Values and Leadership


Values and LeadershipMust leaders be of good character or have sterling values like integrity, honesty or social consciousness? But if criminals, terrorists or people like Hitler can lead despite having questionable values. then what is the connection between leadership and values?

We can answer this question in two ways: (1) leadership as role or (2) leadership as influence.

Leadership as Role

If leadership is a role, the person in charge of the group is the leader. But we know that a leader is anyone who has followers. People must willingly follow, in this case agree to be a member of the leader's group. Otherwise, it is dictatorship, slavery or some other hold that so-called leaders have over their groups.

We know that, throughout history, people have followed leaders who many of us would never consider following. This is like the old sayings: "There's no accounting for taste" and "There's a sucker born every minute." These sayings show that people have their own reasons for buying or believing something. It's like beauty - leadership is in the eye of the beholder.

This means that we can say what sort of leader we would like to follow but we can't define leadership in a way that implies certain values. Leadership must be value-neutral in its definition. Thus we can only say that leadership occurs when people choose to follow, for whatever reason.

It's worth noting that ALL roles have responsibilities - partner, plumber, father, teacher, lighthouse keeper to name a few. Carrying out a role effectively depends on certain personality traits or values. So, all roles can be tied to values in some way or another. The question here is whether leadership is a role or not.

Leadership as Influence

If we define leadership as an influence process, this makes it a discrete act, event or impact, not a role. It's like being creative. Sometimes you are, sometimes you aren't, but it is a occasional act, not a role. This is not odd. All influence can be seen this way. When you want to persuade your kids to eat their vegetables, for instance, you stop harping at them once they start eating. Such influence is an event, not a role. OK, so what are we to make of the feeling that leadership is in fact a role? We could call this being a manager, chief, boss, exective or whatever. We have a negative image of management but it can be upgraded to make it a more positive, supportive and nurturing function. We don't need to accept the old clichés about management.

So, if leadership is an act of influence, what connection is there with values? Basically, values come into play as part of how you influence people. If you are persuading your colleagues at work to adopt a new approach to work or a modification to a product, this might be value-neutral. But if you want to influence your fellow accountants to be more transparent, then you must exhibit the value of integrity yourself.


Either way, whether leadership is a role or not, we can't associate particular values with leadership. Leadership must be defined in a way that is value-neutral. If leadership is influence, we can define leadership as follows: Showing the way for others, either by example or by promoting a new direction. Getting things done through people is what managers do. If leadership is influence, then values are associated with influencing style, not with the definition of leadership. That is, if you want to show leadership on a question of values, then you need to have those values yourself in order to persuade people to follow your lead.

Where do you want to go from here?

Want to read more on the relationship between vision and leadership? If leadership isn't just an influence process, then it's a role in a hierarchy, but this is biologically primitive. See Primitive Leadership for more on this topic. For more discussion of how leadership can work as influence, see Thought LeadershipBottom-up Leadership and Organic Leadership.

For more unconventional thinking on leadership see our sister site LEAD2XL