What does values-driven leadership mean?


We hear a lot about values-driven leadership, but what does it mean?

Whoever we think we are or say we are, our own and others’ perceptions result largely from what we do.

That is why, as leaders, it’s important to act from our values.

Of course, we are not wholly defined by our behaviour, sometimes our environment demands that we only express a sanctioned side of ourselves.

We’ve probably all experienced a time when we’ve acted ‘out of character’, for example, we may normally be supportive but on occasion lose our temper.

But the very expression ‘out of character’ suggests that these are anomalous events that do not reflect the way we normally behave.

It’s also important to recognise that how we behave is in part situational. Self-aware leaders know that different times call for different styles. We may need to be tough in driving a legal outcome but empathetic to a colleague who is struggling or when delivering bad news.

Being able to adapt our emotional leadership style does not mean we are being inauthentic, on the contrary, values act as an anchor that allow us to  read and respond to situational cues, and respond appropriately.

There’s a lot of talk about values-driven leadership. But what does it mean in reality? And how can we be values-driven leaders?

If you were asked to list your top-10 values, could you easily rattle them off?

Would yours be acceptance, assertiveness? Compassion, cooperation?

Encouragement, equality? Or are you about flexibility? Generosity? Honesty and humility? The list is long.

And, if asked, could you show how these values play out in your daily life, and where and how you apply them?

Say you believe in integrity. Then, no matter what the situation, you would ask yourself: how do I respond to this with integrity? You don’t look around to see what others consider acceptable and make a decision relative to them; you make it relative to you.

If a culture is about the way we do things ‘around here’, then the question becomes: how do I do things in accordance with my own values, without being rigid or defending my need to be right?

It’s not always easy. All choices have consequences, including those we refuse to make.

Values are not goals. They’re a deep internal drive and ultimately a shaping statement.

Failing to leave a bad job because we feel loyal could be a cop-out if it means harming yourself.

However, this does not suggest we should bail at the first sign of trouble, but rather be careful not to misuse a so-called value to wriggle out of responsibility because a decision is difficult.

Properly used, values provide a filter that helps us decide what to do and, consequently, who we become. We should live them, not just speak them, and be able to demonstrate our commitment to them in practical terms.

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