Is Your Philosophy Stuck in Your Head?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2014 | No Comments

Hesitation. Question Concept.

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

There’s quite a lot of talk these days about the importance of knowing your “leadership philosophy”. What are your core values? Your guiding principles? Your beliefs? Your purpose? Incredibly important stuff. And yet a “philosophy” alone, in my humble opinion, falls short.

How many people do you know who believe one thing and yet seem to behave contrary to their beliefs?

It’s easy to believe in positive reinforcement – until someone’s not hitting their numbers.

It’s admirable to believe in open communication – until you have to say something that’s uncomfortable.

It’s one thing to believe that all people are worthy of respect and dignity, and yet quite another thing to champion respect and dignity for all.

To believe requires nothing of you. You can sit and believe.  And believe. And believe.  And you make no impact outside yourself.

To champion requires you to be honest. Are you really championing or just talking a good game? Is it really what you’re about, or is it just convenient and sounds good? To actually champion requires you to put yourself out there. To fight for what’s right. To question. To look deeply. To seek alternatives. To bring people together. To bridge differences. To explore. To intervene.  To shake things up. To push ahead. To shatter perspectives. To heal. To poke holes. To lighten up. To celebrate. To tolerate. To expand. To forgive. To invite. To act. It requires you to act. You cannot champion from the sidelines.  You cannot champion without taking action.

Excavating your leadership philosophy is a critical first step – it is the process that allows you to get clear about your thinking and begin the process of uncovering internal need – the thing that drives you – what Harvard Business School Professor and authentic leadership expert, Bill George calls “True North”. But powerful leadership requires more than understanding yourself. It requires not just identifying, but committing to the authentic, constructive actions that fall out of internal need. Which takes something.

In the theatre world, the thing that gives an actor a sense of presence – that intangible magic that makes you hang on every word and completely believe that a character is real – is the actor’s commitment to two things: honesty and action.

Honesty: Actors (or rather good actors) are relentless truth seekers. They are continually challenged to understand themselves – to tell themselves the truth about their deepest motivations, greatest fears, and driving needs – and about how honestly they’re showing up. They own when they’re not being real. They own, when they’ve made a bad choice. They don’t hide it – they own it. They stay curious about themselves – recognizing that understanding is always evolving. They’re honest with themselves.

They’re also honest in their interactions with others. They reach inside and, with great courage, have the vulnerability to take down their mask and allow themselves to be seen. Really seen. Honestly.

How honest are you with yourself about yourself? How honestly do you allow yourself to show up with others?

Action: A good actor is always focused on doing what it takes to overcome the obstacles in their path and achieve what their character wants most – what we call their Super Objective. A Super Objective is active – and it’s communicated in active language.  To champion.  To build up.  To engage.  To rally.  It sets you on an active path and requires action.  You cannot achieve a Super Objective by simply believing or thinking – you must DO.  Actors who are too much in their head or who are just saying the words but not committed 100% to the actions they’re taking, are boring to watch – they have no presence (and thus they’re typically unemployed). Leaders, whose words and beliefs aren’t manifesting themselves in consistent and constructive action, aren’t trusted. The people around them hold their best effort back. They don’t put themselves on the line. They won’t be honest. They’re not loyal. They keep their passion, energy, excitement, ideas, and commitment locked away inside. Of course, if they’re talented, they’re the first to walk out the door when opportunity arises – most likely to your competitor. If they’re not (talented that is), they’re not going anywhere. You get to keep them. Lucky you.

Are your actions truly consistent with your words and beliefs?

How honest you are with yourself and others, and the congruency of your actions, makes all the difference in your ability to lead.

Take Southwest Airline’s Herb Kelleher for example. Mr. Kelleher is quite famous for his leadership. After all, Fortune Magazine referred to him as “perhaps the best CEO in America” – which I’d say is pretty darn impressive. And everything I’ve read and heard about Mr. Kelleher has been consistent. In one article I was reading about Mr. Kelleher he said that there were two things that he was focused on: building a culture of commitment and creating customer evangelists.  Actions.

Now, think about everything you’ve read or heard about Mr. Kelleher. Have his words been consistent with the actions he’s known for having taken? I suspect a great deal of Mr. Kelleher’s success can be attributed to his ability to honestly put his philosophy into action.

A clear leadership philosophy is a good start, but you’ve got to get it out of your head and showing up in your actions or it does you no good.

What’s YOUR “Super Objective”?


©OnStage Leadership, 2014 (originally posted in August, 2011)

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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!

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