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Three ideas undergird the practice of values leadership. The first is the power of values in shaping human behavior singly and in groups. The second relates to the need for work communities of mutual interactive trust as the environment within which leadership takes place. And finally, the focus on the spiritual center of the individual—leader and follower—as the locus of individual control and the arena of leadership action (Bolman and Deal, 1995). Each of these three elements of definition are techniques values leadership employs in working with its followers. Together, they describe the essential mechanism through which values leaders lead—and its techniques.

The Power of Personal Values

Values leadership theory revolves around the unique mind-set and the action sequence individuals adopt, guided by their own set of values.

Individuals—leaders and followers—create value systems for themselves and promulgate these values in the groups in which they have membership. The individual’s belief system—that defines and measures his or her definition of truth and of success—is at its core a system of ranked values that proscribe and delimit his or her perception of the world. That is, persons’ sets of values delimit their belief system and define the acceptable way they and, by extension, all other people should behave. Values also define the goals work-community members seek and what they desire to become by virtue of living their values. Values connote desirability—they are statements of the “oughts” in life. They are conclusive beliefs individuals evolve about what is true or beautiful or good about the world.

A person’s values are not merely rules of conduct (Braham, 1999). They determine rules and rank rule systems. They are the criteria for selecting actions, goals, and methods. Values are learned. Some values are explicit, others are not. They nonetheless trigger some specific behavior and constrain behavior that contravenes the values. Institutions also have values which often are codified in mission or vision statements. They provide frameworks for transmitting and implementing specific desired work community’s and member’s behavior toward specific goals and results. They are powerful in shaping a worker’s behavior and in validating institutional policy and mission. They determine acceptable action, resolve conflicts, determine sanctions systems employed, and are integral to reward systems. They define the desirable and acceptable for the individual and the organization.

The essence of values theory is that values dictate individual and work community action (Bjerke, 1999). Whether they emanate from the individual member or from the collective membership (the work community), they dominate organizational action, dictate reward systems, and measure individual and work community success. Because individual and institutional values systems are so powerful in shaping behavior, leaders continually act to shape stakeholder values—via propaganda, training, policy, advertising, conversation, procedures, sanction systems, friendships, and so on. Leaders have always done this. It is only now that we are talking about it as legitimate leader behavior and modeling its practice in theory. Leaders have always inculcated values in the same ways that teachers, parents, and religionists do.

Several writers have tried to identify the central values governing corporate life and dictating member behavior. For Scott and Hart (1979) the dominant modern organization value is that what is good for the organization is “good.” Such a value orientation skews leader behavior away from human concerns and toward corporate health. Hodgkinson (1978) identifies four “metavalues”— efficiency, effectiveness, values, and growth. He sees values as operationally akin to objectives, goals, ends, purposes, and policies and express desirable future states that become “facts” in the sense they are generally accepted and acted upon. Bjerke (1999) says shared values control how people behave by expressing what is expected of individuals associated with the organization.

Shared values are strong determinants of work-community action. The leadership challenge is to examine organization values and bring consensus among stakeholders on value as well as productivity issues. For Burns (1978) values are crucial to leadership. In a sense they are motives, or at least they have a strong motivational content (see also Rokeach, 1979). Burns says the leaders’ key tasks are as values clarifiers and values communicators throughout the work community. Burns also suggests that values can be a source of vital change in people and organizations. As leaders reach into this level of follower needs and values structures, they can induce them to change. These values express fundamental and enduring needs. Burns goes on to suggest that leadership is bound up in a concern for these higher-order values but, more precisely, with these values in conflict within the group. The central task is to manage values conflict by moving to a shared value system. Leaders appeal to these widely held ends values.

Building a Trust Culture

The kind of leadership that grows out of shared values flourishes only in a work culture within which individuals can accept the individuality of others without sanctioning all their words or deeds. Such a culture is one that prioritizes high interpersonal trust. In a climate of trust, individuals can give open, candid reactions to what they see as right or wrong. A key leader task, therefore, is building a work community characterized by high level of interpersonal trust. In trust communities, there is little manipulation, there are few hidden agendas, and no unreasonable controls, nor is there the cloying sweetness that discounts real problems. Instead, there is a congruency in concepts, conduct, and concern—a unity appropriate to work community membership that does not risk individuality. Without trust, work-community values can become strictures, impeding individual progress.

