Updated: Oct 29, 2018
A leader without clearly defined values is unable to lead. When a leader's values are clearly defined, beneficial and relatable to the lives of his/her followers, and consistent with their behavior, Value-Based Leadership can occur.
Before I say anything about values and its pertinent importance to leadership, let's define what values are. There are way too many definitions, some of which are just ridiculous. So, for the purposes of this blog, lets define values in a manner that is clear and concise: Values are freely chosen convictions that convey to others the beliefs that are held in high regard and appreciation by an individual, which guide the behavioral pattern to be achieved in the now and the future, by that individual, in all aspects of their life, and if possible, by others in order to do what is right or good. In other words, values are those highly regarded beliefs that showcase what is important; the right and good things to do. Values showcase the ideal: The ideal situations that we want to find ourselves in; a person with the value, happiness, does not want to be in a situation where they are surrounded by people that are angry, or stressed, or in a business culture where stress is evident. In addition, values showcase the ideal character or characteristics of a group: a person that has the value, integrity, does not want to spend time or even converse with people that lie, cheat or steal, and a mother or father with this value, does not want their children to become accustomed to the actions of lying or stealing at a young age, due to the incongruence of these actions, in relation to integrity.
"The most important thing about leadership is the values that guide your life."
The overall goal of a person's values is to achieve a behavioral pattern which, over time, showcases the consequences of the pattern as a benefit to others. Essentially, every one of us wants the world to know that groups and/or cultures that have our ideology, can experience the benefits of our values. Leaders, especially, want this to be true in the lives of their followers. The reason people have values is that they believe that those values are beneficial to them. Parents share their positive values with their children because they believe positive values can act as a guiding principle for living a good life. A good life, not a bad one. Values cannot coexist with negativity: A person with a value that leads to a bad life, still believes that their value will lead them to a good life. Not everyone has the same definition of good. For example, a person with a negative value such as, "the world is a war zone, and only the strong survive" believes that being strong is important and provides him/her with unique benefits that can enable him/her to survive. Survival is the benefit. A person with a negative value such as, "anyone, other than myself, is untrustworthy" believes that not trusting others, can protect them from being cheated upon, lied to and betrayed. Protection is the benefit. Still not convinced? Okay, let's say a person has a negative value such as "life is meaningless." Surely there is no benefit to this value. Oh, but there is! An individual or group that has this value, inherently believes that taking a step back, doing nothing, not taking action or achieving goals is more valuable, provides more benefit than kicking goals and taking actions towards a betterment of life because life is meaningless. Giving up is the benefit.
"Values always, in one way or another, leads a person to living a good life, even if their definition of good is inherently flawed."
Now that you understand values, let's discuss the importance of values in leadership. The values that a leader has, is the compass, that showcases to the leader what actions they must take and what words they must say, in order to lead in a good way. Every leader has their own subconscious definition of good leadership, indicated by their own unique values. This is why we have a world filled with good leaders as well as, unfortunately, bad leaders. In my life, I have experienced both the goods and bads of leadership. Recently, I experienced a unique leadership flaw and truly got me thinking. The founder of a company pushed really hard to hire someone who was clearly lacking the requirements for the position. One specific manager expressed concern, stating "my gut says no, he is the not the right person for the job." The founder liked the person and wanted them in the company, and as a result, chose to ignore the manager's concern. After induction, the new employee made numerous mistakes for over nine months from the day of induction. Enough you would expect to not only get him fired but probably deported. Just kidding, but seriously. The same manager of the parent company expressed concern to the founder, again, reminding the founder of his initial gut feeling. The founder immediately disregarded the expressed concerns again and explicitly told the manager not to discuss the actions of the new employee ever again. The bad employee still remains employed in this firm. In this story, it is clear that the founder made a mistake by hiring the wrong person for the job. However, the founder also made the mistake of disregarding all concerns about the new employee' efforts in the role. The founder has the value, "emotive." Emotive being actions that are characterized by emotion. The founder believes that hiring someone that he likes will provide the most benefit to himself and the company. In other words, if we look at our definition, "to do what is right or good," it is clear that the founder believes, because his value is the compass, that hiring someone that he likes is the correct behavior to enable him to do what is right. As a result, no matter what anyone else says, he believes he has done the good and right thing, even if others do not believe that he has done what is good and right. It is clear that values are an important, and integral part of leadership. What a leader values is the compass that shows the leader what to do and say, consequently enabling a leader to attract followers that value what they value. For example, if the manager does not consider the value, emotive, in high regard, there will, without a shadow of a doubt, be times when there is friction between the founder and manager. A follower that is aware of values and its relevance and importance to leadership will make a choice to either persuade the founder to change their value (good luck!) or work at a company where he shares similar values with the boss. The values of a leader indicate to followers how they will lead, what they will do and even, the exact words they will say in specific situations.
