14th September 2017


It’s an interesting word and you may feel that it has little or no place in business but the opposite is surely true. As Google is my friend I looked up the word and one of the definitions said “a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour”.

As business owners and business leaders how we behave is totally dictated by our philosophy, by our world view, by how we think things work.

One of the challenges we face is that often our philosophy is rarely well formed, rarely well informed and very often incomplete. In certain aspects, it may even be contradictory in nature, fundamentally unexamined and frequently just plain unhelpful, and it is against this background that we make all of our decisions both conscious and unconscious. One of the challenges that business leaders create is that as their philosophy develops and their understanding changes their behaviour will also change, as a consequence, often leaving their team confused and uncertain.

A young leader might begin believing perhaps that the role is to ‘tell people what to do’ and start off their journey by acting in accordance with that belief. Perhaps time and education might help them realise that there are other options. They may then study Herzberg, Daniel Pink and read books like “Everybody Matters” and consequently start behaving in a very different way. Or the journey may go in a totally different direction. There are so many opinions on these things it is difficult to hold a consistent philosophy that works for each of us. The thing is that our team become confused about how we really do expect them to work. One day it is the carrot and the stick, the next it is gentle persuasion. The style swings from command and control to enrol and enlist. The uncertainty and confusion is not good for anyone but probably the least helpful thing is that different people will prosper and flourish under different philosophies. The person who just wants to be told what to do will probably not blossom in an environment where she is expected to take ownership and accountability for her and her team’s results without some specific and significant personal development.

Neither the carrot nor the stick is necessarily right. It is important to find a clarity of philosophy that works for us as individuals; that brings the best out of the people that work with us and that allows us to develop the flexibility to meet each of those people where they are, to be who they need us to be, for them in that moment and at the same time to be consistent in our approach.

It sounds a lot. It is a lot and yet if we are to carry out our responsibilities as leaders it isn’t a lot for those people who work alongside us to expect from us.