It does very little good, for instance, to develop elaborate corporate work flow charts if the people who inhabit the real world symbolized by these charts do not trust each other or really communicate with each other. Nor does it do good to strive to achieve goals if leaders allow themselves to be too much at the mercy of their moods so followers see them as ambivalent administrators whom they find unpredictable or capricious about the goals mutually embraced.

Trust becomes both an expectation and a personal obligation to be authentic, trustworthy, reliable, which is provable by ensuing experience. Seen in this light, trust is one of the values supporting a given culture that helps define how and in what degree members value others. Trust places obligation on both the truster and the person in whom we place our trust. It is the foundation of success in any interpersonal relationship. While organizational theory assumes, but largely ignores, the idea of trust, it is nevertheless integral to that set of interpersonal relationships.

Shaping a work community based on trust is a critical leadership task. It creates the context within which leaders can lead, followers can find reason for full commitment, the organization can attain its goals, and all can achieve to their full potential (Klenke, 1996). Unfortunately, there is little research advice available to aspiring leaders to guide them in developing a trust culture. Nevertheless, trust is central to leadership in work communities because followers are people who choose to follow leaders. They are not forced to do so. High trust by followers allows leaders to lead (Bedell, 2001) just as low trust cultures force leaders to manage.

Some current literature suggests that a given work community culture implies a level of trust (Fairholm, 1994), that the work community culture defines and delimits the nature and extent of member trust. The cultures we create allow us to behave with varying levels of assurance that certain actions or events will produce known results—that is to trust people, systems, and process. The work communities leaders create must produce a trust situation where members can trust that certain actions will produce certain results.

Culture also prescribes our willingness to trust. The work-community culture may allow members to trust some colleagues more or less than others. But without the constraints imposed by cultural features we would not, maybe could not, exercise trust at all.

Trust is transforming. It is a process of change. Having trust in a person or in something we believe to be true impels (empowers) personal change. It lets people act out of that trust. Properly placed trust is empowering, misplaced trust spells defeat. For example, among the potential problems leaders face in creating and maintaining a trust culture are those dealing with the emotions of followers. Feelings of apathy and alienation present in the larger society sometimes bleed over into the organization’s culture and cause similar emotions among the workers there. Personal self-interest may hamper development of a fully trusting culture. And, too, the personal and institutional risk of loss, or failure to meet necessary goals may constrain full trust.

Trust is the prime mechanism for work-community cohesion. Indeed, organization per se cannot take place without at least some level of interpersonal trust. And leaders cannot ignore the powerful element of trust as they go about creating and leading their work community’s culture that induces stakeholders to behave in needed ways. Of course, the risk is always present in trusting others or in relying on given systems or policies or procedures or specific structural forms that they will not behave as expected (Cashman and Burzynski, 2000). In essence trust is a unifying and coalescing idea. Without it the idea of joint cooperative action would be unthinkable, let alone practical.

Focusing on the Individual’s Spiritual Center

Some leaders and some work communities enhance members’ lives, while others seem to make them more difficult. Looking for answers as to why this is the case has led leaders to their own inner lives and to the inner lives of their followers—to the values and experiences that define them and from which extend their operating assumptions and principles. It is increasingly clear that all people want to be accepted as whole persons at work, and that corporations continue to concentrate on the small portion of worker talent, knowledge, and experience they pay for. The resulting tension has led to feelings of alienation, anomie, and frustration (Brumback, 1999).

This situation coupled with a general loss of potency of the traditional valuecreating and maintaining institutions in the larger communities of interest— family, friends, church, government—has led to the movement to pursue whole-self (spiritual) development on the job (see Greenleaf, 1977; Senge, 1990; Vaill, 1989; DePree, 1989; Covey, 1991; Lee and Zemke, 1993; Fairholm, 2000a). The spiritual heart of values leadership is all about fulfilling the full range of worker needs in the work groups in which most Americans spend most of their waking hours. Today, more and more people expect work to satisfy their core human needs for individual personal wholeness as it also provides them economic necessities. Now, workers expect their work—the place where they spend the largest part of their lives in both time spent and intrinsic significance—to provide spiritual support for their deeply held values and aspirations for personal and economic growth.

