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Chapter 2: Values Leadership

Work has become the core activity of life and the corporation the most significant community. As a result, workplace values now frame people’s actions and their motivations more than any other social institution. Work values often are more dominant in the life of most Americans than values shaped by politics, family, or even religion. Whether they recognize it or not, work has become a prime source of most people’s values-sets and the locale of their most worthwhile social contributions. Work is fast becoming the place where most people find their sense of full meaning as human beings. While they are critical to economic well-being, a growing litany of concerns suggest that work experiences are not meeting their full obligations to feed workers spirits as they feed their intellectual, social, and physical needs (Bolman and Deal, 1995).

In the 100-year history of modern leadership theory, two ideas have dominated theory-building. The first is a focus on task, the second a focus on people. The task focus was first illustrated in the Scientific Management movement of the early twentieth century. It has seen several iterations over the past century. The people focus is captured in the several versions of the human relations model begun in the 1920s and 1930s and continuing today. Until recently, leadership model-building has ignored important evidence that values are and have always been part of the job of leadership and that values permeate, if only implicitly, the discussions of both task and people orientations.


There is a shift in theorizing about leadership today as theorist and practitioner alike begin to see that their personal inner life of personal values is the single most powerful force guiding their work action (Fairholm, 2001). The professional literature is just beginning to reflect that personal values about what is right or wrong, helpful or hurtful, useful or not are more important then organizational form, function, system, or procedure in determining the behavior of both leader and led. This inner-looking has confirmed that it is one’s intimate, inner values that trigger action more consistently and more powerfully than one’s context.

Today, values dominate both leadership discussion and theory-building and inform the techniques leaders practice in their groups and with individual followers. Nevertheless, most textbooks still reflect a century-old leadership mindset that places management—that is, science, order, predictability, and control—at the core of many definitions of leadership. So powerful is this mind-set that many still think that leadership and management are the same thing or, at minimum, inextricably interrelated. Based on this definition, many people assume a leader is any head person—president, CEO, director, or other.

The fact is that headship per se does not make anyone a leader. Given the complex, global, diverse, and information-rich nature of modern society, management control will no longer work, if it ever did, in getting people to commit to the organization’s work. And, even if one clings to outmoded theory, the modern workplace has drastically changed. No longer is work characterized by routine, repeated production of large quantities of the same thing. Increasingly, it is characterized by an exploding information base, global markets, fast-changing, short-shelf-lived products, a labor pool made up mostly of knowledge workers, and an increasingly diverse workforce that mirrors its client population in being educated and in demanding that its special needs be met.

Modern writers are beginning to define leadership in terms that deal directly with the task of gaining other’s acceptance of and commitment to a common corporate vision. They now see that corporate vision is not a mere summary of its main tasks but an integrated synopsis of its core values. They are beginning to recognize the leader’s values as the key to work community accomplishment. The leader’s values establish what is good, true, and beautiful for them and for their group’s members. Values also measure movement toward realization of what the leader thinks of as “good.” This modern leadership model is philosophical, proposing a kind of leadership rooted in the reality of human nature and conduct: that everyone has values and values trigger our behavior.

Having given priority to their work, workers are asking that that work also meet their deepest intimate—spiritual—needs. Explicitly for some and implicitly for most others, they are seeking and finding emotional fulfillment on the job. For after all, life is about spirit, and humans have only one spirit that manifests itself in both life and livelihood. A growing literature is confirming a felt need for work communities, leadership, and work processes that celebrate the whole individual’s needs, desires, values, and their spirit self (see, for example, Jacobson, 1995; Fairholm, 2000a). This research suggests that values leaders find the vocabulary and values of spiritual leadership to be significant in their understanding of their role as leaders (or as members of a work community). They see leadership as including a spiritual component (Vaill, 1998). In addition to whatever else can be said about it, values leadership is concerned with bringing out the best in people. And an individual’s best is tied intimately to his or her deepest sense of self, to his or her spiritual core (Moxley, 2000). While definitive conclusions cannot be drawn from this early research, it suggests a new and potentially powerful spiritual focus for the practice of values leadership in the new millennium.

Shortcomings of Traditional Leadership Models

This emerging leadership theory describes a special action dynamic that focuses on ideas like innovation, concern for customers, quality, and simple structure (Samuelson, 1984). Values leadership is a new orientation governing the leader’s role around principles that include service to others, individual development and growth, and self-determination and that prioritize excellent performance (Deal and Kennedy, 1988) and a stewardship orientation (Block,1993) toward their followers.

The values leadership model sees leadership not so much in structure or system terms but as a way to think about leader–follower relationships. Past models contain parts of the central, guiding principles of values leadership and behaviors but not its essential whole. The new values leader model sees leadership as a new mind-set better described in philosophical terms than as a theory or technique of management. Instead, values leadership techniques operationalize a people-oriented philosophy of growth toward self-leadership within the community (Crosby, 1996).

Past theories confused leadership with management, focused narrowly on the group’s task or the personality of the individual leader or isolated factors in the situation. These are management concepts, not factors descriptive of leadership. Older models also focus on leadership as a function of one individual. The reality is that many people in the work community are leaders (in specific circumstances, or for given tasks, activities, or groups). Past leadership theories also defined the leader–follower relationship as a leader task of increasing follower performance and a follower task of protecting job security.

Values Leadership

Given the ubiquity of leadership practice, it is difficult to believe that leadership theory is so amorphous. Fortunately, a century of leadership study is beginning to come together as contemporary writers narrow the focus of definition to the central leadership task of joining group actions together via a common set of values. This model suggests that leadership is a part of the routine actions of many people in the organization, not just the preserve of the few in headship positions. The key discriminator is: If the individual creates a purposeful relationship with others based on shared values and mutual development, that person is a leader (Bjerke, 1999).

Current values leadership models involve the whole person—they activate the motivating values, the intellect, and the emotions (Stogdill, 1957) of both leader and led. They rely on a motivational foundation of individual growth and development of the leader him or herself and the maturation of all stakeholders. That is, values leadership deals with the whole self of the leader and led, with the spiritual as well as the physical, emotional, and economic dimensions of the individual person’s life. The values leadership focus is a new approach to thinking and behaving in organizational relationships.

Values leadership describes a way to think about leadership and a values basis for action (Crosby, 1996). The leader’s personal, intimate values are and have always been a part of leadership. These underlying values are implicit in planning, structural design, application of technique, and organization and management theories (Badaracco, 1989). Their primary role is in ordering work-community action, defining how people will live and work together, and measuring successful behavior or results. The leader’s job is to set shared work values, arbitrate disagreements, and validate changes in the guiding valueset the work community adopts.

The Spiritual Character of Leadership

The values leadership model says that those leaders succeed who model their leadership on a comprehensive picture of humankind that respects all the dimensions of followers’ beings. This perspective subordinates the materialistic values to internal spiritual ones. That is, an individual’s core—spiritual— values are the essential force in shaping leader behavior (Plas, 1996). Operationally values leaders respond to their spiritual core as they build community, foster a higher moral standard, and function in their community from a stewardship perspective. These three techniques of leadership are elaborated in separate chapters. They are summarized here as a way to help leaders use the strength of followers’ spirits to induce them to do the leaders’ work.

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