"The CEO is not in charge of the company. The values are. If, at the end of our careers, we have not passed along positive values, we have abdicated our leadership role." Dave Logan
I recently visited a church in Adelaide and was astonished at the number of leadership flaws. The Pastor valued perfectionism to such a high regard, that white cords were not allowed when setting up the church band before the service. The cords had to be black because the floor was black. Everything had to be in its place. He was such a perfectionist that he never let anyone else have a chance to speak because he was uncertain about whether they will be able to deliver a speech to the congregation in a manner that is perfect. His value of perfectionism caused him to put in place unrealistic expectations and rules. So-called "leaders" had to be at the church building, three hours because the service began in order to set up, despite the fact that it takes no more than 25 minutes to set up. His value being "perfectionism allows me to do things well" caused him to believe that setting unrealistic expectations was an important part of leading others, in order to do things well. Doing things well being the benefit. I noticed over my time there, that everything could have been done to a great standard, 1.5 hours prior to the commencement of the service, however, his value of perfectionism clouded his judgment, and his followers began to question his leadership. The church reduced in numbers by 10% since my time there. The values of a leader should not cloud their judgment, it should enable them to do what is right in the eyes of followers. To avoid these leadership flaws in your life, you must understand what your values are. Make sure they are clearly defined. Once you clearly define your values, speak to your followers and ask them for their opinion of your values, and if you should, work on changing some of your values, because, as you have seen in the above two examples, not all values are seen as good in the eyes of others. Your definition of good values may be inherently flawed.
"The values of a leader should not cloud their judgement, it should enable them to do what is right in the eyes of followers."
When a leader' values are clearly defined, beneficial and relatable to the lives of his/her followers, and consistent with their behavior, Value-Based Leadership can occur. These three things must be done in order. First, a leader must have clearly defined values. Clearly defined values enable a leader to be decisive; decisions are made easier due to the clarity of values. For example, if one of my values is being a gentlemen, I am very decisive concerning my actions: I will open a door, take out a chair, walk someone to their car, assist in carrying something heavy, stand close to the curb when walking beside a busy road and be the last person to be served at a formal dinner. My values empower me to be decisive, with regard to my actions and words. When leaders lack clarity about their values, they lack decisiveness, and no one likes to follow someone who has no idea who they are. By having values, you are in perfect harmony with who you are; you know what drives you to be you. When you have clearly defined values, you are specific about who you lead because you understand who you are able to lead. For example, someone that values spirituality (believes in God or has an affiliation with a spiritual institution), is able to lead those that believe in God. An atheist will not follow someone that believes in God, and will instead condemn that person. A lot of leaders try to persuade someone to follow them. This is fine if you have Emotional Intelligence (EQ), but unfortunately, not all leaders do. Every leader should know the words of Benjamin Franklin - "a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still." My sister is a vegetarian and so are some of my friends. They have tried numerously, to convince me to stop eating meat, however, if you convince me against my will (my values), I will still have the same opinion. I value weightlifting and fitness, and as a result, am decisive about what I eat - I eat meat because it has lots of protein and iron in it. I recently had a vegetarian telling me that I can get the same amount of protein in vegetables as in meat. I honestly was giggling inside. On the USDA's Nutrition Database, it states that 100 grams broccoli has 2.82 grams of protein; kale has 2.92 grams; spinach has 2.86 grams. 100 grams of steak has 34 grams. Steak has 12 times more protein than vegetables, so sorry vegetarians, but eating only vegetables goes against one of my values. Vice versa as well - vegetarians value the treatment of animals, and comparison of themselves to the lives of pigs, and as a consequence, they are decisive about what they eat and choose not to eat meat. I don't follow anyone that is a vegetarian, and I'm sure that vegetarians find it hard to follow a meat eater. Share your values - put it out there and let people make up their mind to follow you. There are plenty of people out there with the same values as you and that is why it is important to know what your values are.
"When leaders lack clarity about their values, they lack decisiveness, and no one likes to follow someone who has no idea who they are or where they’re going."
Second, a leader' values must be beneficial, and relatable to the lives of his/her followers. After the leader has clearly defined their values, they will have the ability to set in place boundaries for followers. This is an important part of relationships: every relationship is defined and preserved by boundaries, as well as a leader-follower relationship. A married couple understands that their hearts are dedicated to each other; they understand that their hearts cannot be shared with someone else, outside of the boundaries of their love for each other. They made promises to one another when they got married. Their love toward each other is a value in their lives, and that value places certain boundaries in place, to anchor the love, despite the waves that may come in contact with their love boat. It's the same with leadership, and leader's influence over their followers; a great leader will have such anchored and unchanging values that specific boundaries are clarified. Every leader should have specific ethical and moral boundaries that are of benefit to those who they lead, not just of benefit to them. With both the founder and the pastor, their values were of benefit to them, and not to those they were leading. The question every leader must ask is, are my values benefiting those who I lead or are my values confusing them? The values that a leader has attracts followers that have the same values. If you are not a perfectionist, you will not appreciate arriving at a venue three hours beforehand, just to make sure that everything is perfect. If you are not emotive, you will not appreciate a leader that makes an emotional decision that is logistically flawed. A follower that values family, but doesn't value boldness will be attracted to the guidance of a leader that values family and is timid. However, if that leader suddenly becomes bold, the follower may just choose to leave, unless the leader is able to persuade the follower to change, or vice versa. Values are the magnets in play between followers and leaders; every value attracts and every value detracts. The question every leader must ask is, who is their ideal follower? And the way to answer that question, is to ask, what is my values?
