First Obligation of Leaders – “Know Thyself” 

Throughout my career, I have come to appreciate that being a leader is an ongoing process of self-discovery and reinvention. Guiding this journey is a set of obligations – or ethical imperatives – that form the foundation of leadership. The first obligation is to develop a personal philosophy of leadership. This philosophy will shape who you are as a leader and involves understanding:

  • Your core values;
  • The standards of behavior for which you will be held accountable; 
  • Personal trade-offs you are prepared to make.

 As a leader, you must be willing to do some serious soul-searching about what you believe about leadership, and what matters most to you. You must also spend time consciously examining what sacrifices you and your family are willing to make.

Throughout the years, I have counseled many young leaders who are on their “way up.” These leaders are highly skilled and motivated to succeed. Yet, when asked what they are prepared to give to the organization in terms of their time and energy, and what they are prepared to give up, they stumble. The truth is that in their quest to rise in the organization, they have not spent enough time reflecting on the demands of progressively higher levels of leadership, and the toll these demands may take on their personal lives. For some, this lack of self-awareness may cause them to derail over time.

 For example, as a senior leader, you will think more often and more deeply about how to ensure business success, and what to do when things go wrong. This is particularly true in today’s fast-paced and complex global business environment. You will be called upon to make tough decisions that will impact employees and customers. Successful leaders accept that “deeper engagement” is a part of the job and mentally prepare for it. 

Equally important is an honest assessment of what sacrifices you and your family are prepared to make. Given the demands of leadership, your days will often extend well beyond a typical eight-to-nine-hour day, which may mean less time with your family. It’s important for everyone that you think through what trade-offs you are willing to make. I have worked with some extraordinary leaders who, at a certain point in their careers, stepped off the senior executive leadership track. They made a conscious decision about what was best for them and their families. Rather than leave the organization, they took on new roles that allowed them to achieve a better balance in their life, and still contribute to the organization’s success. 

Developing your personal philosophy of leadership is a dynamic process, which is influenced by your experiences over time. Successful leaders take time to reflect and learn from these experiences, which helps them grow as a leader. To start you on a path of self-discovery, here are some questions for you to consider.

 As a leader:

  • What are your core values?
  • What are your beliefs about the role of a leader?
  • Why have you chosen this role?
  • What do you believe is expected of you?                 
  • What are you willing to give as a leader? 
  • What are you willing to give up?
  • What standards of behavior will you and your leadership team be held to?
  • Are you prepared to make difficult hiring and firing decisions?
  • What do you value most in leaders you admire?
  • Are you committed to continually and significantly improving your performance every year?
  • What will be your legacy to the organization?

As you embark on this journey, you will find that you are never quite done. Just as you think, “I have made it,” there are new challenges just over the horizon that may require new ways of doing things. While some leaders see this seemingly endless journey as a burden, I see it as one of the reasons I became a leader.