March, 2016

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Values-based Leadership

It’s common to witness people using some parameters when they choose their leaders. They employ the following indicators, consciously or unconsciously: a) Identity, b) Qualification, and c) Likeability. Identities such as race, gender, ethnicity, and religious affiliation, and so on are some of the identity factors that may dictate the choice of many people. In my view, these are flawed parameters. Yes, it’s tempting to favor someone with whom we share the same identity. In this diverse world of the 21st C, we should have used some other parameters than identity when we choose our leaders.

It’s also alluring to take side with a leader with whom we share similar gender. That was what the former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, did recently when she declared: There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” As you might have already heard, her effort to take away women supporters from Bernie Sanders’ campaign backfired. Likewise, many of us are biased when it comes to educated people. We all know that this is a flawed parameter to use. Terminal degrees, masters, and professional degrees cannot make someone a leader. Likeability is a globally admired trait. The heroism, charm, and/or down to earth humility of some likeable persons attract almost all of us. Many of these personalities are skillful to make us feel important, respected, and loved. This in turn entices many of us to put them in charge. In the work and marketplace, we need leaders who have more than just charm and friendliness. Don’t misunderstand me here. It’s great if we get leaders who are educated and likeable. Nonetheless, these parameters should not be used alone. In my humble opinion, we need values-based leaders.

Below are the three values that I propose we should employ to select and back our leaders. This is just a proposal. Otherwise, we may subtract, or add some more to create shared values. Hope, we’ll have opportune times to do so in the near future.

  1. Integrity. What we need is leaders whose words mean something. Leaders who are ready to die in order to keep their promises. The White South African Minority regime trusted Mandela to lead a smooth transition because they found him, for decades, as a man of his words. They risked it all, released him from prison, and ‘put him in charge’ since he was a man of integrity. Here’re some of the questions we should ask as we choose our leaders: Can we predict this leader? Can she deliver what she promises? Does he walk the talk? And more…
  1. Excellence. Integrity without the quest for excellence is toothless. Why we need a leader who says what he means unless he delivers it with excellence? I’m not saying we need perfectionists. Excellence can be achieved only through continuous learning. We need leaders who read, study, and grow on a consistent basis to perform their duties and deliver what they promise with excellence. Mandela used his underground moments to grow. When he was given an assignment for which he didn’t have the knowledge or experience, he studied and also asked those who knew. For example, when he was assigned to form and lead the military wing of ANC, he started the duty by reading, consulting experts, and by reading lots of books. He also reviewed some case studies on guerrilla fight from Cuba to Algeria to Ethiopia. Mandela also read and reflected a lot while in prison that contributed to his success in statesmanship.
  1. Service. What is the motive for a leader to seek leadership? To serve or to be served? Some leaders pursue leadership to be served and exploit. What we need is leaders with servant heart, who believe that serving others is their calling. We need leaders who walk away when their term is over. Mandela didn’t have a political ambition; his preoccupation was serving his people as they fight against apartheid. He refused to take the presidency. They literally begged him to become the president of South Africa. Since he was humble, he gave in, and agreed to lead just for one term.When that one-term was over, he walked out of office unlike other African dictators who cling to power until they either killed or jailed or ran away to exile. We need leaders who have talent, career, or business to turn to when they are done leading- not those who most probably cling to power till they retire or die.

In conclusion, we need values-based leadership. But that doesn’t mean we need to look for perfect and flawless leaders. That cannot happen; no one is perfect. It should be enough if they’ve decent values for which they’re committed. As we choose and support our leaders, let’s pay closer attention more to their values than their identity, qualification, and likeability. We should be enlightened followers with clear parameters on how we choose our leaders. When our leaders know that we have expectations like that and values-based leadership matters to us, they change and do their homework.

People run away from values, not from the people

Have you asked this question: Why people attempt to leave many organizations and nations, and dream to join a few organizations and countries?

You may have your own list of reasons.

One of the main reasons why people run away is not because of the people in those organizations and societies; but rather, it’s due to some values. These governing values that are behind the leadership, the culture, its institutions, and systems are the ones persecuting people and chasing them away.

If your desire is to retain your people, and even attract more, work on your values-system.

Are your organization’s values toothless?

Some corporate values maybe there just to appease some stakeholders internally and externally. These kinds of values are toothless. They’re there for public consumption.

You can easily check yourself whether the values of your organization (Or business) are consequential. Answer the following simple questions:

  1. How often your leaders bring up the values of your organization during one-on-ones?
  2. Do values are part of the agenda of some of the group discussions?
  3. Is the organization talk about its values during some of the companywide meetings?
  4. When was the last time, your organization fired a leader or employee for disrespecting one or more of its values?
  5. When was the last time a supervisor or manager was demoted for the lack of demonstrating loyalty to his/her company?

We’re slaves of our own values

Let me ask you. Who is leading your life? Do you think you are in charge? If your answer is a resounding yes, think about it again.

It is an illusion to think that we’re free. Man never been free. We’ve been controlled and ruled by values, which are on the driver’s seat.

What is sad? Many of us are slaves of our own values without even knowing it.