Developing a Leadership Philosophy

By Leboeuf, Maureen K. | Military Review, May/June 1999 | Go to article overview

Developing a Leadership Philosophy


Leboeuf, Maureen K., Military Review


IS A MEMORABLE DAY. The sun is shinning, there is a gentle breeze that causes the flags and their campaign ribbons to rustle, and the soldiers are standing tall in formation. A time-honored tradition is about to take place-a change of comand Thd orders are read, the colors are passed and a new leader takes charge of the organization.

More often than not, however, there are no formal ceremonies when an officer takes over a new position, yet the first order of business is always the same-the discussion of a leadership philosophy, usually accompanied by a "philosophy document." This "philosophy" ostensibly allows the supporting staff and soldiers to understand the leader's inner thoughts, beliefs and expectations for organizational performance.

We have all been in organizations where this scenario unfolds. Many times the leadership philosophy is hastily prepared. Quite often, leaders are in demanding jobs until they assume new positions and do not have the luxury of time for genuine reflection about their personal leadership philosophy. Most write some peripheral thoughts about leadership, beliefs and personal philosophy, discuss it with immediate subordinates and send their philosophy paper to elements within the organization.

While attending the US Army War College (AWC), Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to take a Philosophy of Leadership advance course, which included considerable discussion, reading and reflection on the subject. The students in the class represented a wide cross-section of the Armed Forces and included men and women, all services, minorities, combat, combat support and combat service support officers. All students in the class were assigned to follow-on brigade-level command or senior leadership staff positions. At the course conclusion, each officer was asked to write a personal leadership philosophy.

In writing this article, I obtained selections of leadership philosophy papers from the Philosophy of Command course for the past several years. I reviewed them to determine common themes that should be incorporated into my leadership philosophy. Virtually all future leaders agreed that vision, values, care for soldiers and families, leader development, managing change, diversity and a sense of humor were imperatives within a leadership philosophy. Although I read a host of articles, I selected the above elements as a framework for this article and suggest they should be the blueprint for every Army leader's personal leadership philosophy.

While the primary audience for this article is midlevel to senior leaders, all supervisors will find the information presented useful in developing their own personal leadership philosophy.

Why is a Philosophy of Leadership Important?

Philosophy is "the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct."1 In his discussion of values, author Scott W. Clarke captures the significance of a personal philosophy for the military leader. He indicates that philosophy is the attainment of an integrated, comprehensive view of life, of vital importance. He further relates that "values, ethics and virtues are actually secondary. . ." to the absolute necessity to couch these attributes within a personal philosophy.2 In other words, your personal philosophy provides a foundation for all other issues-it is your personal foundation or belief in human nature or behavior. As an example, we refer to an interview with Lieutenant General Robert F. McDermott, US Air Force, Retired, and retired chief executive officer (CEO), United Services Automobile Association (USAA). He indicated that his overarching personal leadership philosophy was based on the "Golden Rule"all values and ethical behavior stemmed from it. This simplistic personal philosophy served McDermott well for 25 years of military service in peace and war, and for 25 years as the head of USAA, a Fortune 500 company.3

Whether you select the Golden Rule or another philosophical approach, you must establish your overarching personal philosophy before you can extrapolate from it the framework of key issues, that follow.

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