Values based leadership is the practice of leading individuals and organizations from a set of shared core moral values embodied in the leader’s behavior and the organization’s processes, products, and services.
I have always been fascinated with the study of leadership, particularly what constitutes effective leadership. I have read countless books on the subject with the purpose of improving my understanding of leadership and ameliorating my personal leadership philosophy. I can humbly say that I am well acquainted with various leadership philosophies, ranging from the older traditional models to the more contemporary models of today. Hence, I was not sure if I was going to learn anything new from this course but nonetheless took it because it pertained to a subject that really peaked my interest.
The first half of class undoubtedly taught me a lot, considering it was the first time I was exposed to the four frames model. Unsurprisingly, when we shifted emphasis to the study of effective leadership in the second half of class, I found that most of the concepts were familiar. However, that is not to say that I did not learn anything new because I certainly did. My focus will be on examining two newly learned concepts from the book The Trusted Leader, authored by Terry Newell, Grant Reeher and Peter Ronayne. The first concept is the merits of values-based leadership; and, the second is the importance of self-awareness to effective leadership.
What is Values-Based Leadership?
Leadership is a word that is often tossed around loosely, with little consideration as to what it truly means and what it entails. To preface values-based leadership, allow me to touch on something that was repeatedly brought up during class discussions – the “charismatic” leader. The predominant culture today idolizes the “charismatic” leader; the type of leader who possesses a larger than life persona and carries a certain appeal that attract followers in droves. Think Martin Luther King, Oprah Winfrey, John F. Kennedy, Steve jobs – all individuals whom fit this bill.
These individuals embodied leadership and all have made great contributions to the betterment of society, and humanity at large. They exemplified leadership in all of its facets, and the legacies they left still permeate current leadership discourse. But unbeknownst to them, the leadership style that many attribute to them has relegated the core tenet of leadership to be equated exclusively to that of a “charismatic” leader, an unintended consequence that has inhibited societies understanding of true leadership. When we confine leadership to the “charismatic” leader, we are doing a disservice to the many leaders who may not necessarily fit that mold, but nonetheless embody leadership in other ways. Moreover, we are also doing a disservice to the general concept of leadership, relegating it to a singular axiom that is absent of nuance and gradation.
The truth is, leadership is not monolithic – in it rest numerous attributes that vary in breadth, depending on a multitude of factors ranging from social, political and cultural considerations, to name a few.
Does Values Based Leadership Constitute Effective Leadership?
As a public administrator and an aspiring leader, being wholly cognizant of society’s infatuation with the “charismatic” leader, I’ve embraced the tall task of trying to redefine leadership, in an effort to acclimate future leaders to the evolving global landscape. Ideally, this begins with drawing a dichotomy between leadership and effective leadership, a contrast that was brought up repeatedly in our class discussions. For long, this distinction was not made; anybody who cogently displayed leadership behavior was crowned a “leader”. The two were treated as mutually exclusive – that is, one could not be considered a leader unless one was an effective leader.
The truth is, one can be a leader but lack the merits to be considered an effective leader. Effective leadership extends beyond the bounds of charismatic leaders who can galvanize followers by virtue of their alluring personas. Likewise, effective leadership is not limited to individuals who can accumulate flocks of followers. By those metrics, John Doe is an effective leader. Clearly, he has assembled legions of loyal followers and has certainly found great success in rallying them effectively around his cause. He has demonstrated great leadership abilities, single-handedly recalibrating the trajectory of the Republican Party, in spite of massive opposition. He was brought up several times during our class discussions yet we never considered him an effective leader – why?
This fundamental question underscores the chasm between leadership and effective leadership: clearly being a competent leader (in the traditional sense) does not necessarily translate to being an effective leader. Based on that premise, the question that naturally follows is what then constitutes an effective leader? The short answer is an effective leader is one who operates within a values based framework.
A Closer Look at Values Based Leadership
Values based leadership is, “…the practice of leading individuals and organizations from a set of shared core moral values embodied in the leader’s behavior and the organization’s processes, products, and services (Newell, Reeher and Ronayne 22).”
Though the authors’ definition makes mention of leadership as it relates to individuals and organizations, this theory was more applicable to my understanding of leading individuals. As such, that will be my focus. As a little boy, I was always wary of authority figures and highly skeptical of any leader that was heaped with praise. As I got older, I began judging leaders predominantly on the basis of their values, particularly how they espouse those values in the decisions they make.
Today, I wholeheartedly believe that an effective leader is one who does not stray outside his or her moral parameters, irrespective of the consequences. To me, an effective leader is one who is principled and does not shy away when attempts are made to undermine those very principles. I was very pleased to see this concept formally articulated in the book because it reinforced what I’ve always believed and further enhanced my understanding of effective leadership.
