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Developing a management philosophy

This post lists the key insights from this article, by the design lead at Broadcat, Ryan Rushing.

A management philosophy is not something the author thought he needed, but once he finally landed on it, it felt like a puzzle had been completed. His philosophy—Take care of your people—is the truth for him.

In HBR, Carol A. Walker points out that:

“…having a core philosophy can help guide you through the day-to-day and the job’s tougher moments. ”

And this is especially important for new managers.

Some steps to land on your management philosophy

Step #1: Develop a vocabulary

The important part of vocabulary development is to make a list of the concepts (words or phrases) that are invaluable to you as you guide your team. Check out Lara’s management philosophy worksheet where she lays this out.

Try your best to use ultra-positive framing and grammar. For instance, rather than “remove obstacles,” try “keep focused.” Rather than “don’t forget,” try “always remember.”

After you’ve determined your philosophy, you will to think about it a lot (that’s kind of the idea). And a philosophy filled with negatively associated words or phrases can take a toll over time.

Step #2: Consider the phrasing

Remember, words have literal, cultural, and social meanings. The words you use will have an impact on you and your team, so remember to consider the optics and phrasing from your philosophy in as many angles as you can.

For instance, phrases like “opening doors,” “empowering people,” and “shining a light” could have a positive association to mentorship, but if you’re part of an overrepresented group2 and your direct reports are not, this could also sound like “I hold the keys to your success, and I’ll allow you to succeed.”

I have found that metaphors and analogies are the pitfalls when it comes to phrasing a philosophy. Focus on saying what you mean. 

Step #3: Make it actionable

The most obvious way to make your philosophy actionable is to start the philosophy with a verb, but focus on capturing the spirit of action. Remember it’s ok if you use a word that isn’t describing an exact action. 

Lara’s philosophy is

“I believe that humans already have the answers inside themselves. My role is to help them find it.”

This doesn’t start with a verb, but the second sentence definitely has an actionable spirit to it, with “help” being the primary action one would take.

Sometimes the action is implied. An example she gives in her management philosophy worksheet is

“Strong back, open heart.”

This works well because of the implied action. The philosophy is implying “we have,” or “you have” a strong back and an open heart. Arguably it’s powerful because of that interpretive spin. Even still, the spirit of action is built in.

Step #4: Talk with your people

Over a few months, the author created 11 versions of my management philosophy, and he was proud of each individual word chosen.

Every. Single. Word. Was. Deliberate. And. Also. Read. Like. A. Robot. Was. Delivering. It.

He got lost in the individual words, and hadn’t worked on the meaning as a whole. It didn’t sound like him.

Version 11 read:

“Design a flourishing environment that’s diverse and clear of obstacles.”

He planned to share with one of my designers during our 1:1, and they started with the 1:1 cards from Plucky. She randomly chose the card that read “Tell me about a leader you admire. Why do you admire them?”

She told him about how she loved and admired her family. Their conversation turned into an emotional 1:1. A typical 1:1 on a random day isn’t usually where he expects to be emotionally vulnerable. 

After that conversation, my version 11 philosophy seemed trite. He wasn’t connected to it, and he felt he needed to rethink everything, and changed it to “Take care of your people” which resonated much better with him.

Step #5: Share your philosophy

He finally (officially) shared my “version 12” philosophy with his design team recently, though they had seen it scrawled on Post-it notes and his dry erase board for months. 

Sharing your philosophy with your team is a way for them to hold you accountable. He encouraged them to ask, “how does [some action] align with your philosophy,” if they ever have a concern with how he’s leading or managing them. This open-ended question gives them fuel to give him actionable feedback, versus him asking them a question like “how am I doing,” or “what can I do to help you?” 

Go make yours

This was his process, though there are many ways to go about this. Take what you need from his, combine it with others, and develop the philosophy that gives you life.

3 min​ read

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