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At best, it represents who you are and what you can deliver as a leader, and at worst, it’s a contract for what you aspire to be.
I first wrote down my leadership philosophy about a decade ago by writing down all the values and practices I embraced. At the time, every great leader and commander I served with had a written philosophy—so, I thought I should craft one myself. It changed a lot since then, and I’ve changed a lot.
At the end of every year, I keep the same ritual: I review and revise it. Sometimes I’ll add a few bullet points, and sometimes I’ll cut it in half, but always—I’ll reflect deeply on it. I candidly assess if I stuck to it, and identify areas where I fell short.
It’s one of the best “tools” I took from the Army, and it has served me well. It keeps me constant and focused, it holds me accountable, and it helps me improve. In more times than I can count, it made hard decisions easy. I openly share it with my peers, superiors, and reports; and today, I‘d like to share it with you. I can’t claim the words as wholly mine; they’re just values, codified, or principles and statements from leaders, books, and writings I’ve most admired. It’s not the uniqueness nor the act of writing that made it useful, but the reflection and introspection that comes with it.
If you don’t have one already, usher in the New Year by writing your own leadership philosophy. If you write it, you’ll think deeply about it. If you think about it, you’ll act on it. And if you act on it, you’ll realize it. Here’s mine…
Below you will find expectations, mantras, and values I believe in and work by. It’s “how I tick,” so to speak. It’s how I believe our team can best operate. It will change from time to time, but we’ll re-visit these often to make sure we’re both on track. I humbly ask that you read these sincerely and that you hold me accountable to them, as I will for you.
Leaders are productivity multipliers. I evaluate my success based off of how effective and productive I can make others. Full stop. I believe in servant-leadership; I work for you, and my job is to help you both perform and improve as highly as possible. I’m not doing my job right unless I’m amplifying and multiplying how you do yours.
Never compromise integrity. Integrity is not an option. We do the right thing, always and everywhere; we are ambassadors and representatives of the team. We always tell the truth, as the team relies on accurate information. Mistakes happen and are expected, but bad news only gets worse over time. I can’t do anything to help you if you let me know too little, too late!
Delegate authority, but never responsibility. Leaders give authority to complete tasks, but always take responsibility. That’s what leaders do. For the record: I will always take blame and responsibility for your mistakes, and I will always pass praise and credit to you. I strongly believe that environment empowers problem-solvers, critical-thinkers, and self-starters with the authority to make decisions and take risks. If you succeed, it’s of your own accord, and in the best scenarios, have little to do because of me.
Take initiative. If you see something wrong, fix it. Don’t take short-cuts, and take the hard right over the easy wrong. If you think something can be done better, say something, but always have a solution or recommendation ready. Take risks, be audacious, and have a healthy disregard for the impossible; nothing great ever came out of a comfort zone. Our strength as a team comes from our diversity of thought, combined with the willingness to execute. We’re better together not by default and not when people fall in line, but when “starters” take initiative. Be a starter.
Constantly seek improvement. Leaders ensure that their teams are on ridiculously high growth trajectories, but it’s also a shared responsibility. I encourage you to approach problems with humility and an open willingness to learn from anyone, anything, and anywhere. You should be learning every day. Otherwise, you’re either not getting challenged or not reaching far enough. Expanding your professional and technical knowledge should be a daily accomplishment, and in the best circumstances, natural and unintentional.
Practice radical candor. You can be nice and honest, but being nice and dishonest leads us nowhere. You and I owe it to each other to tell the other when we’re right, when we’re wrong, and how we can do better. It’s the only way we can find and fix our blind spots. Don’t take criticism personally and don’t be afraid to dish it out (don’t wait). Likewise, praise success when it’s due!
Own our projects. Take pride and ownership of the things we build and the code we write. Constantly confirm that we’re building the right thing, and ensure that we’re building that thing right. Meticulously use and criticize our own software with a high standard for excellence. Write clean, maintainable, documented, and well-tested code that any developer can pick up, even you 6 months from now. Make our software as beautiful on the surface as they are under the hood.
Mission first, people always.