Leadership is moral: are you honest or just pulling the strings?

Values play an important role in leadership in two ways. First of all, because leadership is a personal choice, the strength of the personal convictions and values will decide how far the leadership will reach. Values are the main stronghold when difficult choices have to be made. Without these clear values, we lose our compass to lead. Badaracco beautifully explores this dimension in his book ‘questions of character’[i]: “Do I dream the right dream?” It’s also what Manfred Kets De Vries does: challenging the motivational needs systems of people, “working at the often intimate interface where the inner theatre of the individual meets the outer world of the organization.”[ii]

Secondly, values become more and more an integrative factor in today’s organisations. Structures, processes and systems no longer provide cohesion. The homogeneity of an organisation in a turbulent and international context lies in it’s identity and values. That explains why more and more organisations invest in these dimensions, but all too often in a ‘managerial, pulling the strings’ way.

It also explains why ‘positive’ leadership as defined by Avolio & Gardner [iii] becomes the norm in organisations. The more rational competency approach has it’s limits to make sense of ‘the age of unreason’[iv]. The capacity to develop one’s own values, to confront them with others and to find common ground in the way to do things is a success factor in transformational leadership.

Frank Van Massenhove transformed his government agency through value leadership [v]: “Someone who lies, can not be a good leader. Someone who doesn’t trust his people, can not be a good leader. Someone who is not authentic, can not be a good leader.” Also other transformational leaders as Herman Van de Velde, Toon Bossuyt, Wouter De Geest, Wouter Torfs and Joost Callens put values central in their way of leading.

Any comment?

[i] BADARACCO, J. (2006). Questions of character. Illuminating the heart of leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 220 p.
[ii] KETS DE VRIES, Manfred (2009). Reflections on character and leadership. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 343 p.
[iii] AVOLIO, B. & GARDNER, W.L. (2006). Authentic leadership development: getting to the roots of positive forms of leadership. The leadership Quarterly, 16, p. 315-338.
[iv] HANDY, C. (1990). The age of unreason. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 278 p.
[v] Frank Van Massenhove leads the social security administration of the Federal Government. When he started, the agency had a lousy reputation. He first worked on he processes and systems. When those were in place, he transformed the culture of the organisation. This transformation took 9 years. Today 2/3 of his employees work up to 3 days at home. His dynamic office concept saved 30 % of office space. His headcount reduced from 2300 to 1300 people. Productivity rose with double-digit numbers. 40 % of his management team is female. But most of all: the employees are happy at work and the department has become an attractor for talent. His organisation is a best practice and example for many organisations in Belgium and Europe. The full leadership interview with him can be found here.


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 14. Authenticity & integrity, 19 leadership thoughts, Academic insights & evidence, English and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Leadership is moral: are you honest or just pulling the strings?

  1. Marc de Vré says:

    Reblogged this on Green Hill Coaching and commented:
    In teambuilding it’s al about values.

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