The single most frequently discussed concept in my graduate courses thus far is the concept of leadership– positive and effective public leadership, to be (only slightly more) specific. The lessons I’m learning, however, apply to all leaders- regardless of sector.
Good leadership is one of those concepts that, I’ll admit, seems a bit fuzzy. Who doesn’t have ideas about what makes a good leader? Trust, respect, confidence, ethics… The truth is, the concept runs much deeper, and it’s easier to recognize a good leader than it is to describe how to be one– especially in a public management role in which leaders must effectively be both creatures and creators of their work environments.
In an effort spread the wealth and celebrate individual leadership, I’d like to share three incredibly useful exercises that I’ve learned in my first three weeks in graduate school. All three exercises helped me to identify my goals and values so that I may serve as an effective lifelong leader.
1. Write a Personal Mission Statement
This is not a new exercise, but it’s an important one. Writing a personal mission statement requires thinking about your personal goals and desires. This is very different from an elevator speech; a personal mission statement is about you and your own values as they relate to your desired long-term career (not necessarily the job you’re currently in). Though I’ve found it particularly beneficial to have this articulation of my interest in achieving my career goals, personal mission statements are for the creator alone. They don’t need to be professional, and you don’t need to share your personal mission statement if you wouldn’t like to do so. Writing a personal mission statement will help you to focus on your goals and priorities.
- Exercise: Mission statements generally describe the purpose of an institution or, in our case, an individual. Get out a scratch piece of paper and start drafting your own personal mission statement. Here are a few great questions to ask yourself before writing your mission statement. Having trouble getting started? Check out this website.
2. Identify your Core Values
Professor Richard F. Callahan introduced this exercise at a recent Graduate Policy Administration Committee Strategic Planning Meeting. It’s a simple exercise with a big personal impact. Since completing this short task, I’ve reflected on my core values daily and I am much more aware of my decisions to adhere to them.
- Exercise: Make a list of all of the core values that you can imagine. These are usually one-word values such as respect, integrity, loyalty, commitment, service, contribution, generosity, etc. You may be well acquainted with the concept of core values, as many organizations and corporations are very straightforward with their core values and often frame the words in conference rooms or list them at the top of meeting agendas. Once you’ve come up with a nice, long list of core values, pick three (and only three) that you feel illustrate your own personal core values.
3. Understand your Unenforceables
I was lucky enough to attend a talk presented by the incredible Bob Stone earlier this week within USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, and it proved to be the best lesson on leadership that I’ve had the opportunity to come across. This great civil servant was bursting with personal anecdotes and life lessons. Among them was the lesson to understand your own unenforceables. What are those, you ask? In 1924, John Fletcher Moulton identified three realms of human behavior: (1) Free will. (2) Obedience to the enforceable. (3) Obedience to the unenforceable. Obedience to the enforceable is synonymous with obedience to the law. Obedience to the unenforceable is obedience to our own personal values and the ethics which shape our decisions as leaders.
- Exercise: Identify 10 of your own unspoken “laws” to which you adhere for your own reasons. Perhaps they are based on life experiences or values that were instilled within you by your parents. Some examples of personal unenforceables might be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or “play by the rules.” Others may be, “speak knowledge to power,” “a friend in need is a friend, indeed,” or “it’s what’s inside that counts.” No matter what your governing principles are, write them down. Getting your own framework of values out on paper will give you insight into your own leadership style. We have a good sense of governmental laws, but it’s even more important to have a sense of your own unspoken laws by which you live your life and make decisions.