Knowing your guiding principles


Before I begin a session coaching executive level leaders on how to execute more effectively, I always challenge them describe their own guiding principles. Many executives can describe their organizations guiding mission statement or principles but often struggle to describe their own. They begin to squirm in their seats and often talk in generalities. For some, it can be difficult to keep them on task. Why? Simply because they have not thought enough about it. After struggling to come up with a list, many have a hard time defending their guiding principles. Early in your career, It is extremely important develop an internal understanding of what is important to you. I find it to be an extremely positive experience to help a client develop a rock solid set of principles that they want to live by.
Self-analysis is critical for anyone who is seeking to lead an organization. Look in any major newspaper and you will be able to read of a corporate leader being investigated for an ethics violation. Many leaders with enormous potential have faltered because they did not spend the time to develop and write down their own guiding principles. Get a piece of paper and write down answers to these three simple questions:
• What is important to you?
• What won’t you tolerate?
• What will you defend?
There are no right or wrong answers and the list can be as long or short as you wish. Writing the answers down helps to engrain them in your psyche. If you simply think about the answers you are not engaged. Writing down the answers takes energy and helps physically and mentally to tie you into the process. If you feel uneasy about your answers, you should review your list and ask yourself why you came up with the answers. Are the answers what others want you to say? Are they really important to you? If you don’t know the answers to these three questions you may appear, at best, to be a ship adrift on a sea of ambiguity, and at worst, having a moral compass which quickly changes directions. Look at your list at least once a week.
Most develop guiding principles that are congruent with the organizations they wish to lead. Not surprisingly, some find that they are not happy at work because deep down their lists did not match what their company espoused. Some decided to move on and now have great careers in other companies. Others decided to stay and try to change their company’s culture from the inside. Regardless of the outcome, you have a responsibility to yourself and your organization to develop your own list of guiding principles.

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