What’s My Value? How Values Affect Leadership

Initially posted on March 24, 2016. For more information visit kirkrandazzo.com


For the past few weeks, I have been commenting on some fundamental aspects of leadership (see posts from here, and here). However, these comments do not really help individuals begin their leadership journey. Often, when I offer leadership seminars and workshops I get this exact question – How do I begin?

This post hopefully will shed some light and address the question. One of the first places all of us need to look is to our individual values.

values definition pic

So what exactly are these things? Well, one definition that I think works well is the following: Values are “enduring beliefs about how things should be accomplished.” I like this definition because it includes several different levels of values that all individuals encounter.

At the most basic level, we all have our individual values. These are our core principles and beliefs that we develop over time. As such, they are likely to change as we encounter new experiences. For example, some of the values I held when I was 20 are different than the ones I cherish now at the age of 44. Why? Because I changed over those 24 years. I now have a wife and two children. I have also completed additional college degrees (including a Ph.D.) that have opened up new experiences. All of these have affected who I am as an individual and what I consider my core values.

At the next level, we encounter values that are part of the group/team. They serve as the core values for these organizations and are sometimes referred to as the ‘corporate culture’ of that group. Every organization relies on shared values in order to develop its reputation and brand. And, it is likely that some of these group values will change over time as new individuals come into the organization and become leaders. Additionally, group values can change as the organization moves into new contexts or environments. For example, examine the ‘corporate culture’ of a company like Apple. When it first emerged the company focused solely on developing computers and possessed values associated with that endeavor. However, over time the company evolved and eventually moved into areas of music, phones, tablets and other technologies. While this change in focus occurred some of the company’s group values evolved as well and Apple used these changes to help foster its new brand/reputation.

The final level involves values that reflect society. These principles become the foundations of our community identity. Examine any community – from small neighborhoods, to towns and cities, to states and countries – and you will find social norms that help define the communal identity. Similar to the first two levels, these societal values can change over time as well – often influenced by communal changes and new environmental contexts. For example, examine the United States in 1790 as the country was trying to establish itself in the world and compare those societal values to the U.S. now as the world’s last remaining superpower. While some of the core values remain consistent, many have evolved over time and adapted to these new contexts.

So how are values related to leadership and why are they important? Well, fundamentally, values define who we are as individuals. This in turn helps us develop credibility, provided we remain consistent in our values. Only through continuously demonstrating our core values can we begin to earn the respect and trust from our team members. Over time, this credibility, respect, and trust will translate into our team becoming more willing to follow our lead.

Therefore, in order to begin our journey toward becoming a better leader we need to first examine who we are and what values we hold dear. Because if we do not know ourselves, how can we expect to understand others? In the book The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner the first chapter of their leadership theory is Model the Way. This involves leading by example, based on consistently demonstrating core values. As these authors indicate, once someone compromises on his/her core beliefs it sends a signal to the team that the individual cannot be trusted. And, lack of trust from your team is the death of effective leadership.



Author: Kirk Randazzo

I am a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Carolina Leadership Initiative at the University of South Carolina. I also conduct public presentations on a variety of aspects related to leadership, conflict management, and public speaking.

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