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Values Based Leadership

 “Values based leadership will enhance individual, team and organisational performance”.

True North

‘Great!  Let’s get some values and strap them to our vision/mission statement and ‘Bingo’ we’re demonstrating that we are at the cutting edge of organisational maturity by empowering our people’.  Simple isn’t it?

Actually, it’s not difficult, and values can be a real game changer, but only if you understand their abstract nature, how they are tied to emotion, and, why they significantly influence our motivation to succeed.  This blog explores connections between values and leadership; or the ability to go beyond issuing a list of laminated ‘values’, to a culture where people are motivated to “Do the right thing on a difficult day and when nobody’s watching”.  This culture is rarely achieved by ‘The Leadership’ alone, it requires ‘The Leadership’ to allow ‘leaders’ to influence through values based ‘leading’.

Engaging people in ethical, values driven, ‘leading’ is not only desirable, it’s essential.  In the Information age, we all seek meaning in our lives, and have greater responsibility to achieve a satisfying and effective work/life balance.  Our networked systems have increased our choices; have raised our self-awareness, and the realisation of our need to achieve ethical sustainability, both in our relationships with people and our husbandry of resources.  ‘Response-ability’ and authority to act is no longer the remit of ‘The Leadership’, but of ‘leaders’ at all levels, whose agile response-ability embraces change, explores new possibilities and maintains a competitive and sustainable edge.  ‘Leading’ influence can be accessible to anyone who sees the opportunity to take the initiative and act, guided by shared ethical values, if organisational culture allows them to lead.

So how does values based leadership enhance performance?

Quality decisions are influenced by values, often unconsciously, (gut-feeling – conceptual models). Our values go deep, they reflect integrated dynamic systems, reflecting our beliefs and those of our cultural norms; they are however, abstract guiding ideals rather than tangible behaviours.  Universal human values include for example: security, stimulation, belonging and achievement.  On a day-to-day, or ‘Operational’ basis they might include efficiency, compassion, empathy or concern.  Values are not task orientated statements e.g., “We will put the customer’s needs at the centre of everything”, nor are they strap line representations of the organisations vision e.g., “To produce world class widgets”.  As abstract emotional ideals, values influence people to lead appropriately and flexibly, based on their moral identity, ‘leading’ instinctively, without needing management authorisation.

Values inform our attitudes and ultimately, therefore how we behave in relation to our perceived authenticity and self-image or that of our cultural (organisational) norms.  How we choose to act both at home and in our working lives will reflect our authentic value-system.  However where values are imposed or inauthentic, there is a lack of value congruence and as a result, a lack of effort in action.  In short, where people have internalised and taken ownership of the shared values, they will be motivated to succeed beyond the expected norms and it will feel ‘Right’. A common issue here is whether people’s personal values should be similar to their working values.  The simple answer is yes, because wherever there is dissonance between value sets there will be a lack of personal harmony leading to a lack of commitment and it will feel ‘Wrong’.  It’s helpful, therefore, if organisations can clearly articulate their values when recruiting new people.  Organisations cannot however, expect new people to arrive with personal values exactly matching their cultural norm, which is why the process of values transformation and values internalisation is an empirically proven outcome of values based leadership.

How are values internalised and owned?  Traditionally, people are presented with organisational values following an ‘Away Day’ by the ‘The Leadership’ rather than the more desirable product of a dialogue across the organisation.  A shared dialogue with ‘The Leadership’ providing the moral and ethical identity, engages ‘leaders’ at all levels and promotes trust and a psychological contract is formed. This creation of trust in the authenticity of ‘The Leadership’ is the foundation of high performance interdependent teams.  That said, the role of senior people in shaping organisational value systems should not be underestimated; values (and our resulting conceptual models) are the result of experiential learning, from failure and success, reflecting cultural ‘True North’ or organisational ‘Good’.  Once there is an agreed value set, it is critically important that the ‘The Leadership’ ‘communicates’ the values by living them in everyday decision making, role modelling ‘Good’ as an example for everyone to aspire to.

In addition to values based decisions, everyone can performance profile their ‘leading’ against the shared value system of their organisation and indeed their own personal value set.  Values can be mapped across to day-to-day ‘leading’ (performance goals) to confirm congruence with organisational ‘Good’, these competencies presenting an opportunity to assess individual, team and organisational performance.

The Leadership’ adopts a coach/mentor approach to managing individuals and teams.  The organisation’s values act as inspirational stretch goals, ideals that because of their abstract nature will never be fully achieved, whilst ‘leading’ behaviour can be agreed and measured as SMART performance goals, or competencies, not least in Personal Development Reviews.  The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) National Decision Making Model is a great example of applied values based process in action.

To embed values based leadership we have to be mindful of the connections between knowledge, emotion and our actions.  ‘The Leadership’ can take responsibility for championing ethical values based ‘leading’. ‘Leading’ by personal example, transforming traditional extrinsic direction into shared intrinsic drive or:

“Just the way the Right things are done around here”.