Spirit refers to the vital, energizing force or principle in the person, the core of self. In its secular connotation, spirit defines life’s meaning and the individual’s motivation for action. A recent iteration of values leadership, spiritual—or whole-self—leadership is emerging based on a kind of metaphysical work-connected relationship and founded on a higher moral standard, a stewardship relationship, and a sense of unity through community. The reasons for this are also becoming clear as we define spirit to include the emotional center of the individual.

Recent research (Fairholm, 2000a) identifies seven dimensions of workplace spirituality. Each represents an approach the values leader can take to help followers get in touch with their spiritual centers and use the power resident there to foster work-community goals. The most frequently defined dimensions of spirituality coming from this research include the idea that spirituality is an inner conviction people have of a higher, more intelligent force impacting their lives. More pertinent to this discussion is the idea that spirit is the essence of self that separates humans from other creatures. People rely on their core spirituality for comfort, strength, and happiness. It is the part of individuals that searches for meaning, values, and purpose in life (Leigh, 1997). One’s spirituality includes a personal belief system (Braham, 1999). It is an emotional element in one’s self-definition—a feeling. And, a final dimension is that spirituality is demonstrated as individuals act out the experience of the transcendent in life.

Spiritual leadership is coming to be seen as a variant of values leadership. It describes the need human beings have to be accepted as whole persons with many needs, capacities, talents, and goals. It deals also with the personal vision for their future, including their work community but encompassing all other communities of interest both leader and led evolve and act to make real. Sharpening traditional leadership skills will not be very useful to the leaders who want to center on the spiritual dimension of leadership. Their tasks are of the mind, of the soul and the spirit. This focus asks leaders to get in touch with themselves in intimate ways to bring themselves into close association with their core selves and the values that define them as unique human beings. This knowledge is an essential first step in honing skill in changing followers by building a community where the intimate spiritual values and needs of members can be addressed, in fostering high moral standards and seeing the work community and its members in stewardship terms.

Building Community

Spiritually centered values leaders build a community of united followers as the locus of their leadership. At least the following ideas help describe a work community and together constitute the gist of the community-building technique.


Leadership here becomes a task of values clarification and values displacement of incompatible individual values (Bjerke, 1999). It is a task of prioritization and reprioritization of work-community member values and generally creating and maintaining a common set of values shared by both the leader and all stakeholders that guide work community member action. Often the mechanism for full self-change is shared vision and a culture that trusts members to behave according to these shared values and vitalizing vision (Bjerke, 1999).

Fostering Trust

Increasingly leaders are coming to see their role as a task of creating a trust culture to undergird both personal and institutional growth (Bedell, 2001).

Transforming People

Spirit leaders recognize that all change is people change. It is not laws or rules that change society, it is the cumulative result of individual people who change in conformance to a shared vision and shared values that changes the organization for the better (Plas, 1996). At a personal level, it is sacrificing part of an individual’s deepest being so that devoting effort to group-defined tasks is not a loss but a fulfillment of personal goals that enhances the self (Yearout, Miles, and Koonce, 2001).


Spirit leadership is creating workplace mechanisms that communicate meaning (Plas, 1996), not merely that inform or order.

Ethics and Morality

Spirit leaders use methods of leading that highlight ethical values and moral standards. These leaders link their interior world of moral reflection and the outer world of work and social relationships.


Spiritually motivated leaders reject self-interest and focus on creating service relationships (Braham, 1999). Rather than attempt to dominate followers, values leaders go to work for them—providing all things necessary for follower success.

Building Trust

Spiritual leaders build trust (Bedell, 2001) or tear trust relationships down by the cumulative actions they take and the words they speak—by the culture they create for themselves and their organization’s members (Palmer, 2001).

Being Trustworthy

These leaders are also trustworthy. They know that if they want someone to trust them they have to tell the truth, act on that truth consistently, and then patiently wait for the relationship to mature (Bedell, 2001).

Sensitivity to the Spiritual

Spirit leaders recognize that spirituality is at the heart of much of the values leadership literature popular today (Senge et al., 1994). Values leaders provide environments that both recognize and feed the spirit in us all while we are directing work activity (Tesolin, 2000).

