Update from the author: we’ve updated the details about five of the most fundamental values any leader needs to succeed to be current for 2023.
If you’re in a managerial position at a company, or you’re working on your own startup and have a new team to deal with, you’re likely going to need to employ a lot of skills that you may not have learned in the past.
Managers and leaders overlap significantly in their qualities and in what makes them effective, but there are some areas where a leader needs to take on a little more than simply managing the people and the task at hand.
The values of a leader determine the direction and the loyalty of their team and promote strong and productive bonds between the company and its employees. But what are leadership values, and how does someone learn them? It turns out, they’re not as simple and primitive as many people believe. However, this shouldn’t be overwhelming; with consistent effort, anyone can become a better leader.
For most people, leadership is a very ambiguous term. For many, it conjures up phrases like “Alpha” personalities or “dominant and charismatic”; neither of which really describe anything real, and certainly don’t accurately reflect true leadership qualities.
It’s also a very intangible concept; something that can’t be measured in terms of quantifiable metrics. For many who are looking to be better leaders, leadership feels more like a philosophy, and in those who can communicate it clearly, is owned so naturally that it feels inherent and effortless.
Fortunately for the rest of us, like any other social skill, leadership can be practiced and improved. And though it’s impossible to define a moment when leadership has been accomplished, like any skill, it can be worked on in iterative processes as a means to becoming more proficient and effective at being a leader.
These skills and values are the basis of essential leadership, to be learned by anyone who wants to leap ahead and guide teams of people toward a goal that’s bigger than themselves. For founders, entrepreneurs, students, or someone who simply wants to have the most control over their direction in life, it’s important to learn how to lead.
People are collaborative animals, and despite what they may tell you, nobody is truly self-made. Achievements of every kind require inspiration, support, and teamwork, and as such, those with the best leadership qualities are the ones who can facilitate and encourage these attributes in themselves and in those around them.
This might seem vague at first, and, well, that’s because it is. Becoming a leader takes time and practice, and involves a cumulation of seemingly pointless and intangible contributions, but it is a life-long process and one that will stay with you on your journey to success.
This journey begins with some basic values.
Perhaps the first thing to point out is what leadership values are not. To refer back to the previous section, it’s very useful to understand that the concept of an Alpha male or Alpha female as a leadership strategy is based on absolute bunk science and must be dismissed entirely for a number of reasons.
Let’s take a look at where this idea falls flat:
- Firstly, the theory came from captive, unrelated wolves and doesn’t appear to reflect their natural social hierarchy in the wild.
- Secondly, people are not wolves. Humans don’t appear to naturally follow a dominance-hierarchy social structure at all.
- Thirdly, the interpretation of the dominant member being the most physically intimidating and unchallenged member of the pack doesn’t even align with animal societies in which there really is a dominant member.
Pack leaders in many animal societies are much more than tyrannical fighting machines; they are diplomats, father figures, role models, and social maintainers of the most skilled variety.
Therefore, the simplistic and ignorant view that leadership means fighting back against anybody who doesn’t toe the line is a poor place to start if you want to become a true leader. This dominance approach is far less effective as a leadership quality than prestige, described as “pro-social and achievement-oriented behaviors, agreeableness, conscientiousness, satisfying interpersonal relationships, and positive mental health.”
Take a look at some of the real values that matter in human societies of every type; whether professional or personal. These values will be expanded upon in the later sections, but here are five of the most fundamental values any leader needs to succeed in a team:
- Empathy – This is the most fundamental value in leadership. It’s the way in which a leader considers the needs of others, from their point of view. Empathy, though often stronger in some people than others, can in fact be practiced and learned.
- Humility – Leadership is not something that always needs to be on display; leading by example means occupying the same space as the rest of the team, and bringing the group up from the inside.
- Passion – This is the driving force for the entire project. It’s a critical component to leading and must be encouraged and fuelled to provide motivation and energy to succeed, in leaders and in the team too.
