Understanding Values in Leadership

Understanding Values in Leadership

Sharon Landes

Q: During the discussion of Model the Way, the conversation often turns to the distinctions between one's own values, the shared values of the group or the organization, and the Characteristics of Admired Leaders. How are they the same? How are they different? Why is it important to be paying attention to all three?

A: Borrowing from a favorite technique of Jim and Barry's, let's start with a look at definitions. Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary defines a value as "something regarded as desirable, worthy, or right; as a belief, standard, or moral precept." A characteristic, on the other hand, is defined as "a distinctive feature or trait."

Already a subtle difference is beginning to emerge. A value is about belief-something I, or we, choose-while a characteristic is an attribute, something that typifies the subject. In this case, the 'subject' is a Leader.

Of course, in the Characteristics of Admired Leaders research, people select the attributes they look for in leaders they'd willing follow, so there is a relationship between our values and what we admire. Hmmn?..

OK, let's go back to values: 'yours' and 'ours'. Personal values are those core precepts and beliefs that you hold dear. You decide what they are. You use them to guide your decisions and your actions-wherever you are and in whatever context you find yourself. As Noel Tichy frames the conversation, your personal values speak to the question, "Who am I?"

Shared values hold the same place for the group: in the ideal scenario, guiding all business and organizational decisions whatever the context. With shared values, we decide through dialogue and consensus at the relevant structural 'levels' of the group or organization. Shared values speak to the question, "Who are we?"

Two different questions: one personal, one for the group. Hopefully the answers offer enough 'overlap and fit' that we, as individuals, are comfortable in the organization and the organization is confident in us. Both are important.

The research methodology for the Characteristics of Admired Leaders offers another link between values, characteristics, and attributes: what we see is that the decision about what attributes to emulate has already been made for us, by thousands and thousands of people, validated again and again by workshop groups time after time. People, based on their personal set of beliefs and experience, choose seven characteristics they look for if they are to willingly follow someone. Then the results of those choices are tabulated and we look for those characteristics that were chosen by at least 50% of the individuals. No discussion, no consensus? rather a search for what will inspire "followership" in the most people.

As it turns out, the characteristics that rise to the top are important to many more than 50% of the people who have responded. In the most recent edition of The Leadership Challenge, 89% of research participants identified 'honesty' among the most important attributes of a leader, 'forward looking' was cited by 71%, 'inspiring' by 69%, and 'competent' by 68%. 'Intelligent' and 'fair-minded' ranked 48% and 39%, respectively.

So, it begins to look like the Characteristics of Admired Leaders research speaks to yet another question, "Where is the biggest bang for your leadership buck?" Or as I often think of it, if you want people to join with you willingly, the "price of entry" for leadership is that you must demonstrate the top four characteristics that are consistently chosen by the highest percentage of people.

Personal values . . . define you as a credible leader. Shared values ? set the direction for the business decisions we make. Characteristics of Admired Leaders ? inspire others to believe in us, hear us out, and follow our lead. Each is distinct, yet related, and all are critical components when we ask ourselves how we want to Model the Way.

Sharon Landes, a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, has been working with individuals and organizations around the world for over 25 years to help them clarify their core values and beliefs, develop their leadership, work effectively in teams, and advance their communication and relationship-building skills. Currently based in Berkeley, she can be reached at shlandes@comcast.net.


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