Leadership skills and personal values

leadership Sep 01, 2023
leadership-leadership skills

We all have a reasonably accurate view of ourselves – regardless of how we present ourselves to others. Most of us know or suspect our “true selves.”

Similarly, we each have a reasonable understanding of what we consider “right” and what we consider “wrong” in our lives.

That sense of right and wrong is important to us. We may have gained these views through our parents, our belief system, our community or society, our learned experiences, or just because we have adopted them because we felt they were appropriate.

It should not be a surprise then, that these views (or values) affect the things we adopt and the things that we reject, the things we are attracted to and the things that we push away from us, and the things that to us, seem “acceptable” and those that seem “unacceptable”.
The values that we hold, therefore, regardless of how they nurtured and developed within us, affect us by influencing the way we think, the way we act, and the way we lead and manage others.

Many organisations state openly to all who are interested what their values are. Although it may have an impact on external parties to the organisation (such as customers, clients, authorities, etc.), it should have a profound effect on all internal parties.
By stating openly its values, the organisation is saying to its people, “this is what we believe, and when you work for us, this is how we expect you to behave at all times to all people.”
Such an overt statement, and therefore behaviours, are an explicit statement of rules with which all need to comply. Failure to comply commonly leads to dismissal.
That part is “easy”.
It’s the unstated values that reside in most of us that affect our decisions, and that complicates leadership.

As an example, a person who has unfavourable views of certain ethnic or cultural groups (i.e., discriminatory views) will probably disadvantage members of those groups when certain situations arise within the company – and that may not be in the best interests of the organisation, let alone the individual. And when those discriminatory views are imposed on customers (for example), then the impacts can be horrendous for the company.

There are a few dimensions of one’s personal values that a leader needs to reflect on and reconcile.

The first dimension is the need to have synergy between the leader’s values and the stated or behaviour-defined values of the organisation. Failure to have a common view may lead to stress caused by the leader’s behaviour or decisions that run contrary to the company’s stated values. Such behaviours by the leader (or anyone else) will be interpreted by the organisation as inappropriate.
When a non-leader displays non-conforming behaviour, that non-conforming person is “merely” seen as “delinquent” and a candidate for disciplinary action.
The thing about it being the leader’s non-conforming behaviour is that it is interpreted as condoning non-conforming behaviours – and that contradiction harms the organisation.

The second dimension is that the leader must “live” the values. In other words, the values represent much more than mere words – the values represent a deeply-held set of beliefs that dictate behaviour, thinking and the treatment of others. In other words, the leader must walk the talk.
Leaders who don’t practice what they preach are not trusted and fail to generate the loyalty from followers that the leader relies on.
There are two aspects of practicing what the leader preaches: the first is for the leader themselves to live by the organisation’s values; the second is to enforce the values on all employees – and be seen to be doing this.
When employees see that the leader “means what they say,” and that there are consequences for not complying, then such behaviour will become embedded in the organisation’s culture.

The third dimension requires the leader to have strong values related to the common good of the organisation, its people, and its stakeholders. It is often tempting to take a short-cut toward organisational or personal self-interest, commonly at the expense of some values.
An example might be a salesperson selling to a customer because the salesperson needs the sale, without telling the customer information about the product that might have compromised the sale. The sale is wanted by the organisation, the salesperson, and the leader, but they all compromised (some unknowingly) the company’s values of doing the right thing by the customer.
Such behaviour is self-defeating in the long term because others within the organisation will be confused about what’s acceptable and what’s not. If self-serving behaviour is chosen over core values, then others will believe that self-serving is OK. This applies to every one of the values spelled out by the organisation.

Values and adherence to them, largely (but not totally) define the culture of the organisation.

Other values that “reside within the leader” and over which the leader has ultimate control may have a profound impact on the organisation.
A person, (leader or not), who demonstrates integrity to all who they deal with is a person that others will trust. The reason is that integrity is a demonstration of truthfulness, reliability, and honesty.
It doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with or like what the leader says, but they will know that what is said is their true and accurate belief or opinion. Give them different facts and they may have another opinion.

