January 2022

A Personal Leadership Philosophy: Vision, Values, Purpose, and Trust

by Sean Haley

To be truly successful, leaders must master the three pillars of excellence: Know Your Yourself, Know Your People, and Know Your Stuff. We are all familiar with "Our Stuff" and most organizations have an established formula to recognize potential and reward performance in this arena. Where most organizations, and individuals for that matter, struggle is stratifying the first two pillars. How do you learn about yourself? Is there a process, or is it just trial and error? How do you get to really know your team? Am I communicating clearly? Are we aligned as an organization? Where do I start?

For more than 20 years, Academy Leadership has successfully taught individuals and teams the skills required to achieve sustained success and improve performance across these two pillars of excellence. Our approach is based on the proven skills and techniques that the U.S. Military has successfully developed and implemented for nearly 250 years. To understand this military model, it is important to first understand why the military model is so unique and successful.

The foundation for the three pillars of leadership excellence is a complex combination of vision, values, purpose, and trust. All must be present for the foundation to support growth and sustain superior performance. The U.S. military’s strength and success are not rooted in technology or advanced tactics. Those are important tools for a commander’s kit, but the successful performance of any military unit is based on trust — trust in each other, and trust in leadership. Without that trust, confidence erodes, and communication breaks down. It is so essential to a military organization’s success, that each branch of service devotes significant resources to ensure future commanders understand how to quickly establish trust, convey values, communicate a vision, and get a unit to commit to a unified purpose. Due to frequent transfers and command changes (the average command tour in the military is less than two years), the military had to ensure that process was swift and seamless since units could change commanders during deployments or even during actual conflict. To address these unique and substantial challenges, the U.S. Navy developed the Command Philosophy.

At its core, the Command Philosophy is a statement about a commander’s personal values, what he or she expects, and what will not be tolerated. More importantly, however, it serves to openly communicate a commander’s commitment to the organization’s personnel and the unit’s mission. Many people misinterpret the Command Philosophy to be a selfish document, but it is actually quite the opposite. When done correctly, it epitomizes servant leadership and a selfless commitment to an organization.

Although the philosophy is designed to be short and concise — ideally no more than 500 words — the process to develop the document involves extensive personal reflection. In fact, newly selected Navy commanders spend two intense weeks at Command Leadership School developing their initial Command Philosophies. During the course, prospective commanders learn the skills necessary to develop an effective philosophy and repeatedly share their drafts with other prospective commanders, garnering feedback and inspiring additional reflection and self-discovery. The end result is a succinct philosophy that will resonate and build trust in an organization when the new commander arrives.

After assuming command and publishing their Command Philosophy, commanders must reinforce the key tenants of that philosophy at every opportunity. This serves two key purposes. First, it reinforces the commander’s values and expectations. Second, and most importantly, it demonstrates transparency and opens critical lines of communication with the team. That transparency and communication quickly builds trust, inspires confidence, and establishes a foundation for success.

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As commanders move on to more senior positions of leadership during their career, their respective Command Philosophies will also evolve to address greater responsibility and span of control. The Command Philosophy is designed to be a "living" document. The values contained therein represent a commander’s Moral Compass and should remain consistent, but the vision and purpose will need to evolve to address more complex and challenging assignments. Personally, my Command Philosophy for my 12-aircraft squadron with nearly 350 personnel was much different than the philosophy I implemented when I assumed command of an air station with more than twenty tenant commands and nearly 22,000 personnel.

At Academy Leadership, we have developed a similar proven system that helps leaders develop their own Personal Leadership Philosophy. Our facilitators will guide you through a process of self-discovery and reflection to uncover your personal values, codify your expectations, and communicate your vision for success. In addition, we will provide you with proven techniques to effectively share that vision with your organization, elicit feedback, establish transparency, and improve efficiency and effectiveness across your organization. The process is very powerful and generates proven results. If you are interested in improving your leadership skills, communicating your vision for success, and measurably improving your organization’s overall performance, contact Academy Leadership today.