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Take a look at the success of prominent leaders, and their core leadership values become evident. Steve Jobs’ leadership values included vision, passion, and individuality. Sheryl Sandberg’s include empowerment, communication, and community. Values reflect what we believe is important and worthwhile. Every successful leader has values they keep at the center of their work, though the length of the list and the values prioritized may differ. Read on to learn what leadership values are, understand the importance of a leader with values, and see our list of ten values all good leaders should have.
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Leadership values are the underlying beliefs that guide our decisions and actions and ultimately shape our days and our careers. They can have a significant impact on our organizations and the people who work for and with us. If you are not yet sure what your leadership values are, look to the way you live your life both within and outside of work. What values guide your personal life? What are the goals, mission, and culture of your company? Your leadership values lie at the intersection of your personal values and your company’s values.
Core values determine how you execute leadership, how you create your team environment, and the overall success of your company. The values you display as a leader will permeate your entire organization and affect its performance.
Leaders who adhere to their values earn the respect and commitment from their teams. Value-driven leadership can inspire others, not just to follow them but to adopt those values as their own.
While our values and preferences tend to be innate by the time we are adults, they are often obscured by external pressures, social norms and expectations. We can be thoughtful in identifying and understanding our values and deliberate in discovering how they manifest in our work. By embracing the notion that leadership qualities can be developed, it follows that leadership values can be chosen and developed as well. Whether you are at the beginning of your leadership journey or reevaluating your existing leadership values list, here are ten important leadership values to consider integrating into your own work life:
As a leader, you are in a position of power. Instead of trying to retain all that power and control for oneself, an effective leader empowers others and amplifies their own impact as a result. By micro-managing or prescribing exact actions, you may be creating a force of effective worker bees—but this environment will never produce a new queen. By empowering others through mentorship and delegation of complex tasks, you will create a stronger team with future leaders you can rely on with confidence.
Leaders are tasked with the important responsibility of creating and maintaining the visions for their organizations. When you center vision as a leadership value, this means you keep the big picture vision at the forefront of your decision-making. It also means employing foresight to plan for obstacles that may get in the way of your company’s vision, and being ready to update the vision as more experience and information is gained.
Communication is the foundation of any relationship. In a work setting, centering communication as a core leadership value manifests in many ways. It can take the form of conveying context to employees, setting clear expectations for individuals and teams, and providing and seeking constructive feedback. A leader may have a clear vision, but unless communication is a driving value, others will not be able to share it.
Positive reinforcement and providing recognition to your team members are important forms of communication. It can be tempting when things are busy to speed along without making the effort to show that you noticed someone’s contribution. Without recognition though, team members can become unmotivated and their productivity will grind to a halt. By demonstrating an observant and appreciative behavior, you will encourage others to reinforce one another too, boosting morale across the organization.
Empathy is the ability to understand others, see from their point of view, and feel what they are feeling. The importance of empathy as a leadership value is not simply to be nice or likable—you can build a far stronger team by exercising empathy and truly understanding the motivations of each person with whom you work closely. Empathy will help you match people’s strengths and skills to roles where they can make the most impact. It will help you build and sustain positive and productive relationships. It will help you recognize the core values of others on your team, knowledge that you can harness for the betterment of each individual and the company.
Leaders must constantly be learning. To be in that receptive state of mind requires humility. Opportunities to build wisdom can easily be lost if you are not willing to recognize and process mistakes. Humility also means knowing when to ask for input from others. If you have a gap in knowledge in a certain area, seek advice from those with more experience, or from coaches. If your strategy is not connecting with your audience, consult the people closer to the work, or your customers.
Respect can be demonstrated through many of the behaviors already listed here: empowering others, communicating with them, recognizing their abilities, and empathizing with their situations. Respect should also move in all directions. Treat upper management, your board, employees, and customers with the respect they deserve to gain respect in return. It’s also important to build a culture where differences are respected and appreciated. A diversity of viewpoints within the organization is a strength, and those who differ from you in opinion should feel as valued as those aligned with you.
A key nature of business is change, and as a leader, you often take the brunt of big changes—or even initiate them. You must be able to weather these times, not only for yourself, but for your team. This is not to say you can’t have human reactions to challenges, but ultimately your team will respond to how you handle hardship and communicate the outcomes. Employees look to their leaders for cues during unpredictable phases, and a show of resilience at the top will bolster the entire organization. Resilience has tangible positive outcomes as well. As BetterUp’s study on resilience shows, it increases revenue, encourages innovation, and retains employees.
Transparency does not mean telling everyone everything as soon as you hear it—there is a time and a manner in which to convey information. You want to be aware of how new information impacts people, and impart it with care, utilizing values we’ve discussed like empathy, communication, and respect. Take a company reorganization for example: you don’t want to sound the alarm that change is coming before you’ve worked out the details. Neither do you want to spring news on people the day before everything shifts. Valuing transparency in this case would mean communicating why there is a reorganization, getting other company leaders on board for how it affects them and their own teams, hosting a Q&A for everyone who will be affected, and setting clear expectations for how and when changes will take place.
Both transparency and integrity are forms of honesty, a character trait that gains respect and trust. As a leader, integrity means approaching all of your work with consistency and coherency: the way you communicate with others, carry out the mission of your organization, and approach new situations. Integrity means honoring commitments (including to yourself) and doing what you say you will do, as well as approaching challenges in ways that are coherent with other values and beliefs.
Leading with integrity can sound abstract because it encapsulates so much, but you can think of it as integrating all of your core leadership values – the end doesn’t justify the means if the means violate our core values. The people who work for us notice if we only exhibit our values when times are good. By knowing your leadership values, consulting them, and having them guide your actions, you will be leading with integrity.
What better way to learn and be inspired than to look to today’s successful leaders? Below is a selection of quotes to illustrate some important values of a leader, and to help you connect with your own leadership values.
“The number one thing that you have to do as a leader: to bolster the confidence of the people you lead.” – Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
“The best way to get the best out of people is to not force them to be something other than they naturally are. Now, what do they have to be? They have to be respectful.” – Ursula Burns, former Xerox CEO
“Communication and communication strategy is not just part of the game—it is the game.” – Oscar Munoz, executive chairman of United Airlines
“One of the most important things for a CEO is not to get insulated.” – Lisa Su, President and CEO of AMD
“Being transparent about our plans enables us to get better feedback.” – Shantanu Narayen, chairman, president, and CEO of Adobe Inc.
“But as a visionary leader, you should be thinking about more than just the next quarter. You should also be thinking about the next decade, and what your company’s reputation and place in the world will be after 40 quarterly results.” – Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors
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