“I pledge allegiance, to the flag . . .”
If you are an American reading this, you likely finished “the pledge” in your head – perhaps before you even read this line.
Why is that?
Partly due to repetition. If you are of a certain age, you recited this daily at school, and because of that repetition it is ingrained in your mind. But it is also likely remembered because you believe in the words, and they mean something (important) to you. (Before I move on to our pledges, if you want to read an inspiring story about the importance and value of that pledge, read this.)
I’m suggesting that you create a leadership pledge, and am giving you a process to help you start creating it.
Why Have a Leadership Pledge?
Ask people what they want from a leader and consistency and clear principles will always be on the list. People want a leader who knows what is important, and shows that to their team. People want to know where they stand and why the actions being taken and the decisions being made exist. When these are clear, understood and consistent, it is far easier to follow someone.
So what lesson does this hold for us as leaders?
We must know what matters to us, what we believe in and what we value. Only when these things are crystal clear to us can they guide us each day and become clear to our teams too. In short, the most effective and most influential leaders lead from their values.
One way to clarify these important things for ourselves is to put them into a personal leadership pledge. (While I am discussing a personal pledge, a pledge could be created with and for a team or organization, gaining the same benefits more broadly, but that is another article).
A pledge is a solemn promise. Creating your leadership pledge is creating and solidifying a promise to yourself; to lead in the way you believe to be most effective, to lead in a way that is in alignment with your views and beliefs about the world, and to lead based on your values and principles.
Being a leader is hard work, and is even harder when you take it seriously. Creating a leadership pledge pushes you to a higher personal standard, a standard that benefits you, those you lead, the organization you lead in, and ultimately the world.
This is heady stuff, important stuff, and that is why I urge you to consider creating one.
If you are nodding your head in agreement, wanting to be a more effective leader and lead more consistently from your values, you have accepted the challenge. Now, it is time to create your leadership pledge.
How to Write Your Leadership Pledge
Now that you have made the decision, here’s how to get to an actual pledge. Start with some paper, your journal, or if you must, a new word processing document. Free write, brainstorm and capture your ideas on the following questions:
- What do I believe about people?
- Why do I want to lead?
- How do I want to contribute?
- What are my deepest held values?
- How do those values connect to my leadership actions?
- How do I want others to describe me as a leader?
I could give you twice that many questions, but that is enough to get you started. Feel free to add your own once you get started.
Answer the questions, then set it all aside. Let your subconscious start to work on what you wrote and what you thought about. Then, a day or two later, come back to your work and reread it all.
- What would you add?
- What needs to be clearer?
- How would you say it differently?
Now you are starting to edit, but you aren’t creating the pledge itself yet. After reviewing your ideas again, now you can start writing statements.
Take the key ideas from what you wrote, the commonalities that you find across your answers, and begin to create your pledge – your solemn promise to yourself. Give this time too – a couple (or more) passes will likely be needed.
Remember this pledge is for you, not for publication or distribution – these are your words to yourself, a powerful part of your own leadership development. Given this, there are no “right” or “correct” pledges; there are no formats you must follow. The mark of a good leadership pledge is that when you read it, or say it, it creates a feeling, a sense of empowerment and reverence, and perhaps even some goosebumps. When you have a set of statements that gives you that feeling, you have your pledge.
Once it is finished you have done something few leaders have done – you have set out a clear picture of how you want to lead, and how you will commit to leading as your best self. Now that you have this pledge, review it and read it often. Ideally it will become ingrained in your head, like the pledge of allegiance might be to you.
Clearly, this isn’t something you will write today or in an hour – if you are moved to take my suggestion, recognize that it requires some time, thought and reflection. The thought put into it will be as valuable as the words you select when you are finished.