Nourishing the Spirit

Spirit leaders create workplace systems that satisfy members’ needs to feed their spirit through work by teaching them how humanity belongs within the greater scheme of things and how harmony can be realized in life and work (Heerman, 1995).

Living a Higher Moral Standard

Not all values are of equal consequence or meaningfulness. Most people hold a variety of values, some they can and do compromise in some situations but others that they will not violate in any circumstance. Some ideas and ideals just cannot be compromised. Rather, they must be defended. Values leaders prefer to compete with others about some values rather than accommodate them. Indeed, they sometimes are outspoken and deliberately confrontational of alternative value systems. Values leaders apply their values, especially their core spiritual ones, in overtly moral ways (Serven, 2002).

The infrastructure of values-based leadership is founded on an idea of morality. The measure of values leadership is not structural, it is ethical (DePree, 1989). The key operational elements of values leadership revolve around moral and ethical issues and condition what leaders do and their approaches and attitudes. The elements of this kind of moral, ethical leadership include the following factors.


The values systems leaders create provide the basis of the sanctions systems that specify the moral behavior of community members and determine its measures of success. Shared values determine a work community’s ethics. They are part of any self-analysis both leader and led engage in as they observe and reflect on their actions and judgments of all aspects of life (Covey, 2001).


Values leaders rank the value of integrity highly. Integrity demands self-discipline, a strengthening self in terms of the leader’s inner code of right and wrong (Terry, 1995).


Values leaders build consensus and lead democratically via a shared vision that creates meaning for others (Kouzes and Posner, 1987). In this way leaders create an ethical underpinning that provides the context for shared values, meaning, and moral focus for community members.


Spiritually sensitive leaders provide systems and processes that motivate, involve them in appropriate networks, and then free them from situational constraints that may hamper their growth (transformation) toward full effectiveness (Plas, 1996).


Values leaders challenge traditional work processes (Kouzes and Posner, 1987) and try to produce real change that meets their workers enduring needs regardless of the risk.


Values leaders view their role in the organization as that of steward. And the basis of stewardship is self-directed free moral choice. Every steward has the same rights and is subject to identical limitations in the exercise of self-direction. This sharing of power preserves harmony and good will. The leader is a steward also and subject to the same limitations and advantages as other stewards. They ensure that every steward has a single voice in sitting in council with other stewards and a single vote in the power of consent. Stewardships preserve oneness by procedures that enhance common consent. In this way each steward is protected against unjust or dominating leaders.

Stewardship is not a single guiding principle but a part of a triumvirate that includes empowerment and partnership, as well as stewardship. The principle of stewardship brings accountability while partnership balances responsibility. It is a sharing of the power of governance where each member holds control and responsibility in trust for the work community as a unit. It is a relationship system based on mutual accountability. Stewardship operates at the whole-person—spiritual—level of existence and interrelationship. Membership in a stewardship community asks the leader not only to lead the stewardship community but also to play a role as a member of that community (Rapoport et al., 2001).

A stewardship community lets members make choices about whom to partner with, what products or services to buy from internal or external suppliers, how to spend discretionary funds and time, and how to serve their customers.

The idea of adding a stewardship orientation to corporate leadership is new. Many leaders have no operational experience with this concept and therefore cannot immediately either visualize their steward-leader role in the corporation or their part in building stewardship teams. While the idea may be appealing, many don’t know how stewardship works in practice.

Stewardship communities eliminate social distinctions. All stewards are equal. All have equal opportunity for managing their stewardship. All have equal access to available rewards for a well-done stewardship. The steward leader is also a steward and subject to the same limitations and advantages as other stewards. Every steward has a single voice in stewardship councils and a single vote in the power of consent. Status and hierarchical distinctions are absent (Deming, 1986). No one member is more important to the team than any other. Loss of the contribution of any one diminishes the team and jeopardizes its success since the team is not whole without all members.

The steward-leader’s role is that of servant rather than master. By assisting stewards to achieve to their potential, steward-leaders multiply the contribution they otherwise could make. Their role as servants encourages responses from those they serve. They foster cooperation not competition (Terry, 1995). The steward-leader is required to obtain the acquiescence of the stewardship community in giving direction to the stewardship itself. By so doing they gain the use of the best experience in the stewardship community and its maximum creative energy and wisdom.

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