decide to sit down every day and work on them. I’m in decent physical shape, but I had to decide to eat well and train.
I don’t know your specific talents, hobbies, or interests. I don’t know anything about your goals or aspirations. What I know is that without a conscious decision followed by definitive action, you won’t get anything out of life besides what’s leftover–and that’s usually not that great.
If you don’t take ownership of yourself and what you want, someone else will and their decision almost certainly won’t be in your favor. This is how people spend their entire lives in dead-end jobs and relationships. The person who takes control will make decisions based on what’s best for themselves–not for the person they’re making decisions for.
You don’t make decisions because you’re afraid of intent.
Somewhere along the course of your life, you got the idea that it was better to hope for a specific outcome rather than try to manifest it. This is because when you aim for a specific outcome, there’s always a chance that you won’t get it.
Maybe some good things did happen without you trying, but it’s much more likely that good things will happen if you try to make them happen.
“Every day we make series of choices that lead us closer to our goals or even further away. Making better, healthier choices, may lead to better results in the long run. But we shouldn’t forget that we don’t have control over the circumstances.
Bad things happen, unexpected things happen, and no matter how carefully we make decisions, there’s still risk involved. Instead of being paralyzed by it, we can choose to feel liberated and understand that life can never be predicted.”
Recap of the 4 principles of leadership philosophy
It doesn’t matter what your core values and motivations are. These four principles are the bedrock of any personal leadership philosophy.
The rest is up to you.