The Leader’s Philosophy

WE assume leaders have a higher responsibility, a higher calling than to simply follow authority —they must come up with a set of principles that they can live by and share with followers.

“I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” — Mark Twain.

A transformational image of the mindset of Joan of Arc. Notice the image of the saints in the background.

A transformational image of the mindset of Joan of Arc. Notice the image of the saints in the background.

Weeds in the Garden of the Mind

You might say that weeds in a garden are like false beliefs in the mind. Periodically, one must clear them out if one wants to have a thing of beauty. A transformational mind-set requires one to continually question the assumptions ones makes to determine whether they is true or not.

Not everything you learned in school is correct. When one is young, one focuses on learning. As one gets older, you realize that you have to unlearn what you learned when you were young. Sounds weird, huh. But some of what you know is false, but you don’t know it is false. You need to transform your thinking, but fail to understand the simple truth.

•  Here are 9 questionable assumptions

Take a simple example. A true or false statement which goes, “The sun rises in the east.” If you think true, you are only partly correct. Actually the sun doesn’t rise, the earth rotates.

It is the begining of wisdom to understand that not all commonly accepted truths are true. However, when one encounters information that is not consistent with your accepted truth, we do not question the belief, we discount the information. In the case of the article, if you encounter a statement the runs counter to the what’s already installed,  you likely will reject the new information out of had and not even consciously think about it.

Every field has their set of false assumptions accepted as true. I once had a friend tell me that he liked business better than politics since, “The business types tend to be more rational and pragmatic.” Pragmatic yes, since you get more negative feedback. Rational, no since business has it share of false beliefs.

Lets take one assumption commonly stated today by many b-school professors. It goes, “You need to manage people.” Many of you have heard it before, and maybe think, “Yes, I am a manger of people.”

I accepted this for quite a few years but eventually came to realize it was not that accurate. Actually, a more accurate saying was said many years ago by Grace Hopper. In this case, “You manage things, you lead people.” She should know. She left the U.S. Navy as a rear admiral having started in public service during World War Two.

But if one accepts people can be managed, one will not devote the time and effort needed to develop leadership skills since one discounts leadership in all its many forms as unimportant to being a good manager.

Definition Of Philosophy

The word comes from Ancient Greek. It consists of two elements:
[sophos meaning wisdom] & [philos meaning Love]

A philosophy involves principles, values and traits— that continue and continue and continue through-out life. So it is more about the path, not the destination.

The key is live by, since a philosophy should serve as a guide to life and business. One sees this kind of leadership philosophy fully developed in the teachings and life example of great religious figures such as the Buddha or Jesus Christ.

Four Reasons to Develop a Leadership Philosophy

1. To Prepare Yourself

“Life posses many problems, many crisis — we are all tested.” — M. Johannsen

Defining a philosophy includes looking at personal development areas that help one prepare for the challenges of life.

2. To Counter The Corrupting Effects of Money and Power

“Leaders without a philosophy are like the leaf not tied to the branch — you get blown anywhere the winds take you.” — Murray Johannsen.

There is a fundamental truth to Lord Action’s famous saying, the first half of which goes, “Power corrupts.” If he where alive today, Lord Acton would no doubt agree that in the modern world, money corrupts just as much as power.

And so we sometimes see in the powerful, the second half of his saying, “. . . and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see too many individuals using their influence to benefit themselves or their in-group at the expense of everyone else.

Without a set of uplifting principles and a bedrock solid set of character traits, the elite tend to exercise selfish power.

3. To Counter a Lack of Meaning In Life

“The doors of opportunity more open for those best prepared to walk through it.” — Murray Johannsen.

It was Viktor Frankl’s belief that many people feel that life has no meaning. This is also seen in the very wealthy, according to Jessie O’Neil who wrote the book The Golden Ghetto. Because many feel alienated and alone, they may conclude that their lives having little meaning. However, we do possess the ability to create our own values and so add more meaning to our lives.

4. To Accelerate Personal Growth

“One definition of managerial insanity: Doing the same things, the same way but expecting better results.” — American Saying

Many businesses walk the path of continuous improvement. They understand that it’s required to successfully compete and execute on a competitive advantage. However, many managers and executives are stuck in a rut of the same routine. Establishing a philosophy can serve as one method of overcoming complacency.

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” — John Gardner, Source:

Five Guidelines To Learning A Leadership Philosophy

“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” Lin Yutang, Source: wisdom

The following are some guidelines for developing your own leadership philosophy.

Philosophical Guideline 1: A Good Philosophy Has A Number of Guiding Principles


“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” —Seneca, Source: Said What

Editors and authors like to put numbers on things. For example, there are seven habits, (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), oops, I mean eight. Or maybe there are twenty-one. (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You).

These are worthwhile books, but it’s important to realize there is no magic number since your situation and responsibilities are not the same as someone else. For example, a supervisor on an assembly line would likely have a different set than a Hollywood director.

Leadership Principle 2: A Faulty Philosophy Has Unintended Consequences

Image by Murray Johannsen

It’s sometimes easy to forget how easily untended consequences can occur. Take the following story as an example:

A businessman decided to to send his wife a quick e-mail when he was on a business trip. Unfortunately, he missed one letter and his note was directed instead to an elderly preacher’s wife, whose husband had passed away only the day before. When the grieving widow checked her e-mail, she took one look at the screen, let out a scream, and fell to the floor in a faint. Her family rushed into the room and saw on the screen:

Dearest Wife,
Just got checked in. Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow.

Your Loving Husband
PS. Sure is hot down here

Years ago there was a very beneficial philosophy of business known as Total Quality Management. Those businesses that acted on these ideas improved product and service quality gaining a competitive advantage by doing so.

One of the central principles underlying this philosophy was known as, “Continuous Process Improvement.” There was nothing wrong with this leadership principle, but it was incomplete since it allowed businesses to perfect process, but not perfect people.

So you had a paradox of flawed (meaning unskilled people) trying to perform in a process requiring perfection. A better way to state this philosophical principle would have been, “Continuously improve people and processes.”

Philosophical Principle 3: Your Philosophy Should Change and Evolve


“Men like the opinions to which they have become accustomed from youth; this prevents them from finding the truth, for they cling to the opinions of habit.” — Moses Maimonides, 1135-1204, Egyptian physician and philosopher, Guide for the Perplexed

A good philosophy is not cast in concrete—it can change. This is easy to say, but usually this does not happen. This reminds me of a story:

The university president sighed as he went over the proposed budget offered him by the head of the department of physics.

“Why is it,” he said, mournfully, “that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment? Now the department of mathematics requires nothing of me but money for paper, pencils, and erasers.”

He thought a while longer and added, “And the department of philosophy is better still. It doesn’t even ask for erasers.” Source: Asimov, The Humor Treasury.

Moral of the Story: Beliefs Once Formed Rarely Change

Leadership Principle 4: It’s Not Real Until Written


“My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.” — Indira Gandhi


A wise business leader will take the time to write something down on paper. This simple act forces you to clarify your thinking and define what’s important. To give you an example of how this works, you should look into the life example of author, publisher, entrepreneur, scientist, inventor, diplomat, statesman and leader known as Benjamin Franklin.

Learn to Put Together Your Philosophy

Greet leaders need to have a philosophy—a set of theory— that guides their actions. It helps you know whether you are on the right road and if your actions are wise. To not do so means you are like a leaf blown on the wind with no branch to hang onto in the tree of life.

“There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it.” — Cicero, Source:

Leadership Skill Development

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