- Direction – Boundless energy is no use to anyone if it isn’t channeled. The direction of the team must also align with that of the leader for the highest productivity. This might sound obvious, but leading requires a place to lead to.
- Flexibility – This is a critical trait and one that separates a simple manager from a leader. Nondogmatic approaches increase prestige and create trust in your skillset and your ability to adjust to any situation.
- Communication – Tying all of these together is a strong communication skill set. People are always coming from different perspectives, and leading them requires an ability to tap into those perspectives to communicate the purpose of the mission.
These are life-affirming values and, when put into place, create a form of leadership called Values-driven Leadership, and the benefits of this approach are quickly becoming recognized.
Why are Core Values of Leadership Important?
Teamwork evolved in animals faced with a dangerous world. It’s something that is strongest in the face of exceptional challenges, such as sport or war. It’s based on the concept that you can sacrifice your time or energy for another precisely because you trust that they would do it for you when you need it. This mutual understanding is the foundation of collaboration and has led to the success of humans in any accomplishment.
In the modern world, with less common dangers, individualism is on the rise, and in some notorious cases, fortune favors those who look out for themselves. This can be particularly true in the corporate world, where manipulation and disloyalty have infamously rewarded certain individuals financially.
However, the time when this approach was effective has long passed. Technology has changed, and teams are more specialized than ever before. The increase in competition presents a new danger; a new driver for a unified front in business.
Collaboration, therefore, particularly at the beginning of an endeavor, is critical to its success. It follows then, that leadership is the skill that fosters this collaboration and adheres the team to the path required of it.
For this cohesion, leaders must be willing to put in the work to practice and stick to the values necessary, and if they do – even though they will often fail – they are more than likely to succeed.
The fact is, the core values of leadership extend far beyond the business world. They blur the lines between co-workers and family, and take advantage of the potential in everyone to come together and achieve greatness.
Values-driven leaders create a value chain for the entirety of the stakeholder network. This includes investors, customers, employees, friends of the company, and other communities involved tangentially in the company environment. As such, the enterprise grows as a unit and provides a robust and productive force in a shared direction.
As good as this sounds, the ambiguity of leadership can make it difficult to know where to start. However, there are some key steps that are worth following in order to develop them. Let’s take a look at those now.
Develop the Values of a Leader
Leadership manifests slightly differently in different people. If you’re outgoing and sociable, for example, there are benefits to this as a leader; alternatively, if you’re more introverted, this can also be a useful tool.
Communication and listening are both important, so becoming the best leader you can be in the above examples is something that involves playing to your strengths while working on improving your weaknesses. Introverts can make use of their observational and listening skills, extraverts can play on their ability to comfortably reach people on a personal level. Meanwhile, both can focus on strengthening the weaker elements of their game.
While doing this, remember that leadership doesn’t come immediately. Much like working out, it’s a gradual process of consistent progress. Identify areas you wish to work on and set targets for yourself. If this means improving eye contact or employing active listening, make sure to work on that daily until it becomes natural.
This consistency is the most important part of your growth, so don’t give up! Slow progress is progress, and anyone can develop the values of a leader if they are persistent.
In addition to eye contact and listening, it’s important to be there for people. An effective leader employs some of the roles of a parental figure, so be aware of ways in which you need to teach, discipline, and build self-confidence in the people around you when necessary.
As you progress through this journey you will gather a lot of connections. People are naturally drawn to leaders, and as a result, you’ll have innumerable opportunities to practice your skills. This is a form of networking in itself, so be ready to handle your new connections!
One of the simplest and most effective tools to keep track of these growing networks of relationships is to employ CRM software. Dex integrates with your social media, LinkedIn, and other sources very quickly to consolidate your relationships in one place.
This provides you with reminders of when to follow up with a person, what the details of your last connection are, and can help you remember significant dates and events, further establishing yourself as someone who cares and puts in the time.
Leadership Values Examples
Building off earlier sections, it’s useful to be able to see how the values of a leader play out in real-life examples. Here are some ways in which each value listed previously will come in handy in your professional life.
- Empathy – Empathy covers all bases in leadership. In order to embody any of the following values, you need to start from an empathetic standpoint. Understand how others see you, how to transmit your energy to them, how to communicate your direction, and always keep in mind that you should be inspiring the next generation of leaders. If you ask how someone’s doing, stick around to hear the answer.
- Humility – This is the basis of leading by example. A good leader embodies the work ethic and quality that they expect from others and does it without arrogance. In a company, this involves personally helping staff to get through their challenges and admitting your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to stumble in front of your staff.
- Passion – To have a solid vision, you need to have a specific passion. A good leader can infect anyone listening with the same enthusiasm that they have for their dream. Passion is contagious, so don’t hide it. Celebrate incremental steps and always tie the rewards to the final goal to make sure everyone shares that energy.
- Direction – “Change and grow” is about adapting your processes to the direction you’ve set. Don’t get confused between these two. Always have a goal in mind, and be prepared to be flexible in the way you approach it. Further, make sure others are encouraged to explore ambitious strategies to challenges in the path.
- Flexibility – A dogmatic approach to a situation limits your chances of success, especially in a team. In a situation where one of your team isn’t able to complete a task, it’s important to consider other ways to approach it, rather than pushing through with weaker resources. If tasks can be allocated differently, or delegated more efficiently, a good leader will be able to adjust the approach accordingly.
Flexibility also covers the range of leadership skills and the ability to switch between them.
- Communication – Your vision only exists in your head unless you learn how to communicate. If you have something worth fighting for, you need to be able to explain why anyone else should fight for it too. In your company, this means talking one-on-one with everyone, sharing the context behind the work, and not focusing exclusively on the needs of management and shareholders.
These skills and their effective application are just a few examples of what makes an excellent leader. And many of these might be recognizable to people who know something about management in general. However, there are some distinct differences between management and leadership, and it’s a good idea to know how they’re applied differently.
Difference Between Leadership and Management
Execution is a critical part of running a company. In order to get things done, numerous people need to be included. There can be a number of unique inputs and they all need to come together.
The role of a manager is to stick to - and make sure others stick to - the system and processes of these inputs. This means following the path as strictly as possible and managing the connections in accordance with the framework of the process.
Where a leader differs from a manager is in the drive for improvement. A leader is able to take a step back mid-process and works with people to streamline the work in general. They take any opportunity to analyze and reallocate, combine or even straight-up remove elements of the process that need it.
A second difference is around mentoring. A manager may focus on detail primarily, and spend a lot of time correcting small errors and mistakes. A real leader takes this one step further and uses mistakes as a teaching opportunity to bring people up to the level of their potential.
Striving for success is an important quality of a good manager. The accurate, timely, and effective completion of a task or event, including the consequent praise and recognition to the team for a job well done, is a great sign of a manager who knows what they’re doing. A leader, on the other hand, can turn the follow-up session into a debrief for everyone involved.
This doesn’t mean withholding praise but simply making better use of the opportunity to identify what went well and what could have been done better next time. A good review of a process streamlines future iterations of that process, and a leader takes on that extra responsibility to make success even more efficient by involving the team and listening to their feedback.
None of these actions can be accomplished effectively without trust, and trust cannot be cultivated without the relevant leadership values and their consistent employment over time.
Leadership values are built upon gradually and true leadership comes with time and effort. And they tend to follow a theme of prestige qualities, rather than purely dominant ones.
True leaders know how to communicate with, nurture and facilitate their team to become better people, not only better workers.
To be the best leader you can be, play to your strengths while correcting your weaknesses, focus on improvement rather than simple success, and make sure your relationships are maintained as family groups, with mentorship playing a powerful role in your approach.
When you follow these core values and put in the daily work, any team you form will be loyal and hardworking towards the goal that you have so passionately championed to them. From here, success is just a matter of time.