August 2019

Conversing With the Boss About Leadership

by Rolly Dessert

One of an employee's most memorable experiences is a conversation with the boss about the boss's leadership. It could be an awkward moment but it doesn't have to be. Leaders can put people at ease by writing their own personal leadership philosophy and sharing it face to face with each of their direct reports.

Senior leaders hope to inspire employees with confidence about their firm's strategic direction, core beliefs, expectations, and performance goals. Leaders want new employees to be enthused about the company's ideals and standards. We expect that core values will be evident in all company practices.

The most reliable way for this aspiration to become reality is for the leader to be consistent and predictable in setting a good example. This requires a leader to reflect deeply on what he or she will do, and will not do, in any given situation. This is a high bar, no doubt about it. But there is a way to make this happen.

A written Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) is invaluable as a tool for company leaders to energize employees. A PLP expresses a concept of leadership as well as core values, expectations, priorities, and commitment; these are well developed through thoughtful reflection on each topic. The key step for the leader is to communicate the PLP to employees in person.

I have to admit that the first time I heard a leader speak about values and expectations I was skeptical, and at best I had a "wait and see" attitude. But then when he lived up to his word, he became more credible to me. It was the first time I experienced an increased level of trust of a leader. I became more engaged, and wanted to learn more.

I recently sat down with then Police Major Cindy Henson of the Overland Park Police Department, in a suburb of the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area with a population of 195,000 residents. When she was a Captain, Cindy participated in my Leadership Excellence Course in 2014 where she developed her PLP. We talked about her leadership experience for the past four plus years, and how she has applied the PLP in that time.

  1. How long have you been using your Personal Leadership Philosophy in your work?

    "I participated in the Leadership Excellence Course in June of 2014. At the time I was a newly promoted Captain working in the Patrol Division. In 2016, I was promoted to Major, and reassigned to the Patrol Division. I have used my PLP extensively in both assignments."

  2. Have you shared it with your supervisor? If so, was this helpful?

    "I met with my supervisor right away. She responded positively and agreed that what I wrote reflected who I am as a leader. That was affirmation for me in part because I had struggled to get my ideas into concrete terms. I wanted to make sure I did not miss the mark. I left the meeting even more confident in my role as a Captain. I think the PLP helped me in my assignment to the Patrol Division. The PLP also helped me in my preparations for the promotion process as I competed for the rank of Major."

  3. How have you used it in your work setting?

    "I read the PLP periodically, and it becomes the compass for setting my direction. I reflect on my three core values — integrity (Do the right thing, even if it costs you), action (Do what you can do. Don't focus on what you can't do) and attitude (It's a choice, make it a good one. Your mood affects those around you.) I find the reflection very useful, particularly when I face a dilemma or anticipate a conflict with someone. Also, if I am on the fence about a decision, I find that the PLP helps clarify my thoughts about the alternatives, enabling me to become more decisive."

  4. Are there any other ways your PLP has been helpful to you?

    "I often refer to my PLP as an accountability check for myself. I read the values, the priorities and expectations to see if there is anything that may have changed about my thinking in these areas. It helps me to organize my thoughts about how I lead. For example, a common issue is how to handle the resourcing of competing objectives. I look at the requirements and the data, and review the resources available to determine how they will be allocated. I also realize that my decision will sometimes differ from the wishes of the employees. Often it comes down to doing the right thing. Another example is when I feel frustrated about something or someone. Reading my PLP helps to get my attitude checked about the elements of my personal leadership. I find that it is a great tool to help me navigate the challenges of leading."

Since my interview, Cindy Henson has been promoted to Colonel and is the Chief of Police for Spring Hill, Kansas — a fast growing community of 7,000 residents.

At Academy Leadership, we help you to clarify your thinking, and to learn how to be more consistent and predictable by using a personal leadership philosophy. In time, you will become more credible and trustworthy to the people on your team.