How a personal philosophy can help you be a better leader

Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash

Many leaders turn into the worst version of themselves during a crisis.

That’s because leading is easy when everything is running smoothly, much harder when times are turbulent. When the heat is turned up some leaders withdraw and become totally absent. Others get combative and try to muscle their way through a challenge. This is the classic “fight or flight” that is programmed into our ancient brains. You can override this evolutionary programming.

The secret is by developing a personal philosophy.

What is a personal philosophy?

A personal philosophy is a 5–10 word phrase that you can recite on command and guides your leadership presence.

The value of a personal philosophy is that it reminds you of who you want to be in good times and especially in challenging times. My personal philosophy is to be an intentional catalyst. At four words long, it seems simple but is quite complex. It’s a helpful reminder of the impact I have in a given situation. Like Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Each morning I recite my personal philosophy and think about it before interactions with clients and my family so I have a better chance of showing up at my best.

Why does a personal philosophy help?

How I show up matters.

The foundation of my personal philosophy notes that in every space I occupy I am a catalyst. Meaning, I speed up what is going to happen in every situation I find myself and part of my presence dictates whether that result is good or bad. By committing this phrase to memory it helps guide my words and actions.

What I find most helpful, is in times of crisis, my personal philosophy acts as a gentle reminder of the choice and the influence I have in the moment.

How do you develop a personal philosophy?

This process was designed by Dr. Michael Gervais and Coach Pete Carroll in their Compete to Create Program.

Basically, there are three steps:

  • Step one: write down up to 30 words that resonate with you and describe you at your best. This is for you, not for the approval of others.
  • Step two: Whittle your list of words to around ten if you can. Look for words that have personal meaning. They should feel authentic and great.
  • Step three: Get even more precise. Can you get your personal philosophy down to 5–10 words? You know you’re there when your philosophy resonates in your head and your heart.

Some examples of personal philosophies:

  • “Be an intentional catalyst.” — This is my personal philosophy (4 words)
  • “Always compete.” — Coach Pete Carroll (2 words)
  • “Every day is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece.” — Dr. Michael Gervais (10 words)

If you craft your own personal philosophy (or already have one), please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