What Are Your Non-Negotiables?

Creating your leadership philosophy is challenging work.  Your philosophy shouldn’t be rhetorical, but something that serves as tenets to live by, expectations of behaviors and performance, and a guide for decision-making.  These tenets could be considered your “non-negotiables,” or the behaviors and actions that you expect from your team and from yourself – always.

A recent edition of Brain Pickings, an online newsletter that is described as “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more,” shared some words to live by from the poet Jane Kenyon. If you think for a moment about the inspiration and focus needed to write, paint or create music, for example, a strong inner voice is critical to how you show up in the world in your work. (People who have this type of creative capacity always inspire me.)

Jane Kenyon kept her “words to live by” on a piece of paper in full view of where she created her poetry to remind herself of what she was committed to doing and who she was committed to being as a poet and a writer:

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours. “

As a leader, if you know what your words to live by are, or what you would consider non-negotiable, imagine how much easier it would be for you to stay focused and develop priorities, delegate work and stay in important conversations, and clearly communicate expectations.  Imagine how much easier it would be to assess how well you are meeting your expectations. 

A client of mine once expressed that it really gets under her skin when people don’t follow up or follow through on what they commit to do. She soon uncovered her own habit of not effectively modeling this behavior herself, an “ah-ha!” moment that served as the beginning for setting a new expectation with her team. She changed her systems to track the commitments of her team and of herself, and in so doing, learned to over-commit less and follow through more. By making consistent follow-through one of her personal non-negotiables, she was able to effectively communicate her expectations to those around her.

Here’s a hint – if something gets under your skin when others do not behave to your expectations, ask yourself:

  • Have I clearly expressed my expectations around this behavior? Is it something that is non-negotiable for me?
  • Do I model this behavior, or is this something that I struggle with as well?
  • Am I seeing or interpreting situations in a way that might need to change, and what actions am I willing to take to change the outcomes?

Taking the time to create your short list of non-negotiables, or tenets to lead/live by, will help you become more consistent, productive and focused as a leader, and your followers will also be more successful in taking actions and achieving results.