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What’s Leadership? What’s Values-Guided Leadership?

October 15, 2010

What’s Leadership?  What’s Values-Guided Leadership?

The word leadership first appeared in the English language in the 1830s, so its origin is of relatively recently vintage. The word has been used in many different ways and has different meanings, often depending on the context. Here are some examples:

  • Position or function of a leader
  • Giving direction or guidance
  • Exerting interpersonal influence
  • Communicating purpose
  • Having followers
  • Motivating and inspiring others
  • Helping others realize their potential
  • Inducing or inspiring action
  • Translating vision into reality and goals into achievements
  • Getting results in a way that inspires trust

To me, these definitions are missing something important. They are value neutral and apply to people who are leaders for good or ill or don’t practice what they preach. For example, both Hitler and Mother Teresa were leaders, but their purposes and values were polar opposites. Values-guided leadership is about embracing a purpose and promoting a greater good. It reflects healthy, ethical, and positive values, which are modeled and demonstrated in the manner in which the purpose is pursued. The process of pursuing a purpose should reflect the vision being sought.

With these thoughts in mind, I decided that a more robust definition of leadership would be helpful, especially to distinguish between “leadership” and “values-guided leadership.” To capture the spirit of the latter, I created the following multi-faceted definition:

Values-based leadership is the process of:

Generating and sustaining momentum to

  • accomplish goals,
  • build capacity,
  • create opportunities, and
  • develop and pursue new arenas of achievement

by embodying  personal values and

  • taking proactive responsibility,
  • engaging others, and
  • inspiring individual or organizational performance.

This definition is still a work in progress. My objective in defining values-based leadership is to encapsulate the aspiration of guiding oneself or an organization to a new place and how it is done; in terms of personal responsibility for being a role model and actions that propel the process.

I’d love to get your reaction and input.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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