Leadership Caffeine™: Strengthen Your Leadership Foundation

The best leaders in my opinion are guided by a strong sense of duty and responsibility. The individuals that succeed in motivating, inspiring and even changing the lives and careers of others operate with an underlying philosophical foundation that they draw upon to remain focused and steadfast in pursuing their daily activities.

Everyone else sort of wanders through the leadership woods, reacting more on instinct than acting as if they are being guided by a stronger sense of purpose and duty.

First-time leaders wander a great deal, often because they are thrust into the very difficult role of a leader without much more than a pat on the back and a disingenuous “let me know if you need any help.” Others get a two-day training class and a binder of materials that sit on the shelf in their offices for the next few years.

Mid-career leaders that survived those awkward first few years often settle into a pattern that includes guiding people on tasks and managing to minimize their own personal risk.

In both cases, the cost to our organizations is huge in real and in psychic terms. Floundering first-time leaders create tremendous disruption and take a significant toll on the unwitting victims around them. Mid-manager malaise sucks the energy and life out of a team and entire organizations, resulting in an employee culture where everyone seems to be walking around with their feet encased in concrete.

Unfortunately, I see far more concrete-encased teams and managers and floundering first-time leaders than those guided by a clear sense of duty and responsibility. I also hear from a lot of people that are caught up in those traps seeking a way out.

The good news is that many express a desire to change. First-time leaders would rather succeed than flail and a great number of people that have had the leadership life sucked out of them would like to renew and re-energize their careers.

One of the activities that I encourage those interested in changing and improving is to craft some form of personal philosophical statement that will guide and serve as a frequent reminder as to their true role. I have my own, and I call it The Leader’s Charter.

I’ve written about this before. It’s one of those topics and one of those important tools that bears repeating. The Charter helps remind me of my True North as a leader and allows me to align my priorities properly when I feel them drifting in the face of the urgent-unimportant. My version reads as follows:

Art’s Personal Leader’s Charter:

My primary role as a leader is to create an environment that:

Facilitates high individual and team performance against company and industry standards

Supports and promotes innovation in processes, programs and approaches

Encourages collaboration where necessary for objective achievement


Promotes the development of my associates in roles that leverage their talents and interests and that challenge them to new and greater accomplishments.

I developed this as a younger leader and refined it over time based on my own experiences…both the successes and the failures. The words are noble and the thoughts lofty, but every word and phrase has a very distinct meaning for me in my leadership life.

I anchor on creating the effective environment as a core priority; never lose track of the fact that my firm is looking for performance and innovation and last and most important of all, I remind myself that my highest and best use is to help others develop.

The Charter has served me well.

Perhaps you know someone that is earnest in their desire to improve and hungry for something that will give context to their activities as a leader. Encourage them or help them create their own Charter. Use mine or parts of mine if it fits, or create something new from the ground up.

And when you or they are finished, put the charter in a place of prominence to both remind you of your role and priorities but also to show others how you view your role and what they can expect from you as a leader.

The words are important but of course, they are the easy part. The real payoff comes in striving to live up to Your Leader’s Charter.

By |2016-10-22T17:12:06+00:00June 29th, 2009|Career, Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|8 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Wally Bock June 29, 2009 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Well, Art, it’s another one of those caffeine wake-ups. Establishing values and purpose are part of leadership work. A boss can’t communicate them if they don’t live them, but if they do, team members tend to line up to make them real.

  2. David Locke June 29, 2009 at 10:43 am - Reply

    That “Let me know if you need help” is seen as disingenuous, speaks loudly to the point of not leading. I tend to ask, “What do you need?” I do this often. I don’t expect them to come to me. It forces me to stay in touch. And, it forces me to do the thing that moves the question beyond the disingenuous. It forces me to deliver on their needs, to enable, to get out of the way.

    As a canoe instructor, I once stood ahead of a rock. When a canoe went by, I pushed so gently that the canoeists wouldn’t notice. You had to push it just enough that they didn’t do a head on into the rock. They didn’t notice, so they gained some confidence, and kept on canoeing.

    Likewise with Go players, and Tango followers, building confidence requires the weakest assist, consistent affirmation, and the constant push of further instruction.

    At some point in my life the difference between giving care and taking care was taught. To give care is to ask, to put the decision in the hands of the receiver. To take care is to do without asking with the inevitable result of diminishing the receiver. Our followers are decision makers, so let them decide. They should be communicators as well, so maybe they should ask for help, but it’s a hard thing to do, and a hard thing to teach.

    Shepard leaders cannot be disingenuous. Not being disingenuous depends on making it so. At times making it so won’t be easy, or rarely it might not be possible, but reshaping the world is the duty, as is getting it done at the moment of need. “So, do you have everything you need?”

  3. Monica June 29, 2009 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Love this post, Art! Your idea con creating a Charter especially resonates with me. We coach many new leaders and work with them to find meaningful purpose. It is so important that appointed leaders will really LEAD and not just follow perceived expectations. I share your vision on how new leaders or midlife leaders face this issue. Right on the mark, I think. As always, after reading this post I take away great reflections for my own leadership and for coaching others to lead.

    Monica (@monedays)

  4. Art Petty June 29, 2009 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Thanks all for taking time to read and comment!

    Wally, I truly wish I was as succinct as you in communicating my key points. You say in a few words what it takes me a paragraph to communicate!

    David, your thoughtful comment reads like its own very valuable blog post There is much wisdom in what you write and what you do. I love the canoe visual!

    Monica, your enthusiasm for great leadership practices always puts a smile on my face. Your clients are very fortunate to work with someone like you!



  5. Scott Booher June 29, 2009 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Art – another good post, I especially agree with the statement about managing to minimize personal risk – seems to be a significant problem in many larger organizations.

  6. Alex June 29, 2009 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post. I find that it is much more difficult to be a leader when there is no sense of duty and responsibility. When building up leaders, it’s so important to give them a sense of duty and responsibility so that their leadership foundation can be strong. Again, thanks for the post!

  7. Jeff Waneka October 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    With the inspirational assistance of Tom Peters, I created my leadership charter a decade ago and it’s been hanging over my door ever since. “Do Cool Shit, Every Damn Day, or Die Trying”. In a corporate environment that tends to smother one in policy, procedure and managing minutia, the biggest challenge for a new manager/leader can be doing the cool shit – important stuff. My list of cool shit is building customer relations, development of others, new innovation, enjoying my employee’s hobbies, giving feedback, etc. This charter clearly doesn’t have the refined clarity of Art’s definition, but it speaks volumns in the culture of this construction company and keeps me upbeat and focused when times get tough! Nobility and lofty thoughts typically hit a big wall when dealing with others around here, but a short phrase with layman’s language get’s everyone’s attention.

    • Art Petty October 15, 2012 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      Jeff, I love it! No ambiguity there. Thanks for sharing…you made my day! -Art

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