Leadership and Values

Great Man LeaderThere is a theory of leadership known as the “great man” theory. It states that great leaders are simply more “heroic” than others. And further, their innate qualities, skills or abilities enable them to shape their world. But this theory is too simplistic and it ignored the evidence that sometimes leaders are developed in the crucible of crisis. This second situation has its own set of statements supporting that theory of leadership.

But, for purposes of today’s thoughts, I want to focus on the “heroic” nature of leadership. I choose to use a word like “heroic” because it connotes a certain values based approach to leadership. Far too often folks discuss leadership in a “value vacuum”. In my view this is not only incorrect, it is ultimately very harmful to the organization that has leaders who act outside of values and ethics.

Values are an integral part of good leadership. To be a true leader, you must take a stand on issues. And that stand must be a moral stand. As leaders we should be mobilizing and motivating our organizations to higher moral ground even when that may not increase the organizations profit margin or bottom line. Perhaps the most stark and striking examples of the opposite ends of the spectrum of this kind of leadership is embodied in two distinct historical figures. Consider Dr. Martin Luther King. He gave his life to create a more inclusive and equal society. In contrast, consider someone like Adolf Hitler. He had great power, but he used it to extinguish his enemies and he tried to eradicate them and their value system.

What is the leadership principle here today? It is that leadership and values are not exclusive concepts. Leadership must contain a moral value system from which it finds foundational truths. And leadership devoid of values devolves ultimately into chaos or anarchy. At the very least it leads to the decline of society rather than the growth of that society.

Lead your team to the moral high ground.

4 Replies to “Leadership and Values”

  1. Interesting thesis. Question: are heroic leaders situational? Hitler (and others like him) were hailed as leaders in their times. Even though history may lend a different view over time, Hitler had a huge following at the time.

    Today, many Americans feel Obama is a heroic leader. He raises huge amounts of political capital (largely in the form if money) and draws huge crowds of adoring supporters. Even people outside of our political system praise him and give him glorious awards and recognition. Yet, it is clear that he is trying to eradicate and destroy the moral systems of all opponents.

    Thus, the thesis you suggest may have limits. What do you think?

    1. You know, I have tried very hard to avoid taking on political overtones. But, some of what you are saying is undeniable.

      My hope, my prayer is that truth and values will win in the end. But if not, I hope that history will record these days accurately so that if there are any lessons to be learned, the next generations will at least have an opportunity to learn from history.

  2. Politics is a way to identify trends and changes in our world. Observing how things change over four year cycles can be extrapolated to other parts of our world. Thus, and please forgive me for going down this road, but I think everyone needs a basic knowledge of current affairs and politics.

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