Prior to reading this book, I had a general, abstract understanding of this theory. Having read the book, I now have a more formal and encompassing understanding.
The theory of values based leadership really resonates with me because I believe it is an indispensable component to effective leadership. These are but two examples of many. It is very fitting to use Trump as an example because his leadership serves as a microcosm to the fundamental problem that I alluded to earlier: the failure to discern leadership from effective leadership. Trump is certainly a leader, but far from an effective one.
Effective Leadership Starts with Self Awareness
The second concept from The Trusted Leader that really resonated with me was the discussion on self-awareness and how essential it is for effective leadership. Whereas the concept of values based leadership helped enhance my outlook on effective leadership, this concept carried more practical implications that affected me on a daily basis. Before I proceed, let me give you some background information on my personal struggles to help orient you with why this concept struck such a chord with me. Since childhood, I was deemed insensitive and coldhearted by many, family and friends included. Minor disagreements seemed to always escalate into heated confrontations, and the blame was always placed on me. I never understood why people characterized me that way, particularly because I considered myself to be very compassionate and warmhearted. I cannot begin to even tell you how many times the phrase, “…do you even hear what you’re saying,” was asked of me during those heated confrontations. And each time, I left puzzled; unable to fathom what it was that I said that could elicit such a rebuke.
As a coping mechanism, I began isolating myself to avoid these confrontations. I really felt like something was wrong with me and that bothered me immensely. This has been an ongoing problem for me; just recently, I got in a spat with my Executive Director that did not end well. Long story short, he accused me of being unappreciative and insensitive. Again, I was left perplexed; I was absolutely baffled by the extent he could go to misconstrue my words to come to such a misguided conclusion. In hindsight, the problem was that I lacked self-awareness.
A few weeks ago, I came across the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and took the self-assessment online – I was bored and did not think much of it. Lo and behold, after taking the test and reading my results, everything began to make sense. The detail to which my personality type described left me in awe and that is an understatement. I turned out to be an INTP, a personality type that is so logic-driven that it overrides any emotional considerations. Specifically, “INTP personalities get so caught up in their logic that they forget any kind of emotional consideration – they dismiss subjectivity as irrational and tradition as an attempt to bar much-needed progress. Purely emotional situations are often utterly puzzling to INTPs, and their lack of timely sympathy can easily offend (“INTP Strengths and Weaknesses”).” Moreover, “People with the INTP personality type take pride in their knowledge and rationale, and enjoy sharing their ideas, but in trying to explain how they got from A to B to Z, they can get frustrated, sometimes simplifying things to the point of insult as they struggle to gauge their conversation partners’ perspective (“INTP Strengths and Weaknesses”).” It was only after examining my results that I realized there was not anything inherently wrong with me. Rather, my brain was wired in such a way that makes me overlook emotional considerations, essentially desensitizing me of emotional connections. I mention this personal experience because it underscores the importance of self-awareness to not only being an effective leader, but a generally good person as well.
The author sums up self-awareness to mean, “…being conscious of what you’re good at while acknowledging what you still have yet to learn (Newell, Reeher and Ronayne 54).” I was well versed on my strengths and weaknesses, or at least I thought I was. It was not until I took the Myers-Brigg assessment that it dawned on me that maybe I’m not as self-aware as I thought myself to be. Prior to taking the assessment, I duly believed I had myself all figured out. Despite my struggles to connect with people, I chalked it up to being misunderstood. And although I’ve always acknowledged that there is a lot I do not know, I’ve rarely extended that foresight to encompass contemplating what I’ve yet to learn about myself. As a result, the lack of self-awareness placed onto me undue burdens that could have been otherwise avoided. As an aspiring leader, I now understand the importance of self-awareness and the immense benefits it parlays. After reading up on my personality type, a sense of urgency kicked in to really dig deep and introspectively examine myself. This is an ongoing internal process that I must always remain mindful of. I am now of the belief that an effective leader is one who constantly hones their skills and abilities and that begins with being self-aware.
Final Thoughts: Values Based Leadership IS Effective Leadership!
I believe the latter half of this course presented useful knowledge that has contributed to my understanding of leadership. But equally as valuable, was the participation and input of my fellow classmates. I truly appreciated having a diverse group of classmates that each brought with them unique perspectives that were shaped by their own personal experiences. The material was beneficial, but it was everyone’s personal contributions that really brought the material to life. So although a sizable portion of the material was familiar to me, listening to everyone’s unique takes on it was not. Hence, I got a lot out of this class by virtue of listening attentively to everyone’s input. Overall, the latter half of this class dramatically increased my fascination with leadership. I’ve since decided to focus my attention on effective leadership as opposed to leadership in general. The truth is, we do not need more leaders in this world, we need more effective leaders. We need more values based leaders. That distinction really stuck with me and I owe that to the readings and our class discussions.