How to Build and Communicate Your Personal Leadership Philosophy

By Jim Hasse

Karen has a master's degree in public administration. She works as a facilitator, recording secretary and strategist on short-term projects for various municipal, county and state government agencies in Wisconsin.

She also has muscular dystrophy, uses a power wheelchair and hires personal assistants through a local agency so she can live independently in a downtown apartment in Madison.

Karen knows how to help small groups clarify their goals and develop strategies which help them achieve those goals. She's a leader in the community because she helps people identify opportunities in which they can excel.

I believe part of Karen's success is that she also has articulated who she is as a leader, what her personal values are and how she intends to behave and interact with others. In other words, she has developed and articulated a personal leadership philosophy.

She once told me, "I've learned how to be a leader because I continually have to get multiple personal tasks done on a daily basis - sometimes through a variety of people."

I get the impression that making the most of the opportunity to live independently is Karen's passion. Everyone around her knows that because she's a "predictable" leader. She knows what she needs in terms of personal care, she makes it clear to others what she needs and expects and, therefore, her "team" becomes comfortable helping her to meet those needs because they view Karen as a consistent leader.

Karen trusts her team members, and they trust her. That approach in her personal life also carries over to the relationships she has formed in her pubic administration work.


Benefits of Having a Leadership Philosophy

Mike Figliuolo, author of "One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership," says one of the key benefits of developing a personal leadership philosophy is the trust you gain from your boss and among your coworkers.

He writes that your consistent behavior, based on personal maxims you have developed about how you intend to interact with others, helps you become:

  • A more decisive leader.
  • A more predictable leader.
  • A more productive leader.

If you're not clear about what you expect from your boss, coworkers, customers, or suppliers, he explains, you're not doing your job - no matter where your job title lands on the organization chart.

At least, if you're clear about your expectations, people will know where you stand. In a leadership position, people may quit on you and pursue other dreams. But, that's OK, Figliuolo explains, because individuals need to find their "best fit" and ultimately that will improve your own productivity as a leader.


Four Aspects of Leadership

As founder and managing director of thoughLeaders, LLC, Figliuolo coaches his clients in developing what he calls a "holistic leadership approach." He helps individuals develop personal maxims for these four aspects of leadership:

  • Leading yourself - How do you intend to shape your future based on your values, goals, ethics and standards for yourself? How do you bounce back from setbacks? What standards do you set for yourself?
  • Leading the "thinking" - What are your standards for your team based on your company's compelling vision? How do you foresee the future in terms of risks and opportunities? How do you drive action within your team?
  • Leading your people - What's your "natural" style for building authentic relationships with the individuals with whom you work? How do you motivate them? How do you stay connected with their "reality?" How do you commit to do their personal growth and invest in their development?
  • Leading a balanced life - How do you keep things in perspective when your team experiences stress? How do you define your personal boundaries and coach others in defining their boundaries?

I have a hunch Karen may have read Figliuolo's book.

The key, Figliuolo writes, to developing an authentic leadership philosophy is to recall, record and share with others personal-experience stories about your leadership approaches that allow you to "get out of your head" and into "your gut." You'll then become "authentic" (be your "natural self") in your approach to leadership and be able to record a meaningful series of leadership maxims, which together are no more than a page long.


My Leadership Maxims (As I Recall)

It's been 18 years since I've led a team (in person - before virtual teams, e-mail and texting). But here is what I recall emphasizing during the quarterly performance reviews I conducted with each of the people on my staff as well as the high school and college interns I hired each summer:

ACCOUNTABILITY - Committing to a two-way contract

I will only say good things about you to others.

If you have a problem with the way I manage this department, I expect you to tell me and not others so we can fix it together. Just as I review your performance on a regular basis, I expect feedback from you regularly about how we can improve this department.

VISION - Driving action and innovation

We are here to serve our dairy farmer members as best we can.

While carrying out our corporate mission, you have a golden opportunity to learn and develop your skills in an environment which encourages you to "use your own best judgment" in resolving every-day issues.

AUTHENTICITY - Staying connected with reality

I expect you to take center stage in the areas for which you are responsible but keep me informed about "what's really going on out there."

When you succeed, you'll get the credit and the accolades because I've delegated full responsibility for your job duties only to you.

BALANCE - Keeping things in perspective

If you screw up, it's your responsibility but it's OK. Tell me about it, and we'll try to fix it together and learn from it so we can bounce back. It's not the end of the world.

I expect each of us to reach for perfection, but, if we fall short (and we will), that's OK. I only ask that we learn from our mistakes.

Like Karen, I believe I was successful as vice president of communication at that time because I had a personal leadership philosophy in my mind and repeated it often. It was not on paper (until now), but it grew out my experience living with cerebral palsy. I knew I had to delegate effectively and give members of my team opportunities to be recognized for their efforts under what were, at times, unusual circumstances.

It turned out that, of the more than 30 people I led over a 28-year stint at the company (now Foremost Farms USA), many of them have become outstanding leaders in media, education and public service.

So, highlight the leadership experience you have (from leading personal assistants and unpaid volunteers to a full-fledged team in a business environment) during your job search.

Does your disability experience tie in with your leadership philosophy? If so, be prepared to tell why.

At the very least, have a one-page handout about your personal leadership philosophy handy during job interviews. It may just give you a competitive edge over your jobseeker competitors who have not yet developed the self-knowledge of who they are as leaders.


Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Founder of, coaching guide for parents of CP youngsters, Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, ( has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (, a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (, New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (