Values Based Leadership: It’s NOT About You

GEN Shelton emphasizes that all values based leaders have an obligation to give back. It doesn’t matter whether you are a student or a working professional, you have an obligation to work to make your corner of the world a better place.  He urges us to “be bigger than ourselves, to give back to our community, and to our state, and even to our nation.” He reminds us that there are multiple opportunities to do this in small and large ways.  Corporations and nonprofits mutually benefit from these partnerships.  Corporations reputations are enhanced by their corporate giving back to the community. Nonprofits, by their very existence, are known for their mission-driven programs to the community.

One of our signature programs at the Shelton Leadership Center is the Shelton Challenge.  The Shelton Challenge has selfless service  as a key program component .  Our Shelton Scholars  volunteer twice a year (in addition to their other volunteer efforts), to go to a particular town for a Weekend of Service, where they partner with local civic organizations to build handicap ramps, clean up a blighted area, or help in other ways. We partner with NC State’s CSLEPS to support them in their student service learning and leadership efforts. I’ve been in awe of high school students who volunteer to help those with disabilities in and out of school.

I’m not highlighting these to boast about different Shelton programs are doing  (although I am incredibly humbled and impressed with our tireless staff , students, our Board, and the many students who are a part of the Shelton Leadership Center and how each lives out this cornerstone daily ).  I’m emphasizing that there are lots of ways to give and give back in a community.  As GEN Shelton prompts us, “…that is a part of what each and every one of us from the corporate level right down to the individual should be doing.”

Values based leadership-It’s not about you.

 What situations have you found where giving back to the community gives you an even greater gift?

Should You Lower Your Standards?

GEN Shelton notes in his book, Without Hesitation (p 112), that “an effective leader is not a hands on micro-manager; in fact the freer reign you give your people, the more they will excel-as long as you’ve communicated your objectives and expectations, and surround yourself with good, independent thinkers who are not afraid to speak up.”  He’s talking about how a values based leader has high standards. The values based leader always strives to do what is right.  Yet, he also discusses that a values based leader mixes in generous dose of compassion with the standards.

“You have to understand that for a certain reason,  individuals might have certain things they are wrestling with in life.  For example, you may be on a school bus riding to school and the person next to you is having a bad day.  For whatever the reason, they’re not their self.  But you’ve got a compassion for them because you recognize that something is going wrong. When you have someone who has had a tragedy in their family, you recognize that you know they’re a great employee, but they’re not having their best day or their best week because of this tragedy. ”

The lesson for me is that you don’t lower your standards. You expect everybody to do their best and achieve their personal and organizational goals.  You do recognize, however, that you have to get to know the members of your team, to know what is going on with them to the extent that you and the other person feel comfortable sharing. That knowledge helps you to understand how much they have on their plate and whether you need to adjust and give some additional time, if possible, to help them reach their 100% goal accomplishment for themselves and for the organization.  That’s compassion.

 Where have you seen a values based leader keep the standard high while simultaneously demonstrating compassion?

Does Your Team Look Just Like You?

GEN Shelton views leading with diversity as a great attribute for values based leaders. When we listen to GEN Shelton talk about his strong belief in diversity, we come to understand that he views diversity in a much broader sense than what is traditionally viewed. He talks frequently about how the differences in people-different qualities, attributes, and perspectives bring a much better solution than having an internal echo chamber where everybody is alike.

He notes that there are multiple differences  (for example-age, education, ethnic background, nationality, gender, work history, and perspectives) that we need to embrace and bring to the table to identify the challenge or opportunity and come up with the best solution.  GEN Shelton likens this to his work as the 14th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He notes that “…the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are all different. They have their own different cultures and ways of doing things, yet they come together to create the greatest fighting force in the world.”     He’s also seen that on his work with corporate boards, where an effective board comes from different perspectives to help the organization continue to move forward. Each board member’s diverse expertise is tapped to help shape the direction of the organization.

One key point I take away from GEN Shelton’s ideas on diversity is that a key role of a values based leader is to, as he states,  “merge and meld the talents and complimentary capabilities of people from a diverse point of view”. When we do that, we grow a much stronger, capable, and nimble team than we would if we only selected and worked with people who were just like us.  I’ve learned and re-learned that a key function of a leader is taking the time to bring people in from different points of view and backgrounds and then listen.   In many cases, it’s difficult, precisely because we’ve thought through the idea and have a point of view.  Yet, even though it is difficult, the decision is, in many instances, much better than if you have everybody who is just like you weighing in on the decision.

An analogy I’ve picked up is the idea of a of the leader needing to serve as a host or hostess at a large party. The host or hostess finds to first learn each guest’s interests and backgrounds are, then connecting them with other people to create an interesting conversation.  Similarly, I think a values based leader needs to consciously and continuously look for ways to connect and bring people together from different backgrounds and interests to solve large and complex challenges and opportunities that cross the organization.

Where have you seen diversity work as a strength in your personal or professional work?

What is a Values Based Leader?

We are fascinated by learning from leaders. The basic formula seems to be:

  • look at a successful leader of one particular industry or profession,
  • interview that person,
  • look for lessons from that particular leader in that particular situation, then
  • try to generalize those themes to a broader audience.

Many fewer of us, however, look at universal or generalizable characteristics that can transcend a particular industry, profession, career, or where one is in the journey of life (K-12, college, early career professional, or executive).

GEN H. Hugh Shelton’s Values Based Leadership Model comes from his experience and success in the military, the corporate world, and his recognition by others for his leadership and contributions locally, statewide, nationally, and globally.  He’s outlined his key characteristics of great leadership as being a “Values-Based Leader”.  He talks about five cornerstones of values based leadership: Honesty, integrity, compassion, diversity, and selfless service. 

He believes that  “…any leader should strive to be known as a values based leader.  Values make up our character.  They’re things that we believe in.  They are things that we strive to make sure that we always include in our thought process when we think about making decisions.  A values based leader will leave a legacy each of us will leave behind if we strive to include these five cornerstones in our daily work.  We always try to do what was right and always support those who worked for them.  That’s the legacy of a values based leader.”

It makes sense then, for us to take a look at what he has talked about, his methodology and cornerstones for success, and how they might be applied to our personal and professional life. During the next series of five posts, we’ll briefly explore each of these five cornerstones and how we can apply them to our daily work.

Looking at your Organization and Culture as a Lens for Strategy

Many strategic thinkers look at strategy from two perspectives: the external environment, including industries and competition (PEST or STEEP analysis is a well known tool for examining the external environment) and the internal environment, focusing on what resources and capabilities the organization has to deploy (SWOT analysis is a standard tool for the internal environment). Peng and his colleagues suggest a third leg as a tripod for strategic management and execution. They suggest that a main element to think about is in situations where formal constraints are unclear or fuzzy, institution-based norms (culture)  and informal  networks will play a much larger role in guiding individual’s behavior.

How does this impact you as a strategic leader?  Especially in times of turbulence, the informal signals you send about what is important and valued (or punished) will have a large impact on the success of your strategy. One example I heard in programs focused on whether people get promoted or punished for risk-taking. No matter how much senior leaders talk about wanting to be bold and take risks, one of the clearest indicators of how much senior leaders value risk-taking comes from whether people who take risks and do not achieve the hoped-for success, or fail.

(Source: “The Institution-Based View as a Third Leg for a Strategy Tripod”, Peng, Sun, Pinkham, and Chen, Academy of Management Perspectives, August 2009.)