How To Write A Powerful Personal Leadership Manifesto


A personal leadership manifesto comes into its own when the going gets tough.

When your back's against the wall, do you know how you'd answer these questions?

  • What do you stand for?
  • Who or what would you die in a ditch to defend or protect? 
  • How will you know if it’s time to go?

This matters because not everything you do as a leader works. There are times when you’ll be sorely tested – maybe unfairly.

These are the moments when it’s likely you’ll feel maximum stress. My post What Is Stress Management About? will help you if you're currently under the hammer.

I’ve found that having a personal leadership manifesto makes these situations easier to handle.

A personal manifesto is a document you write for yourself. I keep mine in Devonthink. I know it’s there whenever I need to remind myself what I stand for and what I believe in.

Whenever I’m really tested I can open it and see what really matters to me.

What you stand for, what you will and won’t accept and where your bottom line is, are massively empowering things to understand.

You define them – and you therefore have the power to act on them.

Here are six simple steps you can take to build your own personal leadership manifesto.

How To Create Your Personal Leadership Manifesto

1. Know Your Why

Your 'why' is how you answer fundamental questions like these.

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Why are you a leader at all?
  • What do you want your leadership to be about?

Your 'why' is the reason you became a leader. Take a look below the surface and be really honest with yourself. It doesn’t matter what ’s there as long as you’re honest about it.

Here’s a list of five example 'why’s' to get you started.

  • I want to run my own ship so I can use my experience and test what I’ve learnt.
  • I strongly believe I have something important to offer this organisation (say what is important to you).
  • I believe in what this organisation is trying to do or become and I want to help it get there (be specific about what that purpose is).
  • I like and respect the people who work in my team and I want to deliver on their potential to do good.
  • I like the sound of being called CEO (I don’t recommend this one).
  • One word of caution – be extra careful if you write something with the word “should” in it. A should is often someone else's why. Your 'why's' really have to be your own.

    Whatever your 'why’s' are, write them down and keep them somewhere.

    When you’re tested you might find the courage you need by reminding yourself of your 'why'.

    2. Be Clear About Your Personal Bottom Line

    In the months leading up to a crucial board meeting, my organisation had met all it’s key targets each month for a year. 

    Two weeks before the meeting I was told there’d an administrative error – a cohort of patients had been offered dates for surgery out of turn and we would fail to hit our target for the first time in over a year.

    I was asked if I’d agree with a re-scheduling of patients so we’d continue our twelve-month run.

    After a moment’s thought, I realised the answer was clear. Of course, we shouldn’t re-schedule – we’d made the patients a promise that must be kept. 

    Whenever you make a decision, you're always saying yes to something and no to something else.

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    We’d face up to what happened knowing we were doing the right thing. In difficult situations, there is always a right thing to do.

    That’s why I think it’s vital to know your personal bottom line.

    3. Have A Personal Credo

    • What are your values?
    • What really matters to you?
    • What are your most important beliefs?

    As a leader, what you say and do communicates who you are. People watch leaders carefully because they want to know what kind of leader you are.

    Write down what you believe and keep checking to make sure it holds up under pressure.


    1. I believe healthcare organisations should be clinically led and well managed.
    2. I trust people to do the right thing and I will make it easier for this to be the way our organisation works.
    3. I believe that mutual professional respect is a non-negotiable requirement for patient safety.
    4. I commit myself to continuously improving the way my organisation works so it can be as good as possible.
    5. When trouble comes I will deal with facts as they really are not as I’d like them to be.
    6. I can always do things better and I will always learn from my mistakes.
    7. In my organisation, I want discipline thought and disciplined action.
    8. I keep my promises.
    9. I will ask people to use three simple rules to decide whether they are ‘allowed’ to do something:
      1. Will it make us proud?
      2. Is what I’m proposing to do safe?
      3. Am I proposing to spend someone’s money without asking them first?
    10. I will always back people who follow these rules.

    Here’s how to take action on your personal leadership credo.

    • Spend some time deciding what your own version is and then write it down.
    • Talk with your team and staff about what matters to you whenever the opportunity arises.
    • Make sure your actions are consistent with your words.

    4. Make Sure To Focus Your Time, Energy, Attention

    A CEO I greatly admired once said to me:

    "The main reason Directors get fired is that they fail to put the necessary resources in place to do the job they must do".

    I’m not suggesting you create a feather bed or that you order a suite of Italian designer furniture for your office. What matters is that you work out how to deal with what David Allen (affiliate link) ’stuff’ (emails, paper, phone calls etc).

    I heartily recommend this book if you've not read it yet.

    The last thing you need is to find yourself wondering if your stuff is being handled effectively. 

    Talk to your PA, consider appointing a business manager, organise your own system, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Do decide how you want all this to work and then ensure you have a system that will never break and which you will always trust.

    As a leader, your most important work is to do the job that you and only you can do. Don’t waste your time, energy or attention on anything else.

    5. Put In Place Adequate Personal Support

    Ever faced any of these situations?

    • Disappointing other members of the team.
    • Facing something very difficult or even frightening.
    • Not knowing which way to go.
    • Doubting yourself.
    • Being confused.
    • Dealing with frustration.
    • Feeling under pressure to deliver.
    • Stepping into the unknown.

    Leadership’s sometimes a lonely place. You’re no longer just one of the team: you’re their leader. Commit to building a network of support that can pull you through the tough times.

    Here’s a list of four types of support you can set up.

    1. A mentor: someone you respect with whom you can discuss the various challenges you are facing.
    2. A coach: who may be able to assist you with acquiring a new approach, thinking style, strategy or personal insight.
    3. A peer support network: a trouble shared is a trouble halved. Well perhaps not quite, but it is certainly helpful to know that you’re not on your own. A friendly colleague may also have something that might help.
    4. Expert facilitation: there will be occasions when you judge the team or a circumstance may need a little help in moving things forward. Remember that it is hard to be a profit in your own land – every now and then people might need to hear it from someone else.

    Make sure you don’t have to face your biggest tests alone. Other people have been in similar situations and survived.

    6. Final Word

    You’ve got a big job, maybe one you’ve wanted for a long time. That’s great. What’s next?

    Here are three final points to add to your personal leadership manifesto.

    1. Take the job seriously, not yourself.
    2. Find a way to make work fun.
    3. Enjoy the privilege of being a healthy leader.
    Have you got a personal leadership manifesto?