"Values are the magnets in play between followers and leaders; every value attracts, and every value detracts."
Third, a leader's clearly defined values must be consistent with their behavior. When a leader' actions are congruent with their values, they are able to be themselves - in this moment, a leader is able to be authentic. Value congruence is the extent to which a behavior is consistent with a value. Let's say that one of your values is family, value congruence occurs when you are spending time with your family and providing for them on a continuous basis. When you are not able to spend time with your family and provide for them, you experience value incongruence; a state where a leader loses their influence over followers and is more likely to lose their sense of purpose and to procrastinate. The reason a leader may lose influence over their followers is because at this point, a leader is not able to lead their own lives, and when a leader is not able to do this, how can they lead others?
To achieve value-based leadership, the above three things need to occur, in order. The first step, having clearly defined values is all about understanding oneself, in order to lead oneself. You cannot use something you do not understand, nor can you follow someone you do not know. At this point, we ask ourselves, who we are and what we stand for. These are important considerations. We cannot expect our followers to know who we are if we do not know who we are, and we cannot expect them to know what we stand for if we do not know what we stand for. When leaders skip this first essential step, followers often misunderstand the why behind the what of a leader; a leader does things that people don't expect, leaving them confused and often, even misguided. Sometimes, the presence and non-verbal cues of a leader can communicate an unintended message. Many times, the values that someone has control their non-verbal cues. Think about it - someone that values same-sex marriage shows disgust on their face when they find that someone actually disagrees with them. A vegetarian might show disgust, without even trying to, to someone that eats meat. A leader that values time management, may non-verbally, show discontent with the actions of an incoherent follower that lacks time management.
"You cannot use something you do not understand, nor can you follow someone you do not know."
The second step, beneficial and relatable values, is all about relevance. If your values do not benefit a follower, they will not follow you, because your leadership is not relevant to their life. How can I say that, if your values do not benefit, your leadership doesn't either? Simple, because your values are a compass that shows you how to lead, remember? For example, I don't follow Malcolm Turnbull - just because he is the prime minister of Australia does not mean that I follow him. He doesn't communicate verbally or non-verbally my values, and therefore, I choose not to follow him. Why would I follow someone that does not value what I value? We vote for people that value what we value. I love Donald Trump though because we share similar values, especially those concerning Christianity, and if he was my prime minister here in Australia, I would follow him. If an employee values community, he/she will choose a lower wage position at a firm that has the same value and establishes a community/family culture rather than a firm, that pays double the wage but doesn't value community. That employee will choose to follow community-driven leadership, rather than results-focused leadership, date someone that wants to start a family etc. Get my drift? Value relevance is very important.
"If your values do not benefit a follower, they will not follow you, because your leadership is not relevant to their life."
The third step, value congruency is all about integrity. Its all good and well having clearly defined goals and being relevant to your followers, but, that is all meaningless if you do not have integrity. Will you behave in a way that is consistent with your values, those highly regarded beliefs that showcase what is important; the right and good things to do. You may not verbally communicate what your values are, but the reality is that you don't have to. People can see what your values are simply by having a conversation with you and seeing the things you do on a daily basis. I met this guy at a business event, and he had a few too many alcoholic beverages, and because of this one mistake, I knew exactly what his values was, and will never follow him because of that one interaction. He told me stories about how he treats women, indicating to me that he was not a gentleman. Now, imagine if one of his values is being a gentleman, and he made that mistake, sharing his stories of being a womanizer. That one night of value incongruency could cost him his leadership. There is a lesson to be learned there - one mistake can redefine your leadership capacity. Leadership is a big deal and requires alertness concerning our words and actions. Values are communicated by us all the time, without us even trying to do it. A few months ago, someone I know shared some investment advice with me, and I chose to ignore his leadership completely; I knew that he doesn't value learning - doesn't read self-help books etc. His action of sharing advice did not match up with his values, or lack thereof, and as a result, I chose to ignore his advice completely.
"Our value as a leader is the combined strength of our values."
What are your values? Take that list of values and speak to your closest family members and friends, and ask them to write down what they believe your values are. You might get some surprises, or you may not. Hopefully, you don't.
Here is a list of examples you can choose from, but there are many more out there:
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