Integrity also doesn’t mean that a leader needs to display brutality in their honesty. A smart leader with empathy will have a way of being truthful, sensitive, helpful, and constructive - all at the same time. Here, empathy is the key.

Brutality is generally the realm of the ignorant and the insensitive.
Interestingly though, many people are brutal with others, not necessarily because they’re ignorant of the other’s needs or feelings, but because they don’t care how the other person feels. They think that the message is important, and that brutality is the way to make the other person “pay attention” to what’s being said.
Commonly, such a confronting approach is due to the absence of adequate skills and talents in the leader or manager – people use the tools they know.

Often, leaders are forced to be judges in certain situations. Much like a parent adjudicating between siblings, a teacher adjudicating between students, or a sports umpire adjudicating between rivals; a leader too needs to play judge on occasion.

Where a leader has a strong sense of fairness, then adjudication relies on objectives, values, and facts.
Where a leader has a “flexible” definition of fairness, they may be influenced by self-interest, or bias, or favouritism, and so on.

This tells the organisation two things: you can go to the leader to get a good hearing and a fair resolution; or you cannot rely on the leader to provide a fair outcome.

There are very few successful leaders who lack respect for others. That doesn’t mean that they agree with them, like them or will do what they want – but it does mean that they recognise the humanity of all people and treat them accordingly.
That means that regardless of age, gender, religion, political opinion, colour or culture, the leader deals respectfully and equally with all people. They listen to people, pay attention to what the people say, and they are never rude or abusive – either to their face or behind their backs.

The true leader stays calm, receptive, pleasant, soft-spoken, questioning, interested, welcoming, and friendly – and a person that others are happy to be with and talk to, rather than be afraid of.
The ability to be respectful in all situations is a trait internal to the leader and mature people and is within their control – but at the same time we acknowledge that sometimes this can be difficult and challenging.

As mentioned previously, all effective leaders must possess a reasonable level of empathy – an ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

This is important on several levels. A leader needs people to translate and implement company intent into performance. To do this, a company must foresee and plan for the way people work and how they will feel about what they are being asked to do.

Failure to understand people (i.e., workers, customers, suppliers, stakeholders, the public, partners, and so on) will inevitably lead to the need to redesign, restructure, and reformulate plans and initiatives.
That has obvious impacts on the organisation with increased effort, time, and costs that are needed to do the rework to “get it right.”

People with empathic skills are better able to “see this coming” and will construct their plans and initiatives that more suitably accommodate these sensitivities – to the benefit of the people involved, and of the company.

The lesson that most organisations learn eventually, is that no matter the qualifications or the experience of the leader, if they don’t possess a high-level of empathic skills, then there will be difficulties.

Trust, like other attributes and capabilities, is also a two-way issue.
A leader wants to be trusted and needs to be trusted to achieve their objectives. Without such trust, what the leader says about every or any aspect of the organisation won’t be believed - and that’s a serious performance determinant.
“Do this for me (or the organisation) and I will be good to my word,” is the basic trust contract. Without it, one must resort to authority, law, or formal agreement – and that doesn’t bode well for a strong and constructive culture.

As obvious as this may be, it is equally true that both parts of the trust relationship must give and be given trust. If the leader wants and needs trust, so do the people who are being asked to trust.
When employees are not themselves trusted to do what they are expected to do, then as an intrinsic part of the organisation’s culture, trust will not be reciprocated.
Trust does not come from authority – it’s comes from attitude, respect, understanding and a belief in the person being trusted.

A leader’s approach to their organisation, what it stands for, what it’s trying to achieve, of its people, and its stakeholders are essential components of loyalty.

