Why every leader needs their own manifesto

What do you stand for? If you were asked this question out of the blue, how would you answer? If you can’t articulate what you stand for, then how do you expect other people to recognise it?

It’s a constant challenge for leaders in every environment. It’s easy to explain strategies and plans, and perhaps not so difficult to explicate mission and values, but what really engages other people is a sense of connection with the human being behind them.

In our new book on organisational politics, I and my co-authors define politics as the skill of achieving goals through influence and explore the positive and negative ways those skills can be honed and used in the workplace. One of the lessons is that to exert influence for good, leaders first need to start with themselves. Before they attempt to promote a business mission, it’s important to be clear about their own mission – what is the positive difference they want to make to the world and why?

This is, in effect, a manifesto – a set of pledges to oneself and others. A manifesto sets out ambitions for change, knowing that they might not all be achieved but committing to devote attention, energy and resources to making them happen. The value of having a personal manifesto is firstly that it helps the leader to focus on what is truly important. It’s a defence against the constant distractions that lead us to waste time on urgent but less important things. Secondly, it provides a yardstick for other people to hold us to. Thirdly, the quality of conversation that we have with others around a manifesto is deeper, more humanly connected and more influential than the abstraction of corporate vision, mission and strategy. In short, getting personal with ourselves makes it easier for others to get personal with the political objectives we espouse.

The classic example of a powerful manifesto is Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”. That’s not a bad place to start in creating your own. A great manifesto has:

  • Passion – only by expressing your own excitement can you excite others
  • Clarity – it “parts the mist over the mountains”
  • Humility – it recognises that any achievements will happen because of collective commitment and action and that the leader has only a small part to play in galvanising these
  • Curiosity – an invitation for others to build upon the vision, adding to and enriching it.

If you are still unsure where to start with your manifesto, reflect on this: What is the most important legacy you wish to leave to the world? And what do you need to do to gather other people to participate in making that legacy a reality?

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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