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Values-Based Leadership

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Values-Based Leadership

When describing a leader, we tend to focus on leadership technique and style, similarly most management books link leaders' ideas with their personality and their style. However, O'Toole states that leadership is not about style but acknowledges leadership as extremely complex and challenging. This philosophy is described as values-based leadership.

The need to understand that we all resist change, refuse to become followers and how leaders can overcome that resistance to change, is the focus of O’Toole’s book. Traditionally, it is recognized that leaders who wish to overcome the resistance to change should command, manipulate or paternalize their followers – but does this method of leadership work in an organizational setting of modern America? Not a chance. The long-standing cultural belief that a leader must be all-knowing and wiser than followers may have helped organizations flourish in the past, but the more modern individualistic values resonating in this democratic century will naturally resist change. To be effective, leaders must begin by setting aside the natural instinct to lead by push, particularly when times get tough. Leaders must instead, embrace the unnatural behavior of always leading by the pull of inspiring values. A leader may change his or her strategy, tactics, or approach given the situation, but a leader never changes his or her underlying values, beliefs, or principles.

Values-based leadership is based on the notion that personal and organizational values are aligned. A company’s mission, vision, strategy, performance measures, incentive programs, procedures, and values are all a representation of a leader’s ethics and values. In an organizational setting, this approach to leadership assumes that managers’ and workers’ core principles are the same; therefore, little time is spent on office conflict. This also means that employees and managers behave in a way that is favorable to the productivity, profitability, sustainability, and integrity of the business. Treating people with respect, listening to what they have to say, trusting them and serving them with integrity is what values-based leadership is all about. O'Toole named this leadership approach after the presidents whose faces are carved on Mt. Rushmore (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt). Although faced with different challenges and employing different styles, they all had certain values that they never compromised or lost sight of such as integrity, trust and respect for followers. They exemplify the definition of values-based leadership.

How did these four American presidents inspire followers to accompany them through periods of sometimes great and painful change? Their biggest strength was character: a combination of deeply held principles and pragmatism. Rationality and principles are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to compromise on the journey if the goal of the journey remains the same. For example, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were against slavery. Their opposition was based on their deeply held belief that all men and women were created equal and had certain inalienable rights. Although forced to compromise on the issue of slavery, this fundamental belief never wavered. Both knew that as presidents they were not authoritarian rulers who could simply impose their ideas with a wave of the hand. Instead, pragmatically, they attempted to persuade their colleagues and followers of the need to subscribe to the ideal of equality. Jefferson introduced a provision in the Declaration of Independence that called for the abolition of slavery. In 1862, Lincoln proposed a gradual freeing of the slaves. He withdrew the proposition after strong opposition from slaveholders and abolitionists alike but he gained credibility in the eyes of the moderates who would support his emancipation of the slaves a year later.

The success of the Rushmorean leadership philosophy is based on the notion that while leaders must respect the right of individuals to make the most of their lives, followers also have an obligation to gain self-confidence and to improve their life. Significantly, Roosevelt did not spell out the particulars of how that would be done. Instead, he outlined the basic conditions under which it could be done. He realized the key to execution was the involvement and participation of all followers. Hence, the role of leaders is to help followers focus on attaining ends that are good for them all and ultimately create followers by allowing them to take the leader's dream as their own, because, in fact, it is their own. Values-based leadership also requires integrity, which has two parts: truth-telling honesty and moral behavior. O'Toole describes integrity as a wholeness or completeness that is achieved by people who are said to have healthy self-confidence and self esteem. People with integrity know who they are, which allows them to esteem and respect others.

One of the key statements in the book is that you don't have to become someone else or become like someone else to be a leader, you have to just become yourself. That is the core of integrity. Values-based leaders "enable others to lead by sharing information, by fostering a sense of community, and by creating a consistent system of rewards, structure, process, and communication." On the contrary, Realists’ basic philosophy is that you have to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This leadership approach is mostly characterized by taking firm, bold action by being tough, aggressive, decisive, and enacting “no-nonsense” implementations to reach a goal. Realists get followers to do what the leader has outlined with the assumption that people are evil by nature and therefore they must be controlled. O'Toole describes different realist leaders, including those who are usually publicized in news and management magazines as leaders. O'Toole cites, for example, Jack Welch, whose tenure as CEO of General Electric resulted in unmatched financial performance among U.S. corporations. Realists are the leaders who feel they need to take charge. They avoid working in groups and employee participation. If the job is going to get done, they need to take charge and get people to follow orders. O'Toole says these leaders are generally more successful in short-term situations, but over the long term they don't get the very best out of followers.

Perhaps there is a need for strong leadership in times of crisis; when you need to get something done and you need to get everybody moving in the same direction, you can't run organizations as democracies, as a Realists might say. However, O'Toole's definition of participative management, which is more aligned with the Rushmorean style: "decisions

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