As stated previously, the leader needs loyal followers to adequately fulfil the objectives the leader was employed to satisfy. That will only happen when the followers and supporters see in the leader an authentic and sincere personal commitment to the outcomes, objectives, and culture that they lead, as well as an appropriate demonstration of the organisation’s values.

When an organisation’s people see these “signs” then they will regard the leader as authentic, sincere, honest, and correctly focussed on those things that matter. They will then trust the leader and though their trust, will become loyal.

There are multiple views of how a leader needs to manage an organisation. At one end of the continuum, some believe that the role of the leader is to be the “corporate conductor” who coordinates every element of the “corporate symphony”, to make beautiful music delivering the corporation’s objectives (apology for the metaphor). They therefore see the leader as being responsible and accountable for the corporate outcomes.

At the other end of the continuum, some believe that the leader is “merely” there to represent staff in their endeavours in delivering corporate objectives - this is termed servant leadership.[1]
Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is to serve. This is different from traditional leadership where the leader's main focus is the thriving of their company or organizations. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.[2] Servant leadership inverts the norm, which puts the customer service associates as a main priority. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.”[3]
In both cases of management approach, (and everything in between the two extremes), a leader chooses the approach that they will adopt to achieve what they must achieve. The choice is almost always theirs, even when the implementation of their choice may be difficult.

We accept the reality of context where certain situations lend themselves to certain styles of management, and that certain contexts are harder to manage and harder to change.
Despite this, one can’t escape two facts:

1. The leader chooses how they will lead the organisation, and

2. They are therefore responsible for the outcomes from the mechanism, structure, or style they have chosen or accepted.

The responsibility stops with the leader.
The lesson here is that any tendency for a leader to blame others within or outside the organisation for those things that “don’t go to plan,” risk the destruction of trust, honesty, openness, fairness, and integrity.

Although people may correctly and accurately be to blame, a leader sees impediments and obstacles as opportunities to learn, grow, and improve. That doesn’t mean that the leader ignores errors, but that they choose how to handle them.

The bottom line for the leader, however, is that they never deny ultimate responsibility and always take the opportunity to improve to avoid repetition of the problem.

A leader who blames others is a person who refuses to accept the gravity and purpose of their role – and will not be a good leader.


[1] Wikipedia, August 2021, Servant Leadership
2 Sendjaya, Sen; Sarros, James C. (September 2002). "Servant Leadership: Its Origin, Development, and Application in Organizations". Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. 9 (2): 57–64.
3 Kashyap, Vaneet; Rangnekar, Santosh (July 2016). "Servant leadership, employer brand perception, trust in leaders and turnover intentions: a sequential mediation model". Review of Managerial Science. 10 (3): 437–461.

……just in case you were wondering.

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Like you, we have learned from decades of experience and research that there are no islands in organisations. When things happen, or don’t happen, there are impacts up and down the organisation.
Therefore, to fix issues, or to undertake change, or to take advantage of opportunities, one needs to understand what happens up and down the organisation in order to successfully deliver objectives.

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• Establish clarity over the client’s objective.
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1. Organisational purpose (either shareholder objectives, or charter or constitutional objectives). Describes why the organisation exists.
2. Organisation’s required outcomes (KPOs, priorities, and strategic direction). Converts broad purpose statements into measurable performance metrics.
3. Market and Operating environments. Identifies the operating environments from which all performance metrics must be achieved.
4. Products and Services (including manufacturing, procurement and product and service-related systems). Identifies the things that customers will buy in the markets you’ve chosen to satisfy performance metrics.
5. Channels and distribution. Determines how you will get your products and services to their customers.
6. Support systems. Determines how you will support the customers and intermediaries in all markets to provide an efficient and profitable service.
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8. Human Resources and culture. Determines the number and types of people you need, and the culture that will engender the mindsets required.
9. I.T. systems, procedures and processes. Determines the systems needed to make it all work.
10. Management including structure. Determines how you will manage